The gospel and crying

“Stop crying and then I’ll hold you.”

The words were hardly out of my mouth before I felt a pang of conviction go through my heart. Sometimes a truth about the gospel hits me out of nowhere. In a completely mundane moment when God’s truth pricks me like a needle and reveals where I have a lack of understanding about His character.

Young children often cry for, what seems to an adult anyway, no reason at all. With children demanding my attention all day long I sometimes grow weary. While I love that they need me, there are times when their constant needing me gets wearisome.

In that moment, though, God immediately convicted me that I was not being a parent to my child in the way that God parents me. I was not loving unconditionally. I was asking for a behavioral change before I extended my arms of love and grace.

That is not how God parents me. God never asks me to change my attitude before he shows me love. Ever.

While as parents we claim unconditional love, I realize that I am still learning what unconditional love is. I believe I do love my children constantly, but I am still growing in my unconditional love. I am still growing in this kind of love because I am still learning and growing in my understanding of how God loves me.

In other words, I don’t think there is ever a time when I don’t love them. But I sometimes wonder if I communicate by my actions that I could love them more if they behaved a certain way.

I always love you, honey. (But I might love you more if you were always kind.)

I always love you. (But I might love you more if you obeyed all the time.)

And later…

I always love you. (But I might love you more if you choose a certain career or life vocation.)

God hates sin. Always. But never does it tell us in Scripture that he loves us less if we sin, or more if we make wise choices. In fact, the opposite is true. His love is truly unconditional.

The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you (Jer. 31:3).

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:9-10).

If we are faithless, He remains faithful (II Tim. 2:13).

In parenting, and in life, it is crucial that we never emphasize one truth to the neglect of another.

“[E]very heresy is due to an overemphasis upon some truth, without allowing other truths to qualify and balance it.” John Stott

We could emphasize God’s unconditional love to the neglect of His hatred for sin. Or we could emphasize God’s hatred of sin to the neglect of His unconditional love.

No parent will do this perfectly. As I seek to parent, however, I am striving to parent my children, not the way a model family parents or some well-known Christian parenting author suggests, but simply as my heavenly Father parents me.

This in many ways simplifies things. And yet I find that I am having to dig deeper to know my God more, because I have not truly grasped His unfailing characteristics.

God loves me unconditionally. He loved me when I was still dead in my sins. He loves me now. Never does His love increase or decrease based on my performance. That is the Gospel.

I was literally hit with it as if it was a truth I had never heard before. Right in that moment as I demanded a change in my daughter’s behavior before I extended my physical arms, I was struck with the amazing, incredible truth of God’s unconditional love.

I gathered her in my arms. I whispered in her ear, “Mommy’s sorry. You never have to do anything to have Mommy’s arms wrapped around you in love and comfort. Ever.”

I pray that I will understand more of God’s unconditional love for me. I pray that I will model that same unconditional love for my children and that they will always sense that. And I pray that some day my children will fully understand God’s unconditional love themselves someday.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5).

I’m thankful for that moment. Not only did it change my actions in that brief parenting moment, but it gave me a fresh understanding of the gospel.

God’s unconditional love is truly amazing.

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  1. Yes ! So true. And it is that love that provokes our obedience. We want to obey because God loved us first ! A few months ago I had a “moment of truth” like that. My fourth child is 3 and my most strong-willed (à ce jour !) and will engage in battles with me all the time. It can become exhausting. Anyway, I told her to go get her pyjamas and she just whined “noooo !” as she let herself fall to the ground. In doing so she dumbly hit her head against my chair. My most natural response would have been to say “see what happens when you don’t obey mommy. Now go do what I say and stop crying !”. Instead, in a rare moment of compassion I guess (I’m a pretty no none-sense type of mom… 😉 ) I picked her up and said I loved her and was sorry she hit her head. I just rocked her and soothed her for a few minutes and all of a sudden, she jumped up and ran to get her pyjamas. She came back and with a big smile through her tears asked me very nicely to help her put them on. I was shocked ! It wasn’t because I had demanded her perfect obedience that she had obeyed, but because she felt loved. Her will was not broken, she WANTED to obey. And that’s the only kind of obedience that God loves, the one that is not out of duty, but in response to His love, done with a cheerful and thankful heart.

    • God loves obedience done out of love, not duty–Exactly! So important, but so hard to put into practice. Thank you so much for sharing this. It was so encouraging!

