I Come Messy and Ashamed

After a long day of seesawing emotions, rivers of tears, and volcanic tantrums, my son was exhausted. I read him a story and tucked him in bed for the night. Amid the crowd of his favorite blankets and cuddly stuffed animals, I squeezed in on the bed next to him.

I was disappointed by our difficult day and at my own failures to help him through it. I have learned that his heart is most tender, his soul most bare, in the quiet darkness, wrapped warm in his blue and red fire truck quilt, surrounded by all his favorite items. I snuggled with him, hoping to speak to him about the challenges of the day.

We talked about his behavior and his angry responses. I asked him what he wanted to tell God about his day.

“Mommy, I just can’t pray. Can you?”

I know that hesitancy to come before God messy and ashamed. I’ve felt the same way. It’s as though I think I need to be all cleaned up before I approach the throne.

I want to speak the gospel into my son’s heart. I want to show him Jesus and his need for a Savior. I want him to know that because of Jesus, he can come before God, messes and all. But so often my efforts at pointing him to the gospel fail in the midst of the heated moments and frustrating circumstances. I stumble through, feeling awkward and forced. And in his heightened emotional state, I don’t know that he hears anything I say.

But God is gracious and fills in those gaps left by my imperfect parenting. In the quiet of night, he gave me a moment, an opportunity to speak the gospel to my son when he was most spiritually sensitive and his emotional defenses were down.

Only Way

I did it the only way I know how: through prayer.

Praying aloud for my son to hear, I offered these words to God:

Dear Father in heaven,

We come before you tonight, tired from a long day. You know the challenges we faced today. You know how hard Ian battled with his emotions. In fact, you know all things, Father. You know all our weaknesses and failures. You know sin has a hold on us.

And that’s why you sent your son Jesus. He died for all the times Ian reacts in anger. He died for all the times Ian can’t obey. He died to rescue Ian from each and every one of his sins. 

Father, I thank you so much for Ian and the gift he is to our family. I can see the work you are doing in his heart, even now. I ask that you would continue to draw him to yourself and help him grow in his love for you.

But he can’t do it on his own. He can’t control himself in his own strength. He needs you. You gave us Jesus for that too. Because Jesus always obeyed his mother and father, his perfect life is given to us. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, when you look at Ian, you see Jesus instead.

I ask now that you would be at work in his heart tonight. Show him his need for you. Help him to learn to come to you when he is angry. Help him to know that because of what Jesus did for him, he can come to you anytime. Please give him the strength that only you can give.

Be with him now as he sleeps. Help him to experience your peace and to rest in your love and forgiveness.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

As I prayed this prayer, my son snuggled even closer. He rubbed his head against my arm, sighing contentedly. It was his way of saying his heart needed a cleansing gospel prayer.

Christ Came to Save Sinners

Honestly, it’s what my heart needed most too.

Sometimes all I can do is pray a gospel prayer aloud for my children to hear and learn that the only way to be cleansed from sin is by washing in the fountain of grace. Because isn’t that the only way to the Father? When we come to him, bowed low in brokenness and humility, admitting we can’t do it on our own, and laying all our failures at his feet, he reminds us: Christ came to save sinners.

He came not for the healthy, but the sick. He dined with the outcasts and touched the unclean. The messes we accumulate in our daily lives are the very things he came to clean up. It is brokenness that comes before completeness, sickness before healing, hunger before being filled, and death before life.

I want my son to learn that he can come before God just as he is. I want him to come confidently to the throne dirty and ragged, be drenched by the gospel, and leave wearing the righteousness of Christ. I want him to know that the path from sin to freedom goes right through the muck and mire of life, and that he can leave a trail of dirty foot prints all the way to the base of the cross.

This has since become our nightly routine. We pray through the day, giving God all the messes my son has made. We pray through the gospel and cover ourselves with the cleansing truth of our Savior’s perfect life and death for us. And we close with an “amen” that announces the gospel’s work has been done in our heart.

My son will continue to battle sin. I will continue to fail in my parenting. But the gospel is effective to not only save us for eternity but also cleanse us each and every day. It is my prayer that the more my son experiences gospel cleansing, the more he will seek after it. And may each of his days end in a resounding amen!

  • http://www.hiveresources.com Melissa Deming

    this post is so helpful! Thank you for the encouragement to turn to grace through prayer when we fail in parenting and to lead our children in the same example.

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  • Dan

    Thank you for your openness and honesty, sharing a personal moment from your family that you didn’t have to share.

    I have two thoughts that I’d be interested to hear feedback on, but I’m really just thinking out loud:

    1) I get nervous about “teaching prayers” – as a Youth Pastor, I find myself re-stateing a lesson or trying to be direct with a prayer sometimes. But I wonder that what I gain in repeating a lesson, I lose in showing honest, open communion with God, not people. Yes, we want those people to get it, and praying can be a great way to do that…but are we abusing prayer? I’m just not sure.

    And 2) I’m sure you have shared with your son openly about your and your husband’s own need for the Gospel, and own sin – but I don’t see it in the prayer. As someone who isn’t a parent yet, I guess my question is, what is the balance between sharing our own sin, and helping kids recognize what they did really was wrong and needs to be dealt with?

    Again, thanks for your transparency, and it gave us lots of good stuff to think about. If more parents spent time teaching the Gospel to their kids early on, my job might not be easier…but it’d be a lot different. We need that!

