The pressure to be a perfect parent raising perfect children — it penetrates every mama’s heart. The merciless critic relentlessly reminds us we aren’t measuring up. Moms, more than ever, need to hear the good news of the startling grace of God. This is what inspired Jeannie Cunnion to lay bare her own battle with perfection and the God who set her free in her newly released book, Parenting the Wholehearted Child. Grace is woven throughout each page, revealing how parents and children alike can live from the freedom found in being wholeheartedly loved (and liked!) by God. A grace to welcome Jeannie to the farm’s front porch today…
Vibrant red and orange leaves covered our walkway, and crisp fall air filled our lungs.
Excitement bounced between our three young boys – Cal, Brennan, and Owen – as our family headed out the front door for the long awaited elementary school pumpkin patch festival.
My husband, Mike, had to drive to the school to drop off a few items our family was donating.
Our boys, on the other hand, convinced me that riding our bikes to the festival was a good idea, and the four of us peddled our way down the driveway.
I asked Cal to stay put while Owen and I backtracked to assist him. When we returned to the busy street corner where Cal should have been waiting, he was nowhere in sight.
My heart started pounding and my mind began racing, but I assured myself Cal-anxious to see his friends-had simply chosen to go ahead to the festival.
When we arrived at the school, we went directly to the bike rack searching for proof that Cal had arrived safely…but I didn’t see Cal’s bike. Nor did I see him playing with his friends on the playground. Starting to panic, I scanned the crowd of people to no avail.
Moments later I found a kind friend who offered to keep Brennan and Owen while I searched for my missing seven-year-old son.
After several minutes of searching the school property, with fear invading my every thought, I called Mike and then I made the call no parent should ever have to make: I called the police and described every feature of my beautiful son.
As the harsh reality set in that Cal was definitely not at the school, a good friend advised me to backtrack our path in case Cal had gotten scared and decided to find his way home.
I was certain Cal would not have attempted to return home without us, but because I didn’t have a better plan, I got back on my bike and headed home in a complete haze, crying out loud and pleading, “Lord, please protect my son.”
The five-minute bike ride felt like an endless journey, but as I entered our neighborhood I saw a child in the far-off distance walking in the street. I peddled faster, faster until I knew it was my son in the distance. He was walking up a hill, no shoes or socks on his feet, crying and scared.
I began yelling, “Cal, Cal, Mommy is here. Baby, I’m coming!” and I raced faster, desperate to hold him in my arms and cover him in my love.
When I threw my arms around my sobbing son, he began apologizing for disobeying and going ahead of me on his bike.
“Mommy,” he cried, “I was so scared, and I’m sorry for not listening to you. I was so excited to get to the festival, but when I got there, I felt bad about disobeying, so I turned around to come back to you. But I got lost, Mommy. I’m so sorry.”
With a breaking but relieved heart, I assured him, “Cal, I love you so much. I’m not mad at you. I’ve been praying Jesus would keep you safe while I searched everywhere for you. No need for apologies right now, baby. I’m just so happy to have you back in my arms. That is all that matters.”
I didn’t want to let go.
I wanted to keep his heart pressed against mine, my tears mingling with his.
Whatever he’d just done paled in comparison with the joy in my heart to have him back in my arms.
My love for him was unfazed by his wrong actions. By his disobedience. By his going ahead of me, trying to do life without me.
He was home-that was all that mattered.
Later that night after the kids were in bed, I reflected on the events of the day and was reminded of the parable of the prodigal son in the Luke 15.
You know the story – the rebellious son demands his inheritance from his father, sets off to satisfy his every desire, squanders his inheritance, and-after losing everything and finding himself in the depths of despair-returns home fearful of rejection and fully prepared to pay for his sins.
But to the son’s amazement, the father graciously and gladly and generously welcomes him home.
Luke describes the son’s return this way: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
He ran to his rebellious son.
Before his son ever spoke one word of regret or remorse, the father ran to his son and embraced him.
The unconditional love and absolute acceptance the father had for his son in this parable symbolizes the unconditional love and absolute acceptance our Heavenly Father, with great extravagance, pours out. on. us. through his one and only son, Jesus Christ. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
This parable is a portrait of God’s radical grace, a poignant reminder that when we are in Christ, there is no condemnation, no shame, no “That’s what you get for disobeying me.” There is only, “I am so happy to have you back in my arms. I love you so much!”
Oh friend, I find so much hope in this parable. This unfathomable grace isn’t just for my son. It’s for my weak and rebellious heart too. As a mom “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” I never have to fear my Father’s rejection or disappointment.
This love – it wrecks me. It drives me right back to Jesus.
This extravagant grace of God forever eliminates the burden of perfection – perfect obedience, perfect parenting, perfect anything.
Grace is God’s final word of unconditional love and acceptance in the perfection of Jesus Christ.
Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us (Romans 8:39 MSG).
His arms are open. He is running to meet you, to pull you up, to hold you close. To captivate you, and your child, with His wholehearted love.
Jeannie Cunnion holds a Master’s degree in Social Work. Her professional background combines counseling, writing, and speaking about parenting and adoption issues for organizations such as Bethany Christian Services and the National Council for Adoption. Jeannie also enjoys blogging, serving as the Council Co-Chairman at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT, and leading various parenting courses and Bible studies when she isn’t cheering on her boys at one of their sporting events. She lives with her husband, Mike, and their three boys in Old Greenwich, CT.
Jeannie’s new book Parenting the Whole Hearted Child, equips with biblical wisdom, practical ideas, and shares the good news that it is God’s extravagant grace–-not our perfect performance—that transforms the hearts of all of us.