I’ve reached the age when discussions of family move quickly to updates about our grown, adult sons. People my age compare stories of “having survived” our children’s adolescences and we now look forward to spoiling our grandchildren as revenge.
It’s not long before we all admit some level of shortcomings. We all made mistakes and hope our children are saving adequately for the psychotherapy they’ll need to undo the damage we caused. Inevitably, one of us utters the mantra, “I did the best that I could.” Sometimes someone adds the modifying clause, “with the knowledge I had back then.” I don’t remember any bestselling book boasting the title, “I did the best I could,” or some famous person making it their motto. But that slogan, “I did the best I could” (herein abbreviated as IDTBIC) has become universally accepted and relied upon by parents of a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, financial statuses, and any other demographic I can think of.
We all did the best we could! So, why are our kids so messed up? Or why is the world in such trouble? And would our kids evaluate our parenting careers with the same passing grade? Would they reward us with a blue ribbon for our parenting efforts?
Not too long ago, I watched a televised interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had just published his memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, and was making the talk-show circuit to boost sales. The interviewer had to inquire about Arnold’s now-infamous affair with his family’s housekeeper and his fathering a child with her. Everyone watching the interview knew this moment would be coming. Surely, Arnold anticipated the question. (Perhaps he went back and reread that portion of his book to remember how he explained his actions there). But the man who had played the Terminator and other powerful characters on film stammered weakly as he looked for words to respond. He offered quite a few attempts that began with, “well, I” and “Y’know…” and “no one’s perfect.”
And then he said it. He uttered the same line I had used countless times: “I did the best I could.”
I don’t often talk to my television set. But I found it impossible not to blurt out, “Really? You? The best you could?” I thought, “He gets to use the IDTBIC line?” The best he could do was have an affair, father a child out of wedlock, lie about it until cornered by the evidence, and say it really wasn’t as bad as people thought? (I think that came later in the interview). Surely, he could have done better, I reasoned with smug confidence.
And then it hit me. I did not do the best job I could as a parent. I wonder if anyone can ever use that line. By God’s grace, I did a lot of good things. But I did quite a few bad things as well. I did harmful and insulting things. I said words that I wish I could erase from my sons’ memories. On occasion, I treated them harshly when they most needed tenderness. I won’t even diminish the intensity of these acts by calling them “mistakes.” They were sins. I sinned against my sons and the God who blessed me with them. I am humbled beyond measure that they and God forgive me. No wonder Jesus died on a cross. Nothing less could atone for such behavior.
It is important for me (and any other parent who did not do the best he or she could do) to acknowledge it. Only then do we rely on the grace of God for the cleansing of our consciences and the wellbeing of our offspring. Only then do we stop trusting in our performance as the richest resource for them to draw on. Only then do we stop taking credit for our kids “turning out OK” or beating ourselves up if they didn’t.
As long as we cling to the IDTBIC line, we aren’t really clinging to the cross. Applying the gospel to all of life must include our parenting. To do so is to realize that, “we are saved by grace, not by works” and therefore, our best efforts in all areas of life have and always will fall short.
But our God is a gracious savior whose shed blood covers all our sins, including the ones we committed in the privacy of our homes – perhaps, especially the sins we commit there. To God be the glory – He did the best He could.
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Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. He ministers on campuses and elsewhere in our nation's capital to students, professors and policy shapers. He is an honors graduate from Temple University and has a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is also engaged in doctoral studies. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and the books Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues about God and Life, both published by Kregel Publications, and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, forthcoming from Crossway.
To find out more, visit his blog, Integration Points.