Why are we tempted to feel like “it’s too late”? Perhaps it is your child’s age—he is a teen now or even an adult. Perhaps it is the degree of brokenness in your relationship—it feels like there is no hope for reconciliation. Perhaps it is the sense you have of your child’s rejection of spiritual things, and even rejection of God or the Christian faith. Here is important truth for you to consider as those thoughts crowd your mind and heart. It is always God’s work of grace that subdues rebellious hearts. That’s what happened to you and me. It is God’s Spirit who brings us, and our children, to repentance and faith—not our works or our children’s works.
Ephesians 2:8–9 reminds us that “. . . by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is by grace alone that we are saved. That is true for our children, too.
It is God’s Spirit who brings spiritual life to us and to our children. But fear is a great spiritual struggle for parents. We can fall into deep and desperate child-rearing chasms out of fear. We fear that our children will make bad decisions, develop bad habits and relationships, and not choose Christianity over the world and its pleasures. We might then fall into a parenting role that denies the gospel. It feels like we must somehow make enough rules to keep them safe. We must create incentives and disincentives to ensure their spiritual well-being.
Rules and incentives are valid and appropriate in their place. But we can become so dependent on these external mechanisms that prayer and hope in Christ are forgotten. This is when we are most likely to become distressed over our children, and give in to anger and manipulation—all of which destroy relationships. This dependence on our own efforts in parenting also leaves us hopeless and faithless. Parents search their memories to try to find the point at which they failed.
We have to get our parenting expectations in line with God’s saving agenda. Think of it this way. The parents’ role resembles that of the farmer cultivating the heart, planting seeds of truth and tending the heart, and then trusting God for the harvest.
Excerpted from chapter one of It’s Not Too Late: Restoring Broken Relationships with Teenage and Adult Children by Margy Tripp