I didn’t think so.
Gary Thomas has the ability to get inside my brain. After reading Authentic Faith (my review here) and Devotions for Sacred Parenting (my review here), I eagerly anticipated reading Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, and I was not disappointed. I love how Thomas takes the very mundane and interprets it as something that can (and does, if done in the right spirit) bring God glory. His philosophy about parenting really made me step back and take a broader view of what it is that I do every day (and what seems, at times, to suck the very life out of me), and when I stepped up again, I was refreshed and renewed for the journey. A book really doesn’t get better than that.
In this book, Thomas discusses many issues at the heart of parenting like sacrifice, guilt, anger, perseverance, and fear and reveals how these very issues can develop in us Christlikeness and a heretofore unattained level of intimacy with God. Oh, he also discusses more “positive” topics like joy and the eternal signicance of what we do as parents. Although the topics in this book are extremely weighty and I found myself in tears at the end of almost every chapter, I read it very quickly because I found that it fed my soul in such a way that I wanted to read more and more and more. If you feel burdened by parenthood sometimes, take heart and read this book. It really is that good.
As usual, I can’t resist sharing some of my favorite quotations from this book. Read if you’re inclined or if you want to sample Thomas’ style; skip if you plan to read the book yourself. 🙂
Even if I were a perfect and wise parent always at his best, I have no guarantee that my children would always choose wisely. And just because I have many weaknesses doesn’t necessarily mean my kids will suffer.
I realized a truth that had lain hidden for so long. Though I had wonderful, godly parents, I still grew up with certain disappointments that I wanted to rectify as a parent. It finally dawned on me that I had asked something of my parents that they could never be: I had wanted them to love me as only God can love me. And now I wanted to love my kids as only God can love them.
In short, either I was setting up rivals for God or I was trying to compete with God–both are efforts doomed to failure. I finally came to a major crossroads: instead of competing with God, I realized God had called me to focus my efforts on introducing my kids to God, even using my own failures and inadequacies as compelling causes for my children to find their refuge in him. (44)
In short, when children expose our impatience and self-centered frustration, they hold up a mirror to our hearts. Just as God’s response to his children reveals his character, so parenting reveals our character. It exposes our sin and holds up to us a clear picture of what we feel most passionate about.
Although I teach a course called “Spirituality 101,” I believe that learning to deal with anger could be called “Spirituality 601.” It’s graduate-level Christianity. Our children constitute our homework, our mixed emotions become our textbooks, and the character that results will reveal our final grade. (117)
On perseverance in parenting:
We need to use the most wearisome aspects of parenting as the occasion for thanking God for putting up with us. When we look through this lens, we find that raising a demanding child can actually become motivation for worshiping and adoring God. No spiritually aware parent can at the same time become self-righteous. Only the most forgetful and the most blind among us can act arrogantly before God, as though he had given us a heavier burden than we had given him. Sacred parenting reminds us that no matter how difficult a child may be, we still play in the minor leagues compared to God’s great sacrifice.
On what really matters:
Pastor, it’s okay that not every one of your sermons will be remembered. Not every word you utter will be historically significant. Don’t bury yourself under such a heavy weight! Go ahead and take that walk with your kids, even if your weekly sermon suffers. Businessman or woman, it’s okay that your company may not outlive you. Don’t wear the shackles that insist that your work is wrapped up in how you build “something that lasts.” Even the most successful businesses eventually collapse. Don’t ignore those you love in a desperate attempt to beat the overwhelming odds that you are the one in ten million who will change business history. [. . . ] Embrace your insignificance, and let it reestablish your focus. In God’s delightful irony, embracing your temporal insignificance leads to the greatest eternal significance. (161)
On being an example to our children:
So often we parents decry the bad examples passed down by politicians, the lewd messages coming out of Hollywood, the destructive plot lines of popular television shows, and the obscene lyrics of modern music–but [the Apostle] Peter challenges us to look not to Hollywood, New York, or Washington, D.C., but to the hearts of believers, to see if they are truly making “every effort” to add to their faith the virtues Scripture calls us to practice. If we are not, we have only ourselves to blame when the church seems ineffective and unproductive. (173)
On seeing parenting the way God sees it:
Mothers and fathers, when you give your tiny infant a bath, you are washing God’s baby. Pause a moment in your busy day and look up to heaven. When you minister to that youngster, can you imagine God smiling down at you? When you fix that hungry six-year-old a peanut butter sandwich, you are feeding one of God’s children. Listen carefully–you may hear God laughing in pleasure. When you hug an adolescent whom others have teased mercilessly at school, you are comforting God’s teenager. Are those God’s tears dampening your shoulder?
In the process of caring and loving, you bring God great pleasure. At that very moment you become his provision, his comfort, his passion. Learn to swim in that joy, and you will never look at parenting the same way again. (221)
This is not a book on the hard work of parenting, but rather a look at the heart-work of parenthood. Highly recommended!