Have you considered that perhaps God not only uses parents to influence their children, but that he uses children to change their parents? Could it be that parenting is a school for adult spiritual formation?
Bible Gateway interviewed Gary L. Thomas (@garyLthomas) about his book, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (Zondervan, 2017).
Why have you seen a need to update this book from when it first appeared in 2004?
Gary L. Thomas: It’s astonishing how quickly cultural references change. Each new generation of parents grows up with a new slate of cultural understanding, television shows, and unique parental issues. The biblical principles remain the same, however, so this was a slight reworking, not a major overhaul.
Explain your statement, “The process of raising children requires skills that God alone possesses.”
Gary L. Thomas: Ideally, as parents we’d have unlimited energy, the ability to manage tricky emotions like fear and anger, vast stores of wisdom to answer complicated but important questions, love that never grows tired, patience that never ends… Every parent would like to have all of these, but God alone possesses them fully. Parenting reminded me of what I lacked more than it ever made me feel equipped. But there’s a spiritual purpose in that!
In what ways is parenting a spiritually transforming journey?
Gary L. Thomas: When God entrusts his children to us (for they’re all ultimately his), he knows what we lack, he knows where we’re weak, he knows how we tend to sin, yet still he places these children in our households and under our care. Parenting changed for me when I finally realized it’s not about being a perfect parent trying to raise perfect kids, but rather, family life is a collection of sinners slowly growing together toward Jesus Christ as we rub shoulders, yield to his grace, ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness, and are shaped accordingly. I’m inspired by Paul’s words to Timothy to “let everyone…see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). I can’t give my kids a perfect parent, but I can give them a “progressing” parent—if, that is, I recognize that parenting is a process in which God is growing the parents as well as the children.
Why is it important to understand that couples are “called to bear and raise children for the glory of God”?
Gary L. Thomas: A large part of parenting is about managing weariness and motivation. Much of the success of parenting is about avoiding the sins of “omission” as well as “commission.” You can feed, clothe, and house your kids and not really parent them. When we raise kids for selfish reasons (to feel proud, to have people love us and appreciate us), if they disappoint us we’ll pull back. But when we realize that God has called us to raise godly children (Malachi 2:15) and God is always worthy to be obeyed, we have a motivation that goes beyond our own pride and our own comfort. Our children may, at times, make parenting very difficult. Sometimes, we might be tempted to say, “Fine, I’m done with you!” But God is never done with them and we’re still called to be their parents. Motivation is half of parenting.
What is the single most important thing for our children?
Gary L. Thomas: The older I get the more I realize that a significant portion of a parent’s happiness or sadness in middle-age will be directly impacted by how closely our children are walking with the Lord. More than we care about their “success,” vocation, or financial status, our hearts will be encouraged when our kids are faithful followers of Christ, and our hearts will be distressed when our kids appear to reject the Christian faith. So, the most important thing is transferring our kids’ allegiance from us to Christ, raising faithful disciples who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
How does parenting tempt us into becoming cowards?
Gary L. Thomas: Fear is intensified by passionate love. The more I care about someone, the more I’m concerned about their welfare. The less we have to lose, in one sense, the easier it is to be “brave.” As a single man, I read the story about Joshua and Caleb boldly proclaiming that they could defeat the occupants of the Promised Land and I wanted to be a Joshua or Caleb. As a married man with children, I could finally understand why ten of the spies said, “They’re big. They’re ruthless. If we lose, they’d have their way with our wives and children.” I wasn’t quite so confident that I would have sided with Joshua and Caleb. Having children made me confront my true fears and trust in God many times over in a much more intensified manner.
Briefly explain the section in the book titled “A Very Boring Chapter in the Bible.”
Gary L. Thomas: It refers to Genesis Chapter 5, in which there’s basically just a long citation of men, how long they lived, who their children were, and then they died. It’s a shockingly honest portrayal of the human condition. We seek worldly fame but the reality is, almost none of us will be remembered centuries from now. We think people will at least remember Presidents, but when I ask people, out of context, who Chester Arthur was (the 21st US President), very few can answer. Who was governor of California in 1900? Who was the MVP of the World Series in 1947? Fame is so fleeting, which is why Genesis 5 tells us to humbly accept that we are born, have children, die, and will be forgotten—so focus on the people you leave behind. Love your God and your family and you’re making an eternal investment. Family life will continue in the New Heavens and the New Earth, but even the most amazing accomplishments on this earth will quickly fade. Genesis 5 teaches us to prioritize people over accomplishments.
Bio: Gary Thomas is Writer in Residence and serves on the teaching team at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He’s the author of 18 books that have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages, including Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage, Sacred Marriage (Zondervan, 2015), Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, The Sacred Search: Couple’s Conversation Guide, Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?, and Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul. He and his wife Lisa have been married for more than 30 years.
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