In 1992, my children were 9, 12 and 14 years old, our daughter the youngest. Until that point, the most significant behavior problems with the kids we had experienced were occasional temper issues on the soccer field and the time our middle child flushed scissors down the toilet at school just to see what would happen.
Secretly, we thought we had this parenting thing down pretty well. After all, we had read all the right books and spent a four-year stint as houseparents at a home for children.
So when our pastor (and still best friend) asked Ann and me and three other couples to sit on a Sunday evening panel to answer questions about Christian parenting, we were ready to share our wisdom. (Can you tell where this is going?) Credit where credit’s due, one of the other couples had the good sense to decline.
Sometime between that evening and the next two weeks, all three couples on the panel of experts were eating crow. I’ll spare everyone the details, but suffice it to say in our teenager’s case, his misdeed revealed a heart in rebellion and a near miss with the law. The next decade was marked with such events in our family. All the kids participated.
Though there might be many lessons learned, here’s the one that I took away from the tough years: Parenting is not a cause and effect undertaking. The fact is, there are no perfect parents. Bad parents have good and bad kids; same goes for good parents.
So, you ask, is that supposed to be encouraging? I don’t know whether it is or not; however, what I do know is that we parents often see only part of the picture that God is painting. While the behavior of our children and the peace of our households are the things we may be most concerned about, God is multitasking on a much deeper level. He’s capable of doing that, and our children are often a very effective means.
That was certainly true for the late Pastor John Miller and his wife Rose Marie when their 18-year-old daughter, Barbara, declared, “I don’t want your rules and morals. I don’t want to act like a Christian anymore! And I’m not going to!”
With that declaration of rebellion, Barbara Miller began a bold eight-year attempt to make life work without God. It’s all chronicled in Come Back Barbara, written especially for parents in pain over their children.
But the most incredible part of this true story is how God used Barbara’s rebellion to do an amazing work of grace in her parents – a work that has encouraged thousands of Christians through the years to rediscover what it means to live as a son of the Living God, rather than an orphan.
Originally published in 1988, Come Back Barbara is presented in a unique format: Miller writes a chapter recounting the events, then his daughter responds with her own perspective.
Come Back Barbara is instructional for Christian parents, but it offers no quick-fix formulas. Rather it is a vivid illustration of the life-changing power of the gospel of grace. The book is widely available at online booksellers.
Finally, for a street-level message about how God uses what James calls “trials of various kinds,” which can come about through our children, listen to Paul Tripp’s sermon titled “Why me? Why now?”