I will never forget that classic scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Grant is driving a JEEP at night trying to get away from the Tyrannosaurus Rex which is in hot pursuit. Dr. Grant looks in his rear mirror to see if he is gaining any distance from the Dino, his mirror only shows the chomping jaws of the T-Rex, with the words written on the bottom “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” This is often how life is when we look in the rear mirror. We observe our past mistakes and although they may be some time back in the past, the pain of those mistakes in that mirror are “closer than they appear.” As Christians we need to be able to look back on our past mistakes and failures with gospel-shaped lenses.
Often, we can feel condemned by our mistakes. However our mistakes shouldn’t condemn us. Let’s be clear, this doesn’t excuse them, but it does set them in their proper context. Parenting failures are personal and painful for a reason. Our mistakes affect others. Parenting carries a huge responsibility, but I write this as one who is the result of failed parenting. I do not mean that I was necessarily neglected as a child or despised in my parents eyes. I mean that my parents made mistakes (plenty of them), and they didn’t take up the call to pour the gospel into my life. In their case, how could they when they weren’t walking in the gospel themselves?
There is hope for your unbelieving adult children to believe even when you did not give them a healthy example.
You are saved by grace
As tragic as our failures may have been, you are saved by God’s grace, not by how great of a parent you were. Be sure not to allow your past failings define your faith in God. We repent of our failures and embrace grace.
Your failure is God’s lesson
If you feel condemned, then you are trusting in your works, not Christ’s work. Do not take on more or less responsibility than is yours. The devil seeks to kill your faith. Let your past failures fuel your faith. You can be confident in your own need for a Saviour and thus your own need of the gospel. Give thanks for the reminder of your own frailty, and turn to Jesus for strength. The Christian life is lived in dependence on Christ. Our failures teach us of our need for Christ.
Salvation is God’s work
It isn’t too late for your children. Many people come to Christ from unchristian (or nominally Christian) homes. Just because you failed, it doesn’t mean you have damned your children. Give credit to the God who saves! There are some amazing examples in Judah’s kings. Evil kings begot God-fearing kings. Abijah begot Asa. Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Amon begot Josiah. Certainly parents are called to be a means of displaying the gospel, but don’t confuse a means of the gospel with the gospel itself. Jesus is the Way, not us. Jesus saves.
Confess your failures and ask forgiveness
If you have failed to model and teach the gospel to your your children, humbly tell them. This may allow you to deal with how they have (mis)understood Christ from your past example. Gospel living is humble living. Parents who are willing to be honest with their children and confess their failures, gain a level of respect from their children, even if they don’t show it.
Pray for your children fervently
Often times you are unable to be involved in the life of your children in a spiritual capacity because of how you may have parented. This doesn’t mean you cannot be involved in the most significant way. You can pray! Job sanctified his children daily before God and offered sacrifices to God on their behalf (Job 1:5). They may not permit your hands on involvement, but that doesn’t mean you’re no longer parenting. You can parent from a distance. It is always important to remember that the greatest work we can do is prayer. Pray fervently for their salvation, for their eyes to be opened to the gospel, and that their lives circumstances would bring them to Christ. Pray for God to bring other believers into their lives.
By taking these steps, it doesn’t guarantee anything. You are still utterly dependent on God to work. However in doing so, when you look in the rear mirror at the jaws of your condemning past, it should cause you to gaze ahead to the one who redeems. This is the beauty of Christ. He is the redeemer. He makes things new. So drive on and look forward in hope and leave the T-Rex behind.