The Perfect Parent (Sermon)
I remember seeing the cover of a book on motherhood written by the actress Patricia Heaton. She was famous for her role as a mother on the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. The book was about balancing TV stardom and motherhood. I’ve never read a word of it. But the cover was brilliant, and I’ve never forgotten.
On the front-cover is a photo of Heaton dressed in a fancy black dress, standing next to a convertible (only part of which can be seen). She’s got pearls around her next, yellow cleaning gloves on her hands, and she’s holding a toilet brush. Over the photo is the book’s title, Motherhood & Hollywood. It’s a clever photo. The best is the backcover. It’s the same photo but taken from behind. In this photo you see her hairs is held in place by a number of metal clips, and her dress is held up with blue painter’s tape and a clamp. In the convertible is a screaming child in a diaper.
I love the cover because it shows the difference between Facebook parenting and real parenting. Facebook parenting is all of the wonderful photos of your family tossing leaves in the air, posing with Mickey Mouse and celebrating birthdays. Real parenting is cleaning up vomit at 3 in the morning, knowing the other kids will be up in 3 hours wanting breakfast.
Which is a more accurate portrait of parenting? Real parenting includes both parts. It’s the front cover—laughter, fun and games—and the back cover—holding life together with duct tape and tools from the garage.
The lengthiest portion of Scripture on parenting is found at the end of Proverbs. It’s often called “the virtuous woman.” I want to look at it this morning in a way you may have never considered. Many read this passage and completely misunderstand what it’s teaching. If you’re familiar with it, I urge you to stick with me, because it makes a very powerful and relevant statement to mothers today. This passage speaks to more than just mothers (Men, this is my Father’s Day sermon too). Whether or not you’re a parent, whether you have kids at home or are a kid yourself, this passage has a message you can’t afford to miss.
When you read through Proverbs 31, you find the description of superwoman. The person described in these verses is amazing. I’m going to read through it now, and I want you to see how impressive she is.
The first thing we notice is how valuable she is to her husband. She’s worth more than a bank vault full of diamonds. She only does him good, never evil. She’s the perfect wife.
(Proverbs 31:10-12 ESV) An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
Not only is she the perfect wife, but she’s incredibly industrious. She goes scouting for the best resources so that she can create what her family needs with her own hands. She’ll go to any length to take care of her family.
(Proverbs 31:13-14 ESV) She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.
“She brings her food from afar.” Nothing will stop her from taking care of her family. In fact, even sleep won’t stop her.
(Proverbs 31:15 ESV) She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
She’s up before the sun is. The sun is just trying to catch up to her. Compared to her, the sun is lazy. And the reason she’s up so early is because she’s busy making business deals and planting crops.
(Proverbs 31:16 ESV) She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
I don’t know whether or not she goes to the gym, but multiple times she’s described as strong. With all she does, the gym is probably unnecessary. I’m sure planting crops will keep a person physically fit.
(Proverbs 31:17 ESV) She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
She’s not just physically strong, but she’s also mentally strong. She knows how to run a business and make money.
(Proverbs 31:18 ESV) She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
She is creative, making her own merchandise. In other words, she’s the person you’d follow on Pinterest, coming up with all the cool DIY projects. She knows how to use a tractor and a sewing machine.
(Proverbs 31:19 ESV) She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
In spite of all her success, she isn’t arrogant or selfish. You might think she’d be distant and unapproachable. Or maybe you’d assume she only cares about herself and her needs. Maybe you picture an Ebenezer Scrooge-type businesswoman. If you thought that, you’re wrong. She’s generous and giving. She’s got a soft spot for those in need.
(Proverbs 31:20 ESV) She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
“She reaches out to the needy” means she gets her hands dirty helping people. She doesn’t just write a check. She invites the poor and outcast into her life—into her home and into her heart.
Her love is evident in her care for her family. She foresees their needs and prepares in advance for them.
