Why does change in my child (for good) happen so slowly?

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Lots of days I’ve felt lost as a parent. You’ve probably felt the same. Even on days when we feel confident that the guidance we’ve given our child is the kind that leads to healthy heart-change, we can still toss and turn, disheartened at day’s end, discouraged, questions whirring, our tired thoughts confused:

  • Why does God-honoring change in my child seem so excruciatingly slow? I tried my hardest today, praying my way through each conversation, but we were still dealing with thoughts and behavior we’ve dealt with for years. I feel defeated. I must be doing something wrong.
  • Is it my fault? If I were a better, wiser parent, would my child already have beaten this plaguing behavior?
  • Have I missed some magic formula that, if followed, would result in the end of the three-steps-forward and two-steps-back kind of growth my child seems to take?
  • Why don’t heart-change and Spirit-empowered transformation happen more quickly?
  • What hope do I cling to as I parent the children God has put into my care?

Let’s cover that last question first. What is our hope when our children change so slowly? For we do want quicker change. We want a formula. We want to deal with a certain behavior and then be able to forever check “that one” off the list. We want to guide and discipline a certain day’s certain circumstances and then rejoice with our children when they quickly change from deep within, transformed and empowered (permanently) in God-honoring ways. This is what’s true:

“We want parenting to be a series of events rather than a lifelong process…[Instead, we must] be committed as a parent to long-view parenting because change is a process and not an event.”

That’s freeing. Change is slow. The same message God gives us when He expects us to obey from heart-felt change toward Him, and yet knows we’ll sometimes fail, is the message He gives us as we parent. He confronts us with our sin, we confess our failure, and He incrementally changes us as we admit our failures and go to Him for help. The same applies as we parent:

“Parenting is not a series of dramatic confrontation-confession events, but rather a life-long process of incremental awareness and progressive change…the good news is that the message of the Bible isn’t that God puts an undoable standard before us and then sits by and judges us for our failure. No, the message is that God puts an uncompromising standard before us, then sends his Son to perfectly meet that standard on our behalf, so that we can be free to admit our failures and go to God for help. The cross of Jesus Christ means I don’t have to deny my struggle as a parent. I don’t have to act as if I’m something that I’m not, and I surely don’t have to hide from the only One who is able to help me.”

So, we’re being transformed as He parents us with patient mercy. We’re being equipped, incrementally, as we parent children who are also being changed incrementally. Here’s the hope:

“…all of your failures have already been forgiven, so you can humbly admit them, confess them, and seek God’s help … you are not trapped in your cycle of failure because a God of abundant grace is at work changing, maturing, and growing you so that progressively you are more often part of what he wants to do in your children and less often in the way of it … you aren’t left to parent yourself because God daily blesses you with his presence and grace, so that you can pass that same grace on to your children.”

 The hope I crave from scripture comes from Paul in I Timothy 1:15-16:

“…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

IMG_6235Our children, who so desperately need to trust God the Father, will not change overnight. Our children need to know that they can come to us — us, like Paul, the worst-of-all sinners — and that what has been given to us, patience for the long haul, will be given to them. They need to know that our wrong goal of quickly and once-for-all keeping them from sinning has been replaced by the goal of helping them to know what to do and Who to turn to when they do sin. The “heavenly Father’s life-long and heart-changing agenda of mercy” is for them, as it is for us.

(All quotes from Parenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp)

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About Jill

I'm a wife, mom to three beautiful children, and currently work at two jobs for which I'm very grateful -- part-time at my kids' school, and as children's ministry director at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA, a place our family treasures as our church home. It's been thirty years since the Lord saved me, and to this day I'm astounded at His steadfast love shed upon unfaithful me. My hope would be that I might speak and write in ways God would use to soften hearts toward Him, that we would together be enamored by the glorious beauty of Jesus and awakened to His love unimagined. Thanks so much for reading!
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