    • Torey

      Re: Dan, I often wonder about teaching prayers too. I don’t like it when people use them on me, yet I do often use them as a counselor to sum up our session and ask God to move in the ways the client needs that was addressed for his glory. I’d love to hear more about others’ thoughts on the topic.

      I think an excellent gospel centered resource for Christian parenting is Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. Which I think the author of this article did an excellent job of because she addressed the emotional/spiritual needs of her son’s heart. I do think that parents appropriately sharing their own struggles and repentence with their children can be an excellent example. I am also not a parent yet counsel people on raising children.

    • http://www.toshowthemjesus.com Christina

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!
      I am not a theologian, nor an expert on prayer so I don’t know how much I can add to the conversation. For me, I like to pray gospel prayers by myself and to my children. When I read Paul’s prayers in his letters to the various churches in the New Testament, he prayed for the power of the gospel to be at work in them. I guess that’s what I am trying to do. I know that when people pray out loud for me, their words can be a great encouragement to me and even remind me of truths I had forgotten. But maybe it’s not the case for everyone.
      As for your other question, I do think it is important to apologize to our children when we’ve sinned against them. It’s important that they know we are sinners too. I want my children to know that I am just as sinful as they are but that I too have been washed clean by the blood of Christ. I don’t know if I answered your questions or not and I hope you will forgive me for my stumbling words here.

  • cwely@liberty.edu

    Such a heartfelt loving post. However, I had the some of the same thoughts as Dan regarding #2 in his post. I am a parent and helping children through prayer time in specifics is scriptural, but in those times it also proves more beneficial to let them hear that Mommy and Daddy have and do struggle with the same issues and need the same forgiveness and strength our child needs. The paragraph in the prayer stating “he can’t do it on his own and needs Christ’s strength” will have a more personal and bonding effect when the parent adds we too need Christ’s work in our life. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    • http://www.toshowthemjesus.com Christina

      So very true! Thank you for your thoughts and pointing that out. I am so thankful that even my messy tare cleansed by the gospel. On the occasion of that story I shared, I ought to have included my own need for forgiveness, as you said. God is so gracious that He fills in my gaps and gives me other opportunities to try again. I praise Him that it is not my parenting that transforms my child’s heart but the work of the Spirit. His grace will work in them, despite my failures and imperfect prayers. I appreciate your comment today, thank you.

  • http://www.redeemedreader.com emily@redeemedreader.com

    So inspired by your post that I pulled my despairing kid aside and we had our own prayer time. Sometimes I feel so helpless to aid her when her emotions get out of control and I want to check out. Thanks for a suggestion of how I could break through and help her turn to Him again in her pain.

  • Misha

    Amen, amen!! Praying the Gospel with our children teaches them how to pray to their Father, coming before him in humility and brokenness. Love this post Christina!!

  • http://www.treasurecoastpca.org Pastor Chris

    Sometimes prayer is the only suitable response – both for our needs & in light of God’s unfathomable grace toward us.

    Well done…

  • http://www.desiringvirtue.com Jessalyn Hutto

    Wonderful encouragement and great example Christina. Thank you for always writing such beautiful and thought provoking articles!

  • http://simplystriving.wordpress.com/ Nikki

    What a beautiful, messy moment, Christina! Such beauty in our ashes…

    Prayer really is a gift, isn’t it. That’s just like my Redeemer…when we pour ourselves into Him, he pours onto us ten fold.

    Thank you!

  • http://www.blackhillspicturebooks.com Christa Upton

    What a lovely, lovely prayer. IMHO it is seriously the best thing I have read about parenting in a long time–like over 10 years. (And I’m an “info junkie”–I read a lot!!) Thank you!!

  • http://Www.findingfruit.net Jennifer

    I love the idea of praying with our kids through the ups and downs of life. I often need to remind my boys and myself that I don’t need Jesus because I already HAVE Jesus. I am saved because of Christ’s death and resurrection. He’s already here in the moment. I just need to remember it.

  • http://maryschieferstein.blogspot.com/ Mary

    This is a fantastic post, Christina! It really is so important to remind ourselves of the Gospel – that we can come to Him no matter what, in the midst of all our mess. We’re not going to be perfect – that’s why He had to be – and His Righteousness is enough. It’s enough to cover us, enough that we can come, messy though we are, with boldness and without fear, because He has made the way for us with His own blood and tears. Thank you so much for your honesty, and for reminding me of such beautiful truths that I am so prone to forget. God bless you, friend!

  • lizzy

    beautiful reminder of grace–our own need and the need to extend it to our children, modeling for them we can boldly approach His throne…thank you for this Christina

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  • http://viriatomartins-religionphilosophy.blogspot. viriato

    My son Ricardo (Rick – 25), sent me your article, as he knows we are deeply involved in spiritual warfare on behalf of our younger son Filipe (17), thanks for the article, it was worth reading, I’ll pass on to my wife

    Viriato (Portuguese), married with Janet (English), we have 5 children).

    Don’t bother to reply, you keep busy, I am sure, and I keep busy as well.

  • http://yourmodernfamily.com/ YourModernFamily

    I wanted to share the way that we spend one on one time praying for our children, as well. http://yourmodernfamily.com/spending-one-on-one-time-with-your-kids/

  • http://Lisatarplee.com Lisa Tarplee

    I breath a deep restful sigh as well as this post and prayer bring me to the One who always hears, understands, and stands in our place. So thankful for Christ. Great post!

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