Grace-Shaped Parenting

Allowing the Gospel to Shape our Thinking about Parenting

10/23/20233 min read

person holding white clay pot
person holding white clay pot

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28

I get it. I wanted a set of step-by-step instructions too. When we left the hospital with our firstborn son, my wife and I felt the weight of the task before us and knew we needed help. Surely there was some formula we could follow and all would work out. We looked and found one. But it only lasted until the next problem surfaced, and we needed another formula.

The reality is that computers run on formulas. They depend on a set of logical inputs which, if followed perfectly, will produce a set of desired outputs. But our children aren’t machines, and we aren’t programmers. So rather than a “how-to guide”, maybe parents need something more: a way to think about parenting.

Though parenting exposes our limitations like few other callings in life, we parents actually have what we need. In the opening chapter of scripture, we are told that God created man and woman in His own image. He then commissioned them to serve as His agents, stewarding creation for His purposes and His glory. This is our family line, marred and blurry as it has become. But in Christ, we have promise to accompany this commissioning. We are not alone. In this calling of image-bearing (which includes our parenting), we have the abiding presence of the Spirit of Christ leading us, blessing us, and shaping us.

So rather than a formulaic set of instructions, I believe we need to have our thinking about parenting shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. That shaping impacts our goals, timelines, views about relational connection, and understanding of discipline and authority. In short, I’ve come to believe that what parents need most is a theological rooting in Christ and a practical application informed by Christ.

A Thousand Little Moments: Grace-Shaped Parenting seeks to do just that. It seeks to shape the way we think about parenting by giving us a doctrinal foundation that will serve us in all of life (including our parenting). It then sets a framework for how to build on that foundation by taking principles from Jesus’ earthly ministry among the disciples. The book presents four principles meant to inform our thinking about and practical application in parenting: engage, delight, shape, and pray. It then calls on parents to apply this thinking in unique ways to parent our unique, image-bearing children.

I humbly offer these thoughts as one who is continuing to learn and embrace them. My prayer is that this will be an encouragement to you in your parenting as well. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is not just available for our children, but also for us as parents. But more than merely knowing about His grace, we must learn to abide in Him. Ultimately, as parents, we must develop what I’ve come to think of as heart memory in the gospel.

Both of my boys were involved in sports growing up. At varying times in their childhood, they played football, basketball, baseball, and golf. My daughter was less interested in sports. Dance and music filled her time. But for all three, developing muscle memory was a fundamental aspect of their training. They had to learn how to perform repetitive motions over and over again, regardless of the stress of the moment. That practice formed them, so in the heat of the moment, they could act out of their muscle memory.

Similarly, we need heart memory formed, not through repetitive formulas and techniques, but by soaking in the Biblical truths of our gracious identity in Christ and our calling to bear His image in the world. When the pressures of parenting come, in the heat of the moment, we can steward our children's hearts out of our own heart memory. This is how we allow the gospel to shape our thinking about parenting.