(Proverbs 31:21-22 ESV) She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her kids aren’t going to get caught in the snowstorm in their shorts. She’s planned ahead. She’s prepared in advance. She knows what they need, and she’s ready for it. She’s also a huge help to her husband. He’s influential in the community, and he owes it in part to her support and assistance.
(Proverbs 31:23 ESV) Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
She’s an entrepreneur, but she’s not anxious. She’s persistent, but not a pest. Even as she makes deals and sells to merchants, she does so with grace and dignity.
(Proverbs 31:24-25 ESV) She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
When she speaks, she does so with wisdom. Her tongue is used to teach and train others. She always has a kind and encouraging thing to say. You might expect someone this successful to have outbursts or even a sharp tongue. Not her. She uses her words to build people up, and her speech serves others.
(Proverbs 31:26 ESV) She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
In case we missed it, we’re reminded that she is selfless and diligent. She’s not focused on her own wants and desires, but the needs of others. And she’s not lazy.
(Proverbs 31:27 ESV) She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
All this results in a family that lives in peace and harmony. Her children are thoughtful and mature. They understand her value and acknowledge it. Her work has produced a model family. Her husband publicly refers to her as the greatest of all women.
(Proverbs 31:28-29 ESV) Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Of all of the striking things about this woman, her greatest quality is her love for the Lord. She is beautiful, industrious, kind, intelligent, friendly, diligent, successful, etc. But above all she is godly. She listens to and obeys God.
(Proverbs 31:30 ESV) Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
The result is seen in the final verse:
(Proverbs 31:31 ESV) Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
Her life produces great fruit, and she is widely known and loved.
She’s known by the city leaders and city merchants.
She’s loved by her family and friends.
She produces tremendous results and has a tremendous reputation.
She is, in a word, superwoman—superwife, supermom, superwoman.
Let me ask you, mothers. Can you live up to this? Are you superwoman? Here’s a follow-up question: Do you feel like you’re supposed to live up to this? Do you feel like you’re supposed to be superwoman? My guess is you answer the first question, “No. No, I can’t live up to this impossibly high standard.” And I’m guessing you answer the second question, “Yes. Yes I feel like I’m supposed to be superwoman.”
I believe most mothers live with a chronic case of low-grade guilt. Day in and day out, mothers feel like they should be able to fly from one thing to the next, never tiring, never making a mistake. But they find out it’s impossible. They’re not faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. All of the pressure they face, all of the activities that are scheduled lead to mistakes and end in feelings of failure. These feelings of failure breed frustration, and often that frustration comes out in interaction with the kids. Of course this leads to greater feelings of frustration—frustration at being frustrated. And the cycle continues.
We live in a time and place where children have never been more physically safe, and at the same time, parents have somehow never been more anxious about their kid’s safety. If we’re honest, most of us have no idea what we’re supposed to do; yet we’re certain we’re doing it wrong.
Then you come to a Mother’s Day service, and the well-meaning preachers talks about the mother in Proverbs 31, and all it does is make you feel worse. On the day set aside to honor mothers, you’ve never felt more like a failure. Aren’t you glad you signed up for this? Did you have any idea it would be so hard?
I want to encourage you this morning. Here’s my encouragement. You will never, ever, ever be the perfect, Proverbs 31 parent. No matter how hard you try, you can’t live up to this ideal. Moms, you cannot be supermom. Dads, you can’t be superdad. This picture in Proverbs 31 is an unrealistic ideal. So why is it here? Why did God include it? Why did I read it this morning? This passage show us what parenting looks like if someone has perfect wisdom. Since we’re not perfectly wise, we’ll never look like this. Perfect parenting takes perfect wisdom.
I want to take a minute to show you what the book of Proverbs is all about. Then we can understand how this passage at the end of the book helps us as parents.
