Parenting With Mercy
About the Guest
Paul David Tripp talks honestly about parenting children with the love, wisdom, and mercy only God can provide. Tripp recalls a few of his own parenting failures. While children need the law for guidance, Tripp reminds parents the law has no power to change the heart. Only grace can do that.
Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write 17 books on Christian living, produce 14 teaching series and travel aroun...more
Paul David Tripp talks honestly about parenting children with the love, wisdom, and mercy only God can provide. Tripp reminds parents the law has no power to change the heart. Only grace can do that.
Parenting With Mercy
Bob: When your children mess up, what’s your first reaction as a parent? Here’s Paul David Tripp.
Paul: Our tendency is just to come armed with the law: “This is what you did. How dare you? And this is what you’re going to get.” Now, let me say something about that. Do our children need the law? Yes, they do; because the law does a beautiful job of exposing sin. Do our children need the law? Yes, they do; because it’s a wonderful guide for life. But the law has no power whatsoever to change the heart of your child—none. If the law could change your child, Jesus would have never had to come.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So, as parents, how do we get to the heart of the matter? How do we get to the heart of our child when we’re trying to teach and correct? We’ll talk with Paul David Tripp about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, we’re going to get right to it today; don’t you think?
Dennis: I have a great question to ask our guest on the broadcast; but I have to introduce him first, even though all of our listeners know who he is. Dr. Paul David Tripp joins us on FamilyLife Today. Paul David, welcome back to the broadcast—you actually came back volitionally as an act of your will.
Paul: That’s right. I will admit I enjoy being with you guys. [Laughter] I don’t know what that says about me or about you.
Dennis: It could seem dangerous—it could be dangerous, Paul.
Paul is married to Luella—they have four grown children. He’s a pastor / an author, and Paul David has written a new book called Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.
Most guests—Paul David—I begin where the author does—at the beginning of the book.
In your case, I decided, since you were such a good friend, that I would go all the way out to nearly the last chapter in the book, where you talk about a parent’s need to exhibit mercy and how no parent can give mercy unless they have received mercy. You begin with the story about yourself. You know, you’re really good at using illustrations about yourself that remove any of the mythology or of a phantom of a perfect parent, from the reader’s opinion of you. This is a tongue-lashing you gave your teenage son.
Paul: Yes. You know, I think any honest parent can relate to these moments, where you’ve just had it. You march into a room and you let your child just have it—there were no questions asked, there’s no desire to help him see himself to grow in his awareness / to grow in his sense of personal need—there’s just nothing but, “I’m letting you have it.”
Then I walk down the hallway. I’m sitting on my own bed and I’m reflecting on what I just did. I’m just filled with a sense of guilt and remorse. I mean, that man in that bedroom—that’s not the man I want to be. That’s a moment where I cry out for God’s help. I think it was a moment where I said something that every parent needs to say: “God, I can’t do what You have asked me to do with my kids. I can’t do it, because I don’t have, independently, what it takes to be what You want me to be with Your children.” I think that is the core of what produces good parenting.
Dennis: I couldn’t agree more. For years, I’ve called it the prayer of a helpless parent. You cry out, as a parent—you say, “God, would You be merciful to me, as a parent, and would You help?”
He has to love that kind of helplessness and the admission of that, because then He can do something great.
Paul: See, I’m persuaded—in things like parenting—inability is not in the way of good parenting / delusions of ability are. Think about this—there’s no place in life where God calls us because we’re able / He calls us because He’s able.
Paul: And getting that is so important. I mean, what do I want from that moment? I want to be an able parent who, by my words, has the power to turn the heart of my child—I don’t have that ability! I never had it—I’ll never have it. Owning my inability is very, very important. The delusion of ability means I’m going to say and do things I shouldn’t do to try to create what I don’t have the power to create.
Bob: Some of our listeners are probably wondering what your son did to provoke the anger.
Dennis: It was a day—it wasn’t one thing that he did.
It was all day long—
Paul: Yes; yes.
Dennis: —he had been a pain.
