Parenting & the Way of the Cross

Previously, I have written about Tim Keller’s insight that all true love is sacrificial love. For love to truly make a difference in the lives of others, it must be substitutionary love. In other words, it requires us to stand in for others, to take hits for them, to help carry their burdens—to be, in some sense, a substitute for them.

Keller used the example of how we must be drained emotionally if we are to engage with emotionally draining people. We must be willing to pour ourselves out into others, so that they can be filled. Keller also shows how parenting involves this sacrificial love.

I need to remind myself that parenting is the primary way that I’m following in the Way of the Cross in this stage of my life. As a dad with 5 children, the joy of parenting is often obscured by the sheer amount of work, sweat, and yes—tears—involved. I need to be reminded that loving my children sacrificially is a powerful image of Jesus loving and dying for the sins of his people.

Here’s what Keller says:

When you have children, they’re in a state of dependency. They have so many needs; they can’t stand on their own. And they will not just grow out of their dependency automatically. The only way your children will grow beyond their dependency into self-sufficient adults is for you to essentially abandon your own independence for twenty years or so …

Unless you sacrifice much of your freedom and a good bit of your time, your children will not grow up healthy and equipped to function …

Think about it this way: You can make the sacrifice, or they’re going to make the sacrifice. It’s them or you. Either you suffer temporarily and in a redemptive way, or they’re going to suffer tragically, in a wasteful and destructive way …

All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice (Tim Keller, Jesus the King, 155-156).

As a father, this is incredibly powerful. When my kids interrupt my schedule for the 10th time in the morning, I need to take up my cross. When they refuse to pick up their stinky clothes, I need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I enter into their mess, but I need to do it in a redemptive way. As I walk alongside my children until they leave my home, and beyond, I help to carry their burdens, as we follow Jesus together.

Hebrews 12:2 has a wonderful reminder of what redemptive love should look like. It reminds us to keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This is often forgotten, but Jesus went to the cross because of the JOY waiting for him on the other side of the suffering. As parents, we need to follow the Way of Cross and suffer redemptively for our children, because of the JOY at the end of it all. When we do that, we can fully appreciate the joy in the midst of it all.

Gregory Soderberg is an academic tutor for the BibleMesh Institute. He also teaches online courses at Kepler Education. This post this first appeared on his blog.