The book of Proverbs begins this way:
(Proverbs 1:1 ESV) The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote this book to his son, the future king, to show him what it would look like for him to live and rule with wisdom. Proverbs reveals how a person, specifically a king, would live if he were perfectly wise. Did Solomon’s son, the king of Israel, live with perfect wisdom? No, in fact, Solomon’s sons were fools. Son after son, grandson after grandson, none of them lived and ruled with perfect wisdom. None of them followed the book of Proverbs.
But, that doesn’t mean the book failed to live up to its purpose. The prophet Isaiah wrote about a future son of Solomon and described him this way:
(Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse [Solomon’s grandfather], and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD [which happens to be the beginning of wisdom—Prov. 1:7]. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
Some day a son of Solomon would perfectly embody wisdom. In every way, he would live out the book of Proverbs.
In the gospel of Luke, a 12-year old boy, who happened to be a descendant of Solomon, went to the temple and began to discuss the Bible with the priests. They were shocked at His understanding of God’s law. After describing what happened in the temple, Luke wrote this:
(Luke 2:52 ESV) And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Jesus was the Son of Solomon, the king of Israel, who would perfectly embody wisdom. Whenever we read Proverbs and see something like, “The wise will…” Jesus did that. Jesus never acted like a fool. He never made a foolish decision. He has perfect wisdom. In fact, the New Testament tells us that “in Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) In other words, He is the walking, breathing book of Proverbs. All wisdom resides in Him. In fact, He’s described in 1 Corinthians as “our wisdom.”
Here’s the point: Only Jesus is perfectly wise, so only Jesus can perfectly live out the book of Proverbs. When you read Proverbs 31, you should think, “Only Jesus could do this. Only He could parent perfectly.” That’s the point.
Principles for Parenting
How does that help us? What does that mean for us as parents?
Jesus is the perfect parent you can never be
As much as you love your kids, you will never love them perfectly. Your love will always fight with your selfishness, and often your selfishness will win. But, be encouraged by this, your kids are perfectly loved. Even when you’re selfish and say something you regret, they are loved.
As parents, we want to protect our kids, and we should do our best. But we can’t be there with them 24/7, and even if we could, we can’t completely protect them. Jesus can. He can be there with them all the time, and He can hold them securely in His hands. You can trust Him to do what you can’t. Your kids are safer with Him than with you.
I could keep going—we could talk about patience. How He is perfectly patient. He never loses His temper. He never runs on empty. He doesn’t cry over spilled milk. I didn’t understand that expression until I had kids and watched them dump a bowl of cereal on their clothes right as we walked out the door for that thing we were already late for.
Jesus can provide for your children what they need. What you wish you could do for them. How you wish you would react and respond. Jesus does it perfectly.
Jesus covers the parenting mistakes you make
This is the heart of the Christian gospel. Jesus lived the life you should have, and He died the death you deserved, so that He could cover your sin with His grace. You need to apply the Gospel to your parenting.
Here’s what I mean. When you fail, and you will, you need the Gospel for yourself and your kids. You need it for yourself. Confess your failure to Jesus and receive His forgiveness and grace to change. You then need to talk with your kids. Confess your failure to them, humbly ask for their forgiveness, and model for them true Christianity. We are sinners, constantly in need of grace.
Listen, mothers, the grace of Jesus is ibuprofen for your chronic case of low-grade guilt. His grace reminds you that in spite of your sin, He loves you, accepts you and forgives you. When you crucify yourself over and over for mistakes, Jesus assures you He was already crucified for you.
Kevin DeYoung offers a helpful reminder to us: "It’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like. Christian parents in particular often operate with an implicit determinism. We fear that a few wrong moves will ruin our children forever, and at the same time assume that the right combination of protection and instruction will invariably produce godly children."
What’s He saying? You aren’t quite as important as you think. Your mistakes won’t scar them so badly that God can’t heal them. And your great parenting moments may not be quite as great as you think. Trust Jesus. He’ll cover the mistakes we make as parents.
