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A Mercy-Full Parent

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A few years ago, we were working through some struggles with one of our daughters. She was old enough to help with the needs of the home, but she showed no interest in contributing. Neither incentives like an allowance, nor punishments like removing a privilege, seemed to do much good. One day, we shared this with my in-laws, and my mother-in-law reminded my wife, Amy, that she was exactly the same way at that age. “You wouldn’t cook, clean, or do your own laundry until you were off to college,” she said. This reminded us that our children are a work in progress, just like we are. All of us—parents and kids alike—need patience, forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

Parents, You Need Mercy

In his book Parenting, Paul Tripp discusses the importance of remembering our own need for mercy. We are sinners saved by grace, and we continue to receive mercy from our merciful God every day. Remembering this empowers us to show mercy to our kids. Tripp writes, “No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.”

Do we truly, deep down, believe that we need mercy? Or do we feel like we’re doing alright? Our answer to this question will likely determine whether or not we live as mercy-full parents.

Parents, Reflect on the Mercy You've Received

Tripp explains that we often struggle because we wrongly compare our personal “righteousness” to our children’s sin, wishing they could be more like us, all the while forgetting that we are in desperate need of mercy and forgiveness. So often, our issue is that we are merciless because we don’t really think we need mercy ourselves. Tripp corrects us, helping us see that, as we “daily reflect on the mercy we are constantly receiving, need and gratitude soften our hearts and make us more ready and able to give to our children what we have received from our Father in heaven” (p. 199).

It's like the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18. I had never applied this parable to my parenting, but Tripp’s call for parental mercy helped make this connection. In the parable, Jesus tells of a king who mercifully forgives a servant an enormous debt that the servant could never repay. This mercy was undeserved, and it saved the servant from a life of slavery. But, when the servant had an opportunity to extend mercy to a fellow servant by forgiving a small debt, he refused. The servant quickly forgot the mercy he had received, and he refused to show mercy in response. Jesus concluded with severe words for anyone who acted like this unforgiving servant.

As parents, don’t we often act like the unforgiving servant? We’ve had 20 to 30 more years of mercy bestowed on us, yet we often fail to extend to our kids the mercy we’ve been shown from our King. Thankfully, there’s mercy for us even in this. There’s mercy to change our hearts and help us grow as parents. That’s the whole point of Tripp’s argument: God has shown us mercy, and it’s only by resting in the finished work of Christ, not our own righteousness as parents, that we will be able to display that mercy to others. We are not as merciful as we should be, but let’s run to Christ and ask Him to give us the mercy we need to be merciful to our children, so that they might see how good He is.

Parents, Be Mercy-Full to Your Kids

When our children sin, it provides an opportunity to train, correct, and even punish when needed. But, more importantly, it provides an opportunity to show them their need for mercy and the endless supply they can find in the blood of Christ. John Bunyan once said, “he who forgets his Savior is unmerciful to Himself.” Let us be mercy-full parents and help our kids remember the Savior.