The Pitfalls of Intentionality – the sequel – falling all over again!



Pitfall 2: The wisdom of being intentional can mask the foolishness of believing that intentionality guarantees ‘success’.

Sadly it is all too short a step from being intentional in our parenting (or indeed in anything) to believing in the power of intentionality.

The good intention of doing what I* can in my parenting in faithful obedience to God becomes part of a very bad equation.

(*a limited creature with much of the old self remaining)

The logic becomes: “BECAUSE I am doing what I can in order for my family to arrive at the intended destination we WILL definitely arrive at that destination.

And, if I am being really honest I should add: “And not only arrive, but arrive via my preferred route and in accordance with my preferred timetable thank you very much.”

In other words: we intentional parents feel that we are owed our dues – don’t we?

It’s horrible to type, but if I am honest I can imagine myself thinking the following in a few years’ time:

Why is that child going strong with the Lord when mine is lukewarm at best? His parents didn’t drive halfway across the country to get him to camp! There were no family devotions in that house – I’m not sure the parents even had quiet times themselves or prayed for their children. They certainly didn’t go to any Christian parenting seminars or read all the books I read. What was the point of all my hard work and heartache? Their son is working for a church and engaged to a lovely Christian girl and I’m not even sure if my daughter goes to church – it is so hard to get any communication from her above the occasional text message.

Or in other words…


At which point I am sounding dangerously like the workers hired at the start of day in Matthew 20, or the older brother in Luke 15.

Which begs the question: Why am I parenting intentionally and who for?

Well the first answer is for God, for my children and for lots of really godly reasons.

I parent intentionally because God has given us wise ways to follow and it takes intentionality to live that way as aliens – saved, but still sinful – in a foreign, broken world.

I parent intentionally because I love my children and to think of them not enjoying the grace of God and the beauty of his holiness and the blessings of being his beloved children is so painful that it takes my breath away. It is like a punch to my heart, soul and gut that even in its ‘what if’ form threatens to send me reeling and engulf me in crippling pain and fear.

I thank God for the intentional parenting that he has helped me to do over the years and will, I pray, continue to help me to do. It is right to care about these things.

BUT with all the good that is in the ‘whys’ and ‘who fors’ above there is also something that sounds dangerously close to: “I parent intentionally to get what I want.”

But hold on – surely if ‘what I want’ is their salvation then that is a good thing right?

Well, yes and no.

Yes – wanting my children to be saved is a good thing.
Yes – wanting to be faithful to my God-given role as their mother – presenting and displaying the gospel and not hindering its work in their lives – is a good thing.
Yes – being a providential means of grace in their lives as bring them up in the training of the Lord is a good thing.

BUT read the sentence again:

“I parent intentionally to get what I want.”

Pared right down, the sentiment at the heart of it all is looking less and less healthy for me, less and less glorifying to God and is dragging my parenting further and further away from grace.

Following the path of this sentence through the years I will either be:

a) Proud and satisfied and a vocal advocate of intentional parenting and all it promises to deliver, and in danger of idolising / relying on my children’s godly lives for my sense of peace and identity;
b) Resentful, worn out, disappointed, bitter, self-loathing and seeing myself as a failure and / or angry with God for not keeping his part of the bargain, full of regrets, jealous, fearful and unhappy.

And never mind ‘through the years’ – my current struggles reveal that too much of my happiness and stability and peace is wrapped up in how my children react to me.

Because, like the older brother’s years of service on his father’s land and the vineyard workers’ hours of labour in the vineyard through the heat of the day, my intentional parenting is really all rather concentrated on me.   Which is something I both need to repent of and be forgiven for, but also be freed from the burden of.

As with every other aspect of my life – I want to win, to get, to have, to be better, to show off, to feel successful and validated, to be accepted, and ultimately (because that is all very tiring) to feel I’ve done enough so I can stop and rest.

How much better to parent first and foremost for my Father, the one in charge of the vineyard. To trust my Father’s love, acceptance of me, wisdom, and fairness. To long for what delights and pleases his good and will. Instead, like the older brother, I resent the Father’s generosity to and love for others and doubt his love for and generosity to me.

In parenting we’ve been given a trust and we need to trust the one who has given it to us. We are to be faithful as we put one foot in front of the other in his service. Our terms of working and the harvest at the end of the season is all in his hands. We should plant well, even when planting in tears.

And as intentional parents we do a lot of thinking about how to plant well! We aim to have a harvest mentality (as Paul Tripp calls it) running through the days and weeks and years of our parenting. And this is good! Let’s be faithful (which doesn’t mean always getting it right, never forgetting or messing up or just being tired) with the many resources we have been given. But let’s not try to do and be more in our parenting than faithfully fulfill the role we have been given by God. Let’s remember that there is an awful lot more going on in our children’s hearts and lives than our parenting (no matter how intentional) can ever dream of having covered.

Which leads me to my final pitfall…

imagesPitfall 3: Being intentional is easily mistaken for being in control.


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