The words “parents” and “sacrifice” often walk hand in hand. As parents we must feed our children, making sure they are clothed and warm, and spend time with them, but the parenting essential that tops the list is sacrifice. It is in the rich soil of our sacrificial love (“my life for yours”, or agape, love) in which secure children grow. Now, by sacrifice I don’t mean the “work-a-second-job-so-my-kid-can-have-that-newest-i-phone” kind of sacrifice (That’s turning your children into idols. We’ll save that for another post). I mean the “stay-up-all-night-to-monitor-your-child’s-high-fever”, or the “let’s-work-through-these-math-problems-together-again-until-you-completely-understand-them-even-though-I-would-rather-be-watching-the-championship-football-game-right-now” kind of sacrifice.
Why is sacrifice at the top of the parenting essentials list? Because Jesus did it. He performed the Ultimate Sacrifice – he demonstrated substitutionary love. Jesus sacrificed his body for us so that we may live with Him forever. We sacrifice ourselves for our children so that they may live, and grow, and prosper and flourish emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. This sacrifice – this agape love is the most powerful expression of love we can show our children.
Tim Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, explains the idea of sacrificial love in his excellent book Jesus the King. In chapter 12 of the book, titled “The Ransom”, Keller explains the impact of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice using parenting as an example:
“When you have children they’re in a state of dependency. They have so many needs; they can’t stand on their own. And they will not just grow out of their dependency automatically. The only way that your children will grow beyond their dependency into self-sufficient adults is for you to essentially abandon your own independence for twenty years or so. When they are young, for example, you’ve got to read to them and read to them – otherwise they won’t develop intellectually. Lots of their books will be boring to you. And you have to listen to your children, and keep listening as they say all kinds of things that make for less than scintillating conversation.”
“And then there’s dressing, bathing, feeding, and teaching them to do these things for themselves. Furthermore, children need about five affirmations for every criticism they hear from you. Unless you sacrifice much of your freedom and a good bit of your time your children will not grow up healthy and equipped to function. Unfortunately, there are plenty of parents who just won’t do it. They won’t disrupt their lives that much; they won’t pour themselves into their children. They won’t make the sacrifice. And their kids grow up physically, but they’re still children emotionally, – needy, vulnerable, and dependent. Think about it this way: You can make the sacrifice, or they’re going to make the sacrifice. It’s them or you. Either you suffer temporarily and in a redemptive way, or they’re going to suffer tragically, in a wasteful and destructive way. It’s at least partly up to you. All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.”