Parenting as a Functional Atheist


Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word. (Psalm 119:17)

Sunday Pastor Stephen Baker preached a powerful sermon from Psalm 119: 17ff. Taking a look at the assumptions the Psalmist makes about God and himself, Stephen helped us compare those assumptions to the ones we actually live by. Far too often, Stephen said, we take the default position of living as functional atheists. We have no thought of our desperate need of God, and we try to fight and grind through life on our own. We are self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-satisfied. This is in contrast to the Psalmist who knew that God is able and willing to deal bountifully with His servants, and he lived consistently with his beliefs.

How often as a parent I do just as Stephen says, and revert to behaving as if God is not actively involved in my life and the lives of my children! How often I end up trying to go it alone, making decisions without asking for His guidance, and slogging through the day in my own strength rather than relying on His! Oh what riches I miss when I do this!

As Stephen was preaching, I reflected on something I’d read earlier in the week. Several years ago Annie G. recommended a book to me called Mothers of the Wise and Good, originally published in 1846. (Solid Ground Books reprinted this book ten years ago, and it’s also available on Google Books for free.) Author Jabez Burns gives short inspirational pieces about mothers of famous and not-so-famous men. And while I’ve been enjoying these little vignettes, I’ve found even more helpful a series of essays towards the rear of the book. I’ve particularly been chewing on one with the robust title “On the Qualifications Essential to the Discharge of Maternal Duties,” which comes from a lecture given by one Rev. James Cameron. The first of the eight qualifications the author lays out for mothers is to “cultivate a deep and abiding sense of your own insufficiency.”

After delineating some of the reasons we should quake at the thought of raising immortal beings for God when we ourselves are equal sinners to our children, Pastor Cameron encourages his hearers that it is only when we see the hopelessness of accomplishing this task in our own strength that we throw ourselves wholeheartedly on the one who is the source of all wisdom and strength. Are you weary and despairing of your fitness for the task of raising your children to love God with their hearts, souls, minds, and strength? Good! Because it is just at that point that we realize the vanity of going it with our own efforts and begin to rely on His.

Concluding his section on this topic, Pastor Cameron writes:

Again, then, I repeat, cultivate a sense of your own insufficiency for the great work to which God has called you, and let this be so thoroughly interwoven in the very texture of your minds – let it so thoroughly pervade your whole habits of thinking and feeling, that you shall be kept in the very lowest depths of self-distrust, feeling that your only safety is in clinging, as with a death-grasp, to the soul-sustaining declaration, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is perfected in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians xii. 9. It is only when a deep sense of insufficiency, and a strong confidence in God are combined, that you are at all likely to be successful in your arduous work; your sense of insufficiency will make you cautious, tender, watchful, prayerful; and your confidence in God will nerve your soul, and strengthen you to grapple with the difficulties, you have to encounter (p. 240).

Will I live and parent today as a functional atheist, or will I walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, yielding my life to Him each moment of the day?

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5: 24, 25)
4 Responses
  1. Emily Says:

    This posts seems super, Anne, but I couldn't quite read all of it because the lines on the background crowded the letters. Anyway you could re-post it on a different background? Maybe it's just me and my computer that made it difficult...
    Thanks,
    Emily B


  2. Anne Says:

    Emily - I'm not seeing lines on the background. Is the type too small? I'll try to work on it after school this afternoon or this evening!

    If anyone else is having trouble reading this post, could you let me know what you see? Thanks!


  3. Emily Says:

    Now (Tuesday night) it is on a white background and easily readable! Thanks!


  4. Annie Says:

    I need to re-read that book.... I'm sure I would read it differently now that I have 4 kids! Nothing is more disarming to pride than parenting (well, marriage is too, I suppose). It seems that when I royally screw up, that's when Jesus' Gospel shines through even more brightly. Mommy needs Jesus too!

    I enjoy reading your posts!