Jesus can help you parent with wisdom
I think we’ve overcomplicated parenting in our day. I distinctly remember driving away from the hospital with a newborn baby Jack almost 13 years ago. I’d strapped him in his bullet-proof, earthquake-resistant, armored car seat before we pulled away. I drove 10-15 mph below the speed limit all the way home, and the entire time I was thinking, “I have no idea what we’re supposed to do now. Should they have really let us take him? Where’s the owner’s manual?”
Somehow, over time, parenting has become a competition to produce the next DaVinci. You need to send them to the perfect pre-school. The lunch that goes with them must be fat-free, gluten-free, free-range vegetables (don’t you dare include ranch dressing). They’ve got to be enrolled in year-round sports with a private instructor. Don’t forget the musical lessons and the personal trainer. Does it really need to be this difficult?
Jesus can help you parent with wisdom. The way He does so is simple. He says, “Follow me.” That’s it. Follow Him, listen to His words, talk to Him about decisions and trust Him with your kid’s future. The difference between a wise parent and foolish parent is whether or not they build their parenting on the words of Jesus (Matt. 7). The wise parent builds their house on the rock of listening to Jesus, and the foolish parent builds on the sand of ignoring Jesus.
Proverbs 31 isn’t a checklist to show you your failures as a parent. It’s a guide to assist you in parenting with wisdom. Proverbs 31 shows how Jesus would parent if he had children. Jesus gives us both a pattern to follow and the power to follow it. Remember, if you’re a Christian, Jesus has given you His Spirit to live inside of you. His Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom. So, you have been given a perfect example of parenting, and then given the internal power to follow that example.
If parenting is burning you out, maybe it’s because you’ve put the weight of your kid’s future on yourself. You aren’t strong enough to bear that burden, but do you know who is? The one who says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites you to receive His help in parenting your kids.
Let me wrap up with two bits of practical advice for parents.
Your job as a parent is not to be perfect, but to point them to the one who is
Moses summed up our job as parents like this:
(Deuteronomy 6:5-9 ESV) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Love Jesus with all your heart and point your kids to Him all the time. Make sure He’s your family’s north star, and show your kids how you navigate life’s decisions in relation to Him. Everything revolves around Him—schedules, priorities, money, vacation, conversation, all of it.
I like how Kevin DeYoung says it: "Parenting has become more complicated than it needs to be. It used to be, as far as I can tell, that Christian parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, teach them about Jesus, and keep them away from explosives…. Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will remember our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and Twinkies."
They’ll remember if Jesus is real to you. They’ll remember if what you hear in church applies to how you live at home. They’ll see where your life is pointed and follow. Point them to Jesus.
Your greatest resource as a parent is prayer
In the book, A Praying Life, we read in our community groups, Paul Miller wrote: "Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend." Why does he say that? Because he understands his own inability. He knows he is powerless to change his child’s heart, so he prays to the one with the power to change people. In his imperfection, he turns to the perfect parent and asks Him to intervene.
Jesus can do what you can’t.
He can be patient when you’re impatient.
He can give grace when you’re fed up.
He can be merciful when you’ve had it up to here with your kids.
He can be kind when you can’t bite your tongue.
He can be what you can never be—He can be perfect. And He wants to help you. He wants to throw all His resources behind you to help you. Ask Him for help. Humble yourself and tell Him what’s happening, how you can’t fix it, and how desperately you need Him to do something. He will listen.
If you’re struggling as a parent, your greatest problem may not be your child. Your greatest problem may be that you’ve forgotten you’re still a child. When you don’t pray to your Father, you’re like a little child putting on his father’s shoes, picking up his briefcase and trying to go to work. You can’t do what your Father can. Don’t forget that. Parents are still children—children who desperately need their Father’s help.
You have a perfect parent waiting to help you. Call Him. Ask for help. Listen to what He says. Then do it. That’s the wisest thing you can do as a parent.
This sermon was originally preached at Calvary Baptist Church in 2014.