Bob: But the reality is—it almost doesn’t matter what our kids do that provokes our anger; because, as a friend of mine said once—she had a mother come to her, who said, “I was never an angry person until I had teenagers.” [Laughter] My friend wisely said, “No, you were always an angry person; it just took a teenager to bring it out of you.”
Paul: Yes; that’s absolutely right. I mean, “What do I want out of life?” I want people around me that love me and follow me. I want days to be predictable, and I want to drive on roads paid for by other citizens who choose not to use them—I mean, of course!—because sin, in all of us, tends to push us to the middle of the world and make things all about us.
Why do parents personalize things that aren’t personal? I mean, my son, that day, didn’t get up, thinking, “I’m going to wreck my dad’s day, and I’m going to enjoy it.” That’s not what was going on. That’s what it feels like to me, because I have myself in a position I’m not actually in.
So, it’s not, “Wow, this is a lost young man who needs God’s rescue,”—that’s not what’s in my brain. What’s in my brain is: “How dare you do this to me? Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do for you?” So it makes it personal. Well, if it’s personal, then, by the time I get to the room, I don’t have ministry intention—it’s adversarial. That’s what’s going on.
Now, I think, if you’re honest, as a parent, you know what that struggle is. Being able to confess that is such a sweet thing. Knowing, as a parent, that there’s nothing in the process of parenting that will ever be exposed about you that hasn’t already been covered by the blood of Jesus means I can be honest about my struggle, as a parent.
I don’t have to have a front; I don’t have to hide; I don’t have to deny—I’ve been liberated from that stuff. It’s such a burden to have to be perfect.
Bob: But we’ve all been where you were—frustrated, watching our kids make foolish choices or, in some cases, make intentionally evil choices, where they’ve acted in deliberately sinful ways. Some parents get angry / some parents just say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about that,”—get passive.
What do I do, as a parent, that’s going to be the right way to respond to foolishness or evil being manifested by my kids and that’s going to bring about this radical change that you talk about in your book?
Paul: Here’s what I would say—and my answer’s going to need explanation—that our tendency is just to come armed with the law: “This is what you did. How dare you? And this is what you’re going to get.”
Now, let me say something about that. Do our children need the law? Yes, they do; because the law does a beautiful job of exposing sin. Do our children need the law? Yes, they do; because it’s a wonderful guide for life. But here’s what you need to understand—the law has no power, whatsoever, to change to the heart of your child—none. If the law could change your child, Jesus would have never had to come.
Paul: So, I want to respond to my child with grace. Now, parents, don’t misunderstand me. Grace is not about calling wrong right. If wrong were right, there’d be no need for grace. The assumption of grace is that wrong is wrong; but now I’m moving toward this child and I’m saying: “What is it that God wants for this young person right now?” and “How can I be part of what God is alone able to do? I can’t change him! I’ve no ability to do that at all, but God can.
“And what does it look like, in this moment, to be God’s tool in the life of this young person?”
That’s a whole different set of questions rather than, “How can I make him feel the weight of what he’s done to me?”—that’s just judgment! If God responded to us that way—if the wise heavenly Father responded to me that way—I have no hope as one of His children.
Bob: What I hear you saying in that is that the motivation we need to have, as parents, is a motivation of redemptive intent in the life of a child—not a motivation that says: “I’d like life to be easier around here,” or “…quieter around here,” or “…less painful than it is,”—but a motivation that says: “I would like you to grow in grace. I would like you to grow in wisdom. I would like you to grow in sanctification, and I’m here to be a part of that journey with you.” Is that what we ought to be motivated by?
Paul: Sure; and a principal part of that is—understand, largely, change is a process, not an event. God’s called me—as God does with us—to commit myself to 10,000 conversations / 10,000 moments.
Let me say it this way—I think this is so important to get hold of—if your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children—it’s never an accident, it’s never an interruption, it’s never a hassle—it’s always grace. God loves that child. He’s put him in a family of faith, and He will reveal the need of that child to you so you can be God’s tool of redemptive rescue and help. That’s parenting!
Dennis: I have to have you unpack the word, “grace,” at this point. You used another word with it—the word, “process,”—the “process of grace.”
The word, “grace,” is—sung about, it’s written about, it’s talked about—but it’s, in my opinion, not very well understood, especially when applied like you’re talking about here.
