Is Unconditional Love the Key to Parenting?

Jeff and I and Alyssa and April, love to spend time in Homeroom, our online membership site. It had a great question from Helen, I want to just discuss with you guys because this is such a well-worded question I think a lot of people have. She said, “I was talking to someone in my family who asked her mom about how to introduce God into a child’s life, and her answer stumped me because it was just so, so simple. Her mom said, just love them unconditionally and they will know to love God because they experienced that love from you.”

What do you guys think? Is that really all there is? And if so, why do I feel like the steps I’m taking and learning from here to introduce God and faith into our kids’ lives feel like it takes so much effort?

So then she ends by saying, “Why does it feel like I’m striving so hard and putting so much effort, if it’s supposed to be just that simple?” And so we had a really good discussion about this. Is it true that parenting is as simple as showing your children unconditional love. Is that really enough? And our answer in Homeroom in the conversation we were having is, no, it’s not enough, for a very specific reason. And I want to walk this through with you guys.

What is it that transforms a child? Is it unconditional love? It’s not that simple. We are transformed by faith in the Gospel. Yes, that is about receiving unconditional love, but within the context of a specific story. That story involves God creating a perfect world. Our fallen is his righteous standard. Jesus paying the penalty of our sins. Us coming back into relationship with him and then returning to our creation mandate to spread the kingdom and rule over all the earth.

Parents must serve as surrogates for reflecting that full story to their children in order for their hearts to be transformed. That includes things like giving them work to do, holding up a high standard, helping them and training them to try and reach that standard, showing them grace and love when they fall, restoring relationship through forgiveness, those kinds of things. In a home like that, the Gospel resonates deeply with children and they receive God’s Grace and become followers of Jesus.

Our culture doesn’t believe in this story. This is the tension, you guys. So we just pour unconditional love on our kids without the context of the larger story and many of them conclude that they’re receiving all of this love because they just deserve it. I’m just that awesome. This can backfire in spectacular fashion and make kids resistant to the Gospel. Why do they need salvation, or to be humble or to serve, when they are so amazing?

So this is what’s really tough about this. And so I loved Helen’s question. Yes, it’s all about pouring unconditional love on your kids, but in the context of that story. If it is outside of the context of the full story of the Gospel, from creation to recreation, if you pull it out and just pour love out on kids, they misinterpret it and they internalize it as they deserve this, they become entitled and that can destroy their ability to have faith in the Gospel. And again, it’s faith in the Gospel that transforms the heart according to the Scriptures. But Jeff, what are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, I would say two things, I guess. I would say the first one is Scripture just doesn’t seem to play this story out. God doesn’t take this way. If that’s all it took to transform us, then I think he would have just stayed up there and just loved us unconditionally. But he actually, the story shows, that someone actually had to take a hit. There had to be sacrifice. There had to be death. There was sin. The curse was more serious than that. And then there’s resurrection on the other side.

And so I just think, yeah, basically just realize that the narrative of Scripture doesn’t even play out this way, where God himself, doesn’t just… Loving us unconditionally, which God does, it wasn’t enough at some level to put things back together, or to bring wholeness, or to bring flourishing. So that’s the first thing.

And then another way to put it, is I would say, you have to have unconditional love and a safe space and an environment for your kids, and for them to realize that it is this really, really fertile soil for intimacy and closeness and softness of heart and the Gospel, but it isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is unconditional love that found itself in sacrifice and the death of Jesus Christ, that then where he resurrected and gave us new creation and new life. So like you said, the whole story’s got to be put together.

And another way I’d put it is unconditional love is the backstop. It’s the thing that everything ends on. So unconditional love is, here’s the Gospel, here’s the story, this is what will transform you, this is what will actually renew you, this is what will actually change your life, and I’m going to hopefully disciple you in that for the next 20 years, 30 years, or 50 years, but even if you don’t believe this, even if you go wayward, even if you go astray, man, let me tell you about the love of God that has nothing to do with that there’s no condition on it, unconditional love, and it has nothing to do with your behavior, or your heart, or anything of this nature, because it’s a one way unconditional love. But that’s the backstop of that. Not the intro of that, if that makes sense. That’s the thing that actually calls you back into the Gospel.

And so, yeah, that’s a really, really good question and I understand the sentiment and it is deeply, deeply important. So hear us say that. But there’s more to it. And what you said, Jeremy, I think is really apt, that it actually shows how non-storied we are, that we tend to be factual and a little bit more formulaic, when it is true but it has to be within the context of a story.

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