Applying the Gospel to Parenting

Posted by on Jan 23, 2013

I’ve reached the age when discussions of family move quickly to updates about our grown, adult sons. People my age compare stories of “having survived” our children’s adolescences and we now look forward to spoiling our grandchildren as revenge.

It’s not long before we all admit some level of shortcomings. We all made mistakes and hope our children are saving adequately for the psychotherapy they’ll need to undo the damage we caused. Inevitably, one of us utters the mantra, “I did the best that I could.” Sometimes someone adds the modifying clause, “with the knowledge I had back then.” I don’t remember any bestselling book boasting the title, “I did the best I could,” or some famous person making it their motto. But that slogan, “I did the best I could” (herein abbreviated as IDTBIC) has become universally accepted and relied upon by parents of a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, financial statuses, and any other demographic I can think of.

We all did the best we could! So, why are our kids so messed up? Or why is the world in such trouble? And would our kids evaluate our parenting careers with the same passing grade? Would they reward us with a blue ribbon for our parenting efforts?

Not too long ago, I watched a televised interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had just published his memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, and was making the talk-show circuit to boost sales. The interviewer had to inquire about Arnold’s now-infamous affair with his family’s housekeeper and his fathering a child with her. Everyone watching the interview knew this moment would be coming. Surely, Arnold anticipated the question. (Perhaps he went back and reread that portion of his book to remember how he explained his actions there). But the man who had played the Terminator and other powerful characters on film stammered weakly as he looked for words to respond. He offered quite a few attempts that began with, “well, I” and “Y’know…” and “no one’s perfect.”

And then he said it. He uttered the same line I had used countless times: “I did the best I could.”

I don’t often talk to my television set. But I found it impossible not to blurt out, “Really? You? The best you could?” I thought, “He gets to use the IDTBIC line?” The best he could do was have an affair, father a child out of wedlock, lie about it until cornered by the evidence, and say it really wasn’t as bad as people thought? (I think that came later in the interview). Surely, he could have done better, I reasoned with smug confidence.

And then it hit me. I did not do the best job I could as a parent. I wonder if anyone can ever use that line. By God’s grace, I did a lot of good things. But I did quite a few bad things as well. I did harmful and insulting things. I said words that I wish I could erase from my sons’ memories. On occasion, I treated them harshly when they most needed tenderness. I won’t even diminish the intensity of these acts by calling them “mistakes.” They were sins. I sinned against my sons and the God who blessed me with them. I am humbled beyond measure that they and God forgive me. No wonder Jesus died on a cross. Nothing less could atone for such behavior.

It is important for me (and any other parent who did not do the best he or she could do) to acknowledge it. Only then do we rely on the grace of God for the cleansing of our consciences and the wellbeing of our offspring. Only then do we stop trusting in our performance as the richest resource for them to draw on. Only then do we stop taking credit for our kids “turning out OK” or beating ourselves up if they didn’t.

As long as we cling to the IDTBIC line, we aren’t really clinging to the cross. Applying the gospel to all of life must include our parenting. To do so is to realize that, “we are saved by grace, not by works” and therefore, our best efforts in all areas of life have and always will fall short.

But our God is a gracious savior whose shed blood covers all our sins, including the ones we committed in the privacy of our homes – perhaps, especially the sins we commit there. To God be the glory – He did the best He could.


  1. Rebekah Williams
    January 24, 2013

    Thank you for your post. My husband and I parent 3 beautiful sinful children (2 of which are teenagers) . Lately, I have been allowing myself to get very discouraged and think I am a failure. Thanks for bringing my focus back to the only place it should be – on the grace of the cross.

  2. George
    January 25, 2013

    Maybe you should emphasize the “cling” verb versus the word “use”? Can we not say, like Paul, that I worked hard, but it wasn’t me but God working in/through me? Not every Christian who uses the IDTBIC line lives under feelings of guilt; some of us say it in confidence of what God has done in/through us. There is a difference between “cling” and “use”. If you truly mean “cling”, then by all means, preach clinging to the cross! If what you intend to do is to communicate that anyone who “uses” the line (IDTBIC) isn’t really clinging to the cross, then that is going too far in judging ‘why’ other people do what they do (reliance upon self rather than God). Your post was unclear as to whether you mean “use” or “cling” because of the change of verbiage at the end. Maybe rather than (inadvertently of course) projecting guilt of depending on self upon people who use that line, you could instead challenge your readers to think about whether their own use of that line reflects a lack of clinging to the Cross?

  3. Jim Hogan
    January 25, 2013

    Randy, thank you again for your vaulable insight. Your statement, “I sinned against my sons and the God who blessed me with them. I am humbled beyond measure that they and God forgive me” is what truly hit home. I know that when we were raising our three kids (note to readers, Randy’s boys and our three are the same age), I recognized as a primary responsibility my obligation to correct, discipline, and train. Unfortunately, I believed that correcting, disciplining, and training meant focusing on their sins. After all, if they were sinless, I wouldn’t have to correct, discipline, and train! I now wonder how different my parenting would have been if I was focused on my own sins, and not theirs.

  4. Sara
    January 26, 2013

    Thank you Randy. This is the encouragement I needed to hear today.

  5. Patti
    January 28, 2013

    IDTBIC struck a chord with me Randy. Parenting is a delicate matter. I remember when I was taking Psychology in nursing school; suddenly with learned insight I was able to put a title on all of my parents’ dysfunctional behavior. The “reassuring” they DTBTC line had been used to help us understand our parents, but to me it was dishonest and incongruous. It occurred to me that IDTBIC was an escape mechanism to avoid “uncomfortable conversation” and ownership of choices made which deeply impact children’s lives. Relationship with our Living Savior freed me from the captivity of IDTBIC. I praise God that He opened my eyes to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for my sins. Parenting is so much easier having admitted to our three sons that I have made mistakes and will continue to fall short, but for these blessings that I have been given, Rabbi Jesus helps me to DTBIC.

  6. Brenda Brown
    January 30, 2013

    Hi Randy, preach it! God uses you to articulate His words so clearly and to the heart. God bless.


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