I want you to picture—across the table from you is a parent, and they’ve just heard it is by grace through faith that I experience redemption and salvation in Jesus Christ.
Dennis: Help me understand how I take this concept of God’s unmerited favor and practically work it out with a child who’s caught red-handed in doing something wrong that is abhorrent / that does tick me off.
Paul: So, I think our problem is that we talk about the gift of grace. We don’t talk about the process of how grace operates. Think about, again, how the heavenly Father works in our life. He first blesses us with the grace of insight, because sin blinds us. I know my young person doesn’t see himself with accuracy.
If you’re a sinner, give up the delusion that no one knows you better than you do. You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do; because, as long sin is inside of us, there’s spiritual blindness.
So, I’m going to ask the question: “What does God want my young person to see right now that he’s not now seeing?” and “How can I help him see it?” That’s followed by, then, the grace of conviction. I want to be part of that process, where the child begins to own his responsibility. “What is conviction about?”—it is owning personal responsibility for my words and my behavior.
Dennis: Give me an illustration of how that worked its way out in your family with your four kids.
Paul: There’s a series of questions I ask my children all the time. First one is: “What was going on?”—I just want a telling of the situation. The second one—now listen to where this goes: “What were you thinking and feeling as that was happening?”
Dennis: Speaking, inwardly, now.
Paul: Yes; and then I say, “What did you do in response?” Why is that the third question—not the second?—because I want him to see that his response is not shaped by the pressures of the situation. His response is shaped by what he wanted in his heart.
Fourth question: “Why did you do…? What were you seeking to accomplish?” What’s that going after?—motives. These are questions children would never ask themselves—that’s a job of a parent. Then, fifth question is: “What was the result?”
I’m trying to get the child to look at himself in ways a child would never look by themselves—to begin to own what’s in their heart, and the relationship between what they wanted and what they did, and then to recognize the consequences of those choices. Praise God! Praise God! Praise God if you get any good answers to those questions—grace is operating. You have the grace of insight, the grace of conviction, followed by the grace of forgiveness.
“How can I represent in that child’s life the gorgeous, forgiving grace of Jesus?” Well, I’m not going to beat you with the silent treatment. I’m not going to act like you don’t exist in the house because you made me mad.
I’m not going to do those things, because that’s bitterness and that’s vengeance—that’s not forgiveness.
Dennis: But there may be punishment.
Paul: Sure; sure. And again, the exercise of authority is a grace: “When did God give His law to the Israelites?”—after He had redeemed them from captivity—the giving of the law was grace. These people had no idea how to live and walk in relationship with God. The law’s a gorgeous, gracious gift of God.
Then it’s the grace of transformation: “Where, specifically, does God want to change this child? How can I be part of that?” I want to change conversations with my child: “What would it look like to respond to this situation in a different way—in a way that honors God?— that owns your struggle?”
And then, finally, the grace of deliverance. I want to hang in with this young person with these kinds of conversations, again and again, until—what he once struggled with—he doesn’t struggle with anymore.
That’s the operation of grace. That’s how God works in every one of our lives. I’m His ambassador / I’m His representative—God makes His invisible grace visible in the lives of children by sending parents of grace to give grace to children who need grace.
Bob: That takes a pretty together, spiritually-mature mom or dad to be able to go through a process of grace like that in the life of a child.
Dennis: You don’t have to remember all those questions. Here’s what I’d say: You have to remember what God did for you.”
Dennis: And that’s what I want you to do right now. There’s a parent listening—maybe there’s a single person, who isn’t a parent, who wants to be married someday and wants to be a parent—or there’s a married person, who’s not a parent yet / they’re not in this struggle—but there’s a person who’s not sure what you’re talking about in terms of experiencing the grace that comes that covers and offers forgiveness for all their sin—all the times they’ve broken the law.
Introduce that person to Jesus Christ right now.
Paul: Well, from the moment of my birth, I was utterly unable to be what I’m supposed to be and to do what I’m supposed to do. God had every right to just turn His back on me and walk away; but in love that I think will take all of eternity to understand, He moved toward me. How’d He do that?
