by Laura Jones
There are moments in parenting that stick with us for years. I am not talking about the joyful ones like the healthy birth of a baby or her first wobbly steps. Those experiences are memorable because they are universally delightful. I am talking about the parenting moments that feel shameful and embarrassing. I’m sure we all have those moments as parents that we wish we could do over again. The reason they cut so deeply is that we make parenting about us instead of focusing on restoring our children’s hearts before the Lord. During these hard moments, our calling as parents get muddied up with our sense of identity. Instead of resting in our standing before God through Christ, we get our sense of worth from our children’s performance.
P.D. Tripp, in his recent book Parenting, calls this identity amnesia. He says that as a parent, if we are not resting in Christ for our identity, then we will probably look for our identity in our children (Tripp, 76). Why do we do this? Because we are made for worship. The Psalms are filled with commands to worship the Lord. For example, look at Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (ESV).
John Piper notes that the last chapter of the last book of the Bible lists the last duty of man as worshipping God (desiringgod.org):
“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9, ESV)
We were made for worshipping God, but in Genesis 3, we learn that our loves are completely disordered. Instead of looking to God to satisfy us, we turn to other things, just as Eve and Adam turned to the apple. Consequently, we tend to worship the created instead of the Creator. We fail to find our identity in Christ, and it is especially tempting to look for it in our children. However, no relationship outside of our union with Christ can fully satisfy us.
Unfortunately, identity amnesia is a subtle process that occurs over time. Even if we don’t consciously realize it is happening, it can drive our actions as parents. Here’s a litmus test for determining the areas where we experience identity amnesia: Which moments do we respond to our children with a sense of personal offense? These are likely the moments where we are suffering from identity amnesia. We are forgetting that our identity lies not in our children’s actions, but in our relationship with God through the work of Christ.
Perhaps you are like me and realize how easy it is to slide into identity amnesia with your children. Tripp reminds us that this is natural (77). We are fallen, and our affections have been turned inside-out by the Fall. Because of this, we must be on-guard through the practice of daily prayer and the reading of God’s Word. We must ask the Lord to set our hopes and affections on Him. Not on our children’s performance. Not on their successes. Not on their losses.
It is worthwhile to take a few minutes and reflect on our last week of parenting. Were there moments when we reacted with wounded defensiveness or red-hot anger? These are likely the moments when we experienced identity amnesia. While our children may be too young to articulate the relational burdens we place on them, they probably feel the weight of it. They likely think that our happiness in life depends on their performance rather than our relationship with God.
If we see areas where we have done this in our parenting, what can we do to make it right? Go to our children, even if they are little and don’t understand it all yet, and seek forgiveness. In prayer with our children, ask the Lord to show us the ways that we try to make our children carry our sense of worth. Then, move forward in parenting with hope that He is faithful to his children.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
“Revelation 22.” Desiring God, 14 Aug. 2017, www.desiringgod.org/scripture/revelation/22/messages.
Tripp, P. D. (2016). Parenting: The 14 gospel principles that can radically change your family. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Laura Jones is a displaced southerner currently living in West Point, New York with her husband, Harry, and their five children—Haddon (13), Harrison and Gresham (8), Mary Goodwin (5), and baby Kate (8 months). Her days are busy with homeschooling, reading, cooking, and yoga. As a graduate of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, she looks forward to returning to counseling when the kids are a little older. You can follow their Army journey here.