Søren Kierkegaard believed that there is nothing more lethal to the faith of a child than to have a parent that lives a moral and proper life and claims to believe in God, but doesn’t truly believe and in reality lives for the sake of appearances.

We live in a world of contradictions. On the one hand we have cut-throat competition to get into the best colleges, get the best internships, to excel in sports, etc. This can tempt our children to base their value on their performance.

On the other hand we often think our children are fragile little snowflakes that need protection from anything that could be challenging or dangerous so we helicopter around them. Keeping our children from challenging things weakens them and makes them incapable of standing up to the trials and difficulties they will inevitably face.

The solution to these opposing errors is the Gospel. We are justified and receive Christ’s new life because of God’s gracious gift, not because of anything we have done or could ever do. Believing this will keep us from falling into the error of finding our value in our performance.

However, though sin no longer reigns, it still remains. We have a sinful condition and we need correction and discipline to develop virtuous character. Consider the Apostle Peter’s words, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” (II Peter 1:3-9). While we are saved by God’s unmerited and gracious gift and not our works, the acceptance of that gift, in cooperation with His continued grace, should lead to a fundamental change in our outlook and actions.

How do we apply this truth to our parenting?

In practice this means we need to love our children no matter how much they disappoint and hurt us (and they will do both!!!) in order to show them that their value and our love are not contingent on their performance. At the same time we need to challenge them and call them to better behavior, affirm that God’s Spirit empowers them to live the way He has called them to live, and show them that foolish and sinful choices have consequences.

In terms of our example, one of the best ways to show our children the Gospel is to trust Jesus completely—so completely that He informs all our choices, from how we parent to how we spend our money; from how we talk about others to how we spend our free time.

Having children is a frightful burden. As parents we are one of the greatest influences, if not the single greatest influence, in our children’s lives. We may wish this was not true, but it is; this may frighten us, but we need to embrace it.

Being a parent is a hard, demanding, and unappreciated calling. As parents we fail. All of us. All the time. As we give grace to our children we need to receive the grace that Christ offers us. He didn’t just die to take away all our purposeful sins; He also died to cover all the times we failed to live up to His calling. If you’ve made mistakes, if you’ve been a terrible parent, if you’ve never even attempted to parent . . . there is hope! There can be no greater example to your children than to accept Christ’s grace and follow Him, knowing full well you haven’t lived as you ought to have lived and that you don’t deserve His grace.

If you ever felt frustrated or condemned as you read some of these messages (as I felt at times as I wrote them!), don’t be dismayed. Instead, admit your failure as a parent and embrace it as an opportunity to accept God’s grace and use your mistakes as an opportunity to model to your children the power and beauty of the Gospel. The question isn’t: what have you done, but rather, what will you do? As long as you have breathe in your lungs there is hope for real growth and change.