He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to live the life I could never live—to die the death that I deserved to die / to rise again, conquering sin and death—so that I would know His forgiveness—but not only His forgiveness—His transforming grace. That means I don’t have to hide, I don’t have to lie, I don’t have to act like something that I’m not.
I can walk into the presence of a holy God, because of what Jesus has done. I can say, “I need help,” and He will not turn His back on me; because every ounce of my potential rejection was covered by Jesus.
Dennis: Grace is God’s gift to me if I will, by faith, accept it and place my trust in Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. As an act of my will and a step of faith, I receive God’s gift. I don’t earn it / I don’t deserve it, but it is the free gift of God.
Paul: And it initiates a process, as the New Testament says, of grace upon grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.
Dennis: And that’s what I was thinking about as you were talking—grace not only gets us into heaven—but it puts a little bit of heaven in us in the process of living out our 70-plus years of life on the planet—
Dennis: —and gives us the courage and the hope to keep on keeping on—whether it be, as a single person, who’d like to be married, and is disappointed—or whether it’s a parent, who’s in the throes of raising a four-year-old that is lying, cheating, stealing / all the things that four-year-olds can do.
Bob: And by God’s design, that grace that is planted in us grows over time so that the power of sin is weakened. Yet still, even when we’ve walked in grace for decades, we can have days, where our kids push our buttons, and we can walk into their bedroom and not even turn on the light and just annihilate them with our words, and then go back to our room and feel the regret and the remorse of what we did.
What did you do in that moment, Paul?
Paul: Well, see—that remorse is grace. That pain that you feel is your Father coming near to you and doing exactly with you what we’re saying to do with your children. So you go back to your child and you say: “I don’t want to be that guy.
“I need your forgiveness. What your dad says you need, your dad needs as much as you do.”
Dennis: Did you say that to him?
Paul: Yes; yes.
Dennis: And what did he say?—because he cried / he was crying by the time you left the room.
Paul: Yes; he was crying. I can’t repeat the whole conversation to you; but Justin said, “Dad, I love you,”—I mean, think about this in the heart of a child. Who wouldn’t want a dad who comes back and says: “I’m a broken man. I’m in need of redemption like you are. There are few things that you struggle with that I don’t struggle with myself, and our hope is Jesus.” That’s the dad of your dreams! Why can I do that?—because I know that I’m forgiven.
Dennis: This is what I want parents to hear: “There’s something much larger taking place here, as you raise a child, than what, more than likely, you ever imagined.
“God has given you a divine assignment / a holy assignment—a life-long assignment—of being a parent. Will you rise to the occasion and assume your responsibility before Almighty God and realize, in your brokenness, that you’re going to need grace / you’re going to need mercy just like Paul David said he did?”
But in those moments, that’s when you’re going to be most powerful, as a parent; because you will be, not only a recipient, but also a dispenser. I hate to use those kinds of words; but as a human being, we can pass on what we have received. That’s what kids need today—a connection with mom and dad that’s real / that’s not fake—that’s not a one-day-a-week-for-an-hour-at-church religious experience—but that’s connected with life, because you’re connected to Almighty God.
Bob: And that’s the difference between gospel-fueled parenting and behavior modification.
I’m concerned that a lot of Christian parents today are simply doing behavior modification. They’re not getting to the heart of the issues they need to be dealing with—with their children. That’s what you’re pointing us to in the book you’ve written, Paul, which is called Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. We have copies of Paul’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, and you can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Parenting by Paul David Tripp. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d prefer to order by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One of our chief goals, here at FamilyLife, is to encourage men and women to be intentionally passing on faith to the next generation.
We can’t do anything to see our kids converted other than pray for them—that’s a work that God does in their heart and in their lives—but we can, as parents, be pointing them toward the gospel. Of course, we can be praying for them as well. We just think men and women need to be more intentional about that—moms and dads need to recognize that is our primary goal as parents.
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Tomorrow, we want to talk about those times in parenting when we have to pull rank—we have to exercise our authority over our children—we have to discipline them. What should our goal be when those times occur? We’ll talk about that tomorrow with Paul David Tripp. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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