  2. This is very encouraging, Johanna. Thank you for sharing (as well as to Rebecca’s comment above).

  3. This is perfect timing for me. Both yesterday and already this morning, my kiddo has put me through the ringer. It always takes some time to adjust back after being sick. Yesterday I found myself with a very uncompassionate attitude and I know she was picking up on it. Once I changed my attitude the day went more smoothly even though my daughter still was having trouble listening and not whining. Showing love and compassion to our little ones demonstrates to them how God treats us and is one of the best gifts we can give our kids. But it’s also something I have to continually ask God to give me the grace for.

    • “But it’s also something I have to continually ask God to give me the grace for.”– Oh, me too. Every single day…

  4. And this is beautiful. God’s grace at work teaching us how to be more like Him. <3 You are doing a beautiful job with your kids, Johanna, like I always knew you would.

  5. Elva Farrell says:

    Oh how true this is!! Thank you again Johanna for your insights that not only help you but help me as well.

    • I’ve just finished reading “Spiritual Parenting” and have been meditating on it, and now reading this adds to my food for thought :) Thanks for describing and mirroring my own battles so eloquently :) Rebecca’s comment rings true to what oftens happens with my smallest – because of disobedience he gets hurt, and it’s so easy to say “there you go, you deserved that, don’t expect any comfort from me”. And that’s so different from how our heavenly Father treats us. I try to keep in mind the parable of the unforgiving master in these situations – if God has forgiven and loved me while I was still in my trespasses and sins, how much more do I have to love my kids even when they’re having a “difficult day”?

      • So good, Elly. Thanks for adding your thoughts. It’s something I have to remember and pray for grace all the time.

  6. I found myself saying the same thing just the other day (actually I made her go away to her room to cry, when she just wanted me :(), and then having to ask my daughter’s forgiveness. Which she readily gave.

    A few days later, she burst into tears over something, and I asked her “do you know why you are crying?” To which she replied, “No, I don’t know.”

    It’s so easy to focus on myself and forget that my little ones may be having a rough day, too–and might just need to cry in Mommy’s arms for a little bit.

    • It really is. I sometimes want a reason for the crying and often there is none. They just need Mommy for a bit. I have moments like these too, but I tend to be less understanding with my children. Working on this. Thanks for sharing, Keren.

  7. Oh, how true, Johanna! What a blessing it is to see this kind of love from our Father above and from you as a parent, as well. What a blessing to know God and to learn from Him!

    God bless you!

  8. “I was asking for a behavioral change before I extended my arms of love and grace.”
    The Lord has been working in my heart in similar areas. It’s amazing how much we forget (or ignore), putting certain demands or prerequisites that are unbiblical. The Gospel truths apply to parenting too! Thanks for sharing your heart so honestly.

    • “It’s amazing how much we forget (or ignore), putting certain demands or prerequisites that are unbiblical.” — yes,yes,yes! Thanks for your added thoughts, Rachel.

  9. I love those kinds of “gospel application” moments, though they’re so painful at the time as I realize how far short I fall in loving like our Father.

    Some of my sweetest memories are of laying in bed with my children at bedtime playing the “Do I love you when…?” game. I started it during a rough period when I wanted to be sure THEY were sure that my love was not based on their behavior. I ask things like, “Do I love you when you’re…silly? Do I love you when you’re…obeying?” The first time I asked about “when you’re disobeying” or “when you’re being unkind” they would hesitate and even sometimes said “No.” It was a great opportunity to give them vocabulary and nuance their thinking: “I am not pleased/do not like it when you disobey because God does not like disobedience. But I love you even when you’re disobeying, because God loves us always, even when we’re wrong…”

    We don’t play this game all the time anymore but when we do, they get all giggly and dramatic because they know no matter what question I pose, the answer is, “Yes!” I love them even then. :)

    So thankful that the gospel can be magnified both by my living out Father-like love before my kids AND also by modeling child-like repentance when I fail. Great post – thank you for the opportunity to think about where the gospel intersects with daily life.

    • I love this, Kristen! I think the times that are hardest for me is not even in moments they are clearly doing something wrong, it is more when the emotions/attitude isn’t logical or explainable. That is when (often because I’m frustrated/irritated) I don’t think I communicate well in the midst of that.

      Thankful for grace and growth.

  10. Thanks for this. I have been struggling with compassion for the unexplainable lately, even though I know it may be allergies {headache} or growing pains or whatnot. I loved your post and the first comment was spot on as well. Tomorrow I will focus on showing love and compassion when they deserve it and, also, when they don’t.

    • Mandy, I find the unexplainable so difficult to. If there is a reason, I tend to be more naturally compassionate, but when there isn’t it is much. more. difficult. for me.

      So glad this was an encouragement!

  11. Well said, Johanna. This was convicting to me today!

  12. I love this.


  1. […] We tell them that no matter how they sin, how they fail, we will love them. We show them unconditional love just like God has shown us unconditional […]

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