And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:36-38
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45
Our ministry seeks to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children. The warmth of holiday traditions give parents a chance to create an environment that promotes thankfulness and focuses on the first coming of our Savior.
But we all know the nefariousness of the devil and sin. Children who have grown up in an environment of hearing and seeing the gospel (albeit imperfectly), can turn their backs on the Lord as adults. Their wandering shows up in different ways. They might be a disinterested prodigal. He or she is “successful” in work and family but the Lord is not part of it. Others might be living an actively destructive lifestyle, abusing drugs or alcohol.
Still others present a third challenge, they have actively embraced an “alternative” lifestyle. They are in a same-sex relationship or have “changed” their gender. When they first told you, you were upset. You alternated between dismay, crying, and disbelief. You felt betrayed and bewildered. But here you are. As of now, they haven’t changed their thinking in spite of your prayers.
The Holiday Tension
And now it’s the holidays. There’s a knot in your stomach.
What do you do? Let me suggest that the Lord wants you to pray the tension and live the tension.
The tension you are feeling comes from the unique relationship between being a follower of Jesus Christ and a loving parent of your adult child.
On the one hand, you know that they are not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord. At this point in their lives, they have rejected your values and, more importantly, the Savior’s. They are living out of touch with the way God has made them and the best he intends for them. And it is right there is front of your face. It is in the kitchen, the living room, and across the dining room table.
On the other hand, you love your child. You birthed this person, changed their diapers, sacrificed for them, and would gladly lay down your life for them even now. You were their driver to numerous events and their cheerleader in the tumultuous teen years. You were not a perfect parent but you were a good one.
And those two facts leave a knot in your stomach. You don’t think of it too much when they are living distant from you. But when they are in your home at the holidays, you can’t escape it. You can feel the tension.
Two Wrong Ways to Escape the Tension
Actually, you can escape the tension. But neither of those ways honors the Lord.
First, you can banish them from your life. You can tell them your relationship with them is over. They have betrayed you or they have betrayed Christ and you will have nothing more to do with them. Thankfully, not too many Christian parents do this. Today it is the children who are “canceling” or banishing their parents from their lives.
Second, you can banish the values of Jesus from your life. This is the much more common resolution to the tension. Either theologically or functionally, we start to reject God’s teaching. This is what I think is behind Andy Stanley’s recent conference, Unconditional. The stated purpose was “for parents of LGBTQ+ children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches.” The organizers said it would stake out a “quieter middle space” on the topic. Instead, by headlining gay couples, it undermined biblical teaching.
My question is, “What drove this conference?” and “Why was there such a large turnout of parents?” The answer, I believe, is because of the above mentioned tension between the parent’s love for Jesus and their love for their children.
Unfortunately, this conference sought to relieve the tension is by jettisoning the historic biblical tension on sexuality. I have watched other parents follow this same path. Wanting to love their child, they gradually slip from orthodox Christianity. Rosaria Butterfield’s exhortation to stay connected without being indoctrinated is not heeded.
Embrace the Tension
That brings us back to my encouragement on this issue. Gently, carefully, and compassionately, I want to encourage parents to embrace the tension, pray the tension, and live the tension.
In our scriptures above we see Jesus predict that a person’s enemies will be members of his own household. As much as this ministry wants to support and encourage the family, we need to remember family is not ultimate. It is penultimate. Jesus is the ultimate goal. If there is tension between him and our family, Jesus claims our allegiance. In Matthew 10:35, Jesus predicted family tension over his kingdom. And he demanded allegiance over family. “Whoever loves … son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” Jesus demands allegiance before biological family. That is going to cause hardship. Perhaps that’s why he states next, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38). Following Jesus might mean dying to idyllic family relationships.
Loving Our Enemies
But when this happens, what are we to do? Jesus tells us how his true followers are to interact with those who are currently opposed to us, even when they are members of our household. We are to imitate our Father now. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Here Jesus points out the obvious. Our Father could direct material blessing just on his children like he did with Israel and Egypt (Exodus 8:22). Instead, he is tolerant in this age. And more than tolerant, he actually blesses his enemies with rain. That does not mean he overlooks their sin and counts them as righteous but he does bless them.
John Piper has made the interesting observation that Jesus is both the beginning and end of tolerance. In this age of waiting, Jesus is tolerant. In the coming age he will not be. Similarly, in this age our heavenly Father gives grace to the unrighteous. In the future age, he will not. In this moment, he lives with the tension.
I see in this a pattern to imitate. On the one hand, I will never put my child before Jesus. He is my Lord. I love and trust him. He alone declares what is a life that honors him. No amount of Scripture-twisting can change that. On the other hand, in this age, I am called to love those who are difficult to love. I will live with grace and truth. And since our Father is sovereign, I will embrace this tension as he does. Full of truth and full of grace in this age. I will let this situation drive me to more and more prayer.
So this holiday season, if there is tension in your home, bear that cross for Jesus. Don’t get off track one way or the other. Resolve that you will live the tension and you will pray the tension.