Desperation circled around me during the early years with my firstborn. Rage was always hovering nearby and would well up in her little tiny heart when I asked her to obey. She screamed, kicked the walls violently, tore things up, and was the image of anger.
“Why was this kid so angry? And is this what it means to have a strong-willed child OR am I simply not parenting correctly?”
Sometime around age 2 ½, I got desperate enough to arrange coffee with a mentor. What I was looking for was a plan to help this child learn to submit to authority without damaging our property.
I’ll admit. My mentors advice disappointed me a bit. No 5 step program, first rate books to read, or tangible fixes.
“You need to pray for early salvation. She needs the Holy Spirit to help her. And you need the Holy Spirit on your side. ”
This sweet lady wasn’t talking about a forced prayer for salvation and then my daughter would be “fixed”. No, she was reminding me to beg God to open the eyes of my daughter to understand the Gospel. Then let God draw her close to Him in His timing. Her statement was meant to remind me that only God can make a new creation out of his child.
Sitting across from this wise lady at Starbucks and hearing these words stopped me in my tracks.
Did I really believe her parenting advice for young kids? Was God powerful enough to make the change WITHOUT me following any 5 step program? Did I really think God could save her in a way where she truly understood the Gospel at such a young age?
Over the next couple of days, God kept reminding me I couldn’t parent the fruit of the Spirit into my daughter. I could manage behavior BUT I couldn’t replace anger, rage, and defiance with peace, gentleness, and self-control without the Holy Spirit on my side.
The Holy Spirit creates those things in our life as we submit to him.
So for the next 2 years, I begged God for her salvation.
I started writing out the bridge illustration for her. Conversations centered around how we need Jesus. I prayed out loud over her that she would understand the Gospel. I prayed continually throughout the day and every time her anger would overwhelm me that the Lord would reveal himself to her.
And then one day she came out of her bedroom and said “last night in my bed I asked Jesus into my heart.”
A full year went by before Brent and I actually believed that statement to be true. A year of us watching the Holy Spirit soften her heart, replace her anger with love and patience, and increase her self-control. A whole year before we could admit to ourselves that maybe God really had heard our cries and saved our daughter.
And in this whole process, my heart softened.
I looked at my children and realized no 5 step program will bring them to Jesus. Only God can do that. I understood deep down in my toes how desperate I was for the Holy Spirit to change their hearts and create in them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. How desperate I was for Him to do the same in me.
I remember and am thankful for the wise mentor who looked me in my eyes and reminded me “God is enough.”
Often as parents we forget that. We get caught up in techniques and discipline and structure (all of which are needed!) and forget that it is all worthless without God.
The best parenting advice for young kids you’ll ever receive reminds you not to confuse your role with God’s. He calls us to discipline, love, and guide our children towards Him, but the transforming part is always up to God.