Everything I am about to share with you is true. It’s also in the past, where it’s staying. I just want to tell you something I learned about God through a recent parenting experience I had. Two things: I didn’t really want to share this with anyone, but I have to be obedient. And, “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Please remember this as I tell you about my broken heart, and my son. He used to be a drug dealer.
I have a fifteen-year-old son who’s been a hot mess for a long time. He’s struggled with depression since he was four, he’s grown up with insecurities and brokenness over things he had absolutely no control and like many people, that drove him into reckless decisions.
I did everything to shield my kids from the pain of life. I raised them alone rather than try to make a relationship work, so I could devote all of my time to them. I went to college while working full-time to provide for them. I refused to have cable so we could spend all our free-time playing games and laughing together. I sang them to sleep every night, kissed all their boo-boos, and loved them fiercely. But nothing that I did was enough to shield them, I guess, because my kids have still suffered from an absent parent, and it has manifested in our home in various ways. One is an over-achiever who never gives herself a break, and the other … well, he’s been rescued from inner turmoil and self-destructive behavior through a combination of tough love and grace.
I don’t know when it started. I know the evidence of self-medicating with substance usage started in seventh grade. He’ll admit that he might have dabbled in sales around that time too, but it really got serious the summer after eighth grade into his freshman year. By the time I came across all the evidence I needed to confront this lifestyle, he was in pretty deep. He was making good money, had a plug and a steady stream of buyers. Ask me how I didn’t know this was happening in my home and I will admit that there was a season here where we rarely talked. He was hardly ever home, and when he was, he just checked out of all interaction with us. It should have been weird, but my daughter had made a similar retreat and I was naively appreciating the peace and time to myself. Being a single parent is hard work when you make yourself available to your kids 24/7.
When my worst fears were finally confirmed through an unguarded phone and motherly curiosity, I made the hardest decision of my life. I called the cops on my own kid.
There are two responses to this from the peanut gallery: You’re either going to applaud me for doing the hardest thing a parent can do, or you are going to shake your head in disgust because I did something most parents wouldn’t. I not only let my kid face the natural consequences of his actions without shielding him, I invited those natural consequences into our home.
Long story short, this revelation into his life, and a few other things, led him into juvenile detention. Wanna know how I handled that? I cried, I prayed over him fervently, I took every phone call he made home, and visited him every chance I got. He knew I put him there, but he also saw me loving him in the midst of his worst moments. This is tough love and grace working together to save my son. You can argue with me about how effective you think this strategy was and I will simply smile at you and encourage you to ask my kid how it worked in his life. He’s no longer dealing drugs, or using them. He’s no longer stealing from us or lying. He doesn’t disappear for days. He’s living peacefully in a home that has the same boundaries it has always had and he tells me every day how happy he is and how much he loves his life. I can’t wait for him to share this with the world!
Until he does, though, I will share what I learned as his mother. Let’s recap: I recognized my son was doing something that was detrimental to his safety, his emotional and mental health, and his freedom. I didn’t overlook it, I called him out on it. I let him face the consequences, but walked with him through the process and loved him every second of every day. I sought the Lord in this difficult time and sane people will agree that this was good parenting. Tough love with a heaping measure of grace. It’s over and we don’t talk about it anymore.
I used the same strategy God uses in scripture to deal with us, and I have seen how powerful it can be. God has clearly given his standards in scripture. We’ve taken that list and subdivided it into sins we come down hard on (homosexuality, adultery, etc.) and sins we pat people on the back for (gluttony, lust, etc.). That colorful list we see is still black and white in God’s eyes. We all sin and fall short, according to Romans 3:23. All of us. We attack people for their obvious sin while ignoring our sin-filled lives. God sees it all the same. And He calls us out on it. He doesn’t tell us our sin is okay. None of us.
God allows us to suffer the natural consequences of our actions, but He loves us in the midst of them and stays with us during those trials we bring upon ourselves. Why? Because we are all also “justified freely by His grace” (Romans 3:23). Loving parents do not stop being loving parents while their kids struggle. God is gracious and compassionate, abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). What we would consider a good parent. He’s not going to wink at our sin. But here’s where the church turns the world off: we act like we have it all together and that’s why God loves us.
I hope you are still reading this, because I’m about to share the best thing I have ever written. Ready for it?
2 Peter 3:9 says that God is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God does not want or long to destroy His creation. He did that once in Genesis and it devastated Him to such a degree that He promised it would never happen again. At the end of this age, there will be people in hell, but not because that’s what God wanted. It will be because they did not come to know Jesus as their personal savior.
You can expect, though, when you come to Christ, that the Lord is going to come to you about your sin life. He’s going to ask you to let go of some things that endanger your peace of mind, you physical, mental and emotional self, your freedom from internal bondage, and your eternal life. Because he’s a good parent and good parents do not allow things to destroy their children!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness. If we claim we have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:5-9).
He is faithful as a parent to walk with His children with an abundance of grace. Hebrews 10:14 further explains this work of eternal salvation by saying that by one sacrifice (the death of Christ) he has made perfect forever (it’s a done deal) those who are BEING MADE HOLY. That’s an ongoing process. You will be made perfect when you accept Christ, but you have a walk that will take time and massive patience and obedience. It will take work to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13). It’s a daily walking out what God has done inside of you.
Remember the 180-change I described in my son earlier? This is the kind of evidence that should be a testimony to the sanctifying work of the Spirit in someone’s life when they accept Jesus as their savior. If a person’s profession of faith includes open rebellion, hostility toward the law, and a continuance of sin that the Bible says is unpleasing to the Lord, that person has not been saved. I say that with no apologies, but rather with fear for the lost who are comfortable with such a hollow belief. It’s not supported by scripture. This is my tough love talking again. You still need Jesus!
It is so good to be set free, friends, and that’s why I’m sharing all of this. There are people who are hardened toward the church because they’ve received a message even the church cannot accept, and they’ve been beaten with consternation over sins we can see, knowing all the while that sin is everyone’s struggle, not just their own. I hope if you are one of those people – if you are struggling with something you know is a sin but you can’t let go of it and maybe even don’t want to – I pray you surrender it to God and let Him take it from you with the care of a parent who wants better for you. He doesn’t hate you. He hates sin and the destruction it causes in our lives. He loves you. You are precious to Him!
After all that struggle with my son – years’ long pain and turmoil – I still love him as much as I ever did. We are closer now than we have ever been. That’s the power of grace. It breeds intimacy. It’s a powerful thing to know you can mess up badly and still be forgiven and loved fiercely. “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s an amazing love, friends!