god doesn't have a jellybean jar


One of the hardest things about parenting is admitting our powerlessness.

We want to believe that if we get it right, our children will turn out right.  So we put immense pressure on ourselves to be perfect parents and we live in fear that our failures will forever ruin our kids. We search endlessly for steps and lists and tips for becoming a more power-full parent.

At least that’s how my parenting journey began. And I foolishly came to believe that I had the power to make my son become more of who I wanted him to be - as though he was a problem to be fixed, not a soul to be loved.

Using this tip or that trick, this chart or that jelly bean jar, I thought I could essentially make him become more respectful, or more kind, or more honest, or more thankful.  And I guess one could argue that we can.

If I give my son a sticker every time he is kind to his brother, I am encouraging him to be more kind.  If I put a jellybean in the jar every time he tells the truth, I am training him to be honest. So in essence, yes, one could argue that we have power over our children’s behavior.

But the problem is, we only hold this “power” over the outward behavior of our children in their little years. Not so easy when they get older - no, jars and charts aren’t real handy then.  We may train them in certain habits in their little years, but quick fixes in their little years won’t lead to lasting heart change in the long haul.



If I have learned anything as a parent it's this: I can influence the outward behavior of my children but I am powerless over their hearts.

The heart is so beautifully described in the Bible as the wellspring of life and the center of the human spirit, from which springs emotions, thoughts, motivation, courage, and action.  And there is only One who can reach the center of your child’s spirit. Only One.



(Before we go any further, please know I'm not judging your jellybean jar or sticker chart, if you happen to have one. I am only confessing the ways in which my charts and jars were stealing our joy and making us focus on all the wrong things. I am only taking my own inventory here, because I can speak only about the motivation of my own heart. Motivation—that’s the key. Sadly, my motivation in using charts and jellybean jars was to control my kids.  But when I realized God doesn’t have a jellybean jar I was finally able to surrender mine.)

This powerlessness is such a hard thing to accept……… because we want so. very. much. for our kids.  We want to do everything in our power to mold their character and help them fulfill their potential and purpose.

The difficult truth is this: We trust entirely too much in our own finite resources and entirely too little in God’s infinite grace to captivate our kid’s hearts and mold them into His image. 

And it wasn’t until I accepted this freeing truth  -   I am powerless over the hearts of my children but I have put my trust in an all power-full God - that I was able to  surrender their hearts, gladly, into God’s hands.

I am learning that the only thing that will reach my kid’s hearts and instill a true love affair with Christ, the kind of love affair that produces trust and obedience, is knowing that there is nothing- absolutely nothing- that can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35-39)

Our role, mom and dad, is not to control our kids. Our role is to plant seeds of God's unconditional love in their hearts and pray that He will change them from the inside out.

Our role as parents is to also instruct and discipline our children, but ultimately we have to entrust their hearts into God’s care, knowing that the outcome is never dependent on our work as a parent. It's dependent on God's work in their hearts. (Phil 2:13)


And our role as parents is to keep praying our children back into the palms of Jesus’ nail-pierced hands. We can pray that our children grow a heart that is tender to His voice and passionate about His Word.   We have the power of prayer.

As hard as it is to grasp, our love for our children pales in comparison to God's love for them. And His plans for our children far exceed our best dreams for them. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

So go ahead, admit you're powerless. It. Feels. So. Good. And then give thanks, wild thanks, for God's grace that has the power to captivate and transform your child’s heart!


*** A portion of this post was taken from my forthcoming book, Parenting the Wholehearted Child.