Parents, You Can’t Build Heaven Here

Have you received the annual Christmas letter from The Perfect Family? You know, the one with the kids who captain the lacrosse team, jump horses, make the dean’s list, play violin, serve at the homeless shelter, and learn Greek and Latin, all while mentoring other children? By the time you finish reading the letter and set it down with trembling hands, your Christmas spirit has evaporated. You have a panicky fear that maybe you haven’t provided enough opportunities for your kids.

In moments like this—and in a thousand other moments of parenting panic—it’s good to remind ourselves of where we’re headed and what counts the most:

…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)

Paul doesn’t solve every parenting decision in these verses, but he does point to the ultimate goal of life, and, by implication, the ultimate goal of parenting. These verses can turn panicky parents into pilgrim parents with a purpose.

The goal of Paul’s life—everything he does—is future resurrection in the new creation. This final goal doesn’t render obsolete all his daily activities, such as eating, sleeping, working, evangelizing, talking and traveling. Rather, it orients and aligns them. It gives them a purpose. And it does that for our parenting, too.

We’re called to parent our children toward eternity. This is a major challenge. It turns out to be remarkably difficult to keep our hearts fixed on God’s future new creation rather than attempting to seize that future in our present. Parents attempt to establish heaven on earth in at least two common ways. Some of us expect our children to be heaven for us. Others expect to build heaven for them.

Making Our Kids Our Heaven

I know parents who require perfection from their children. Failure is not an option. Demanding heaven on earth from them, they make it hell instead, squeezing, scolding and cajoling them into the very sense of failure they’re desperate to help them avoid.

Perhaps you don’t fall into that trap in such an extreme way. But isn’t it easy for the successes or failures of our children to assume too great an importance? Hold a penny close enough to your eye and it will obscure an entire building. Hold a child too close and she’ll obscure your view of heaven.

Our goal as parents is to reach the new creation together with our children. We’re to be a pilgrim people, journeying toward future perfection, but never there yet this side of heaven. We’re to say with Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” (Philippians 3:12).

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Stephen Witmer
Stephen Witmer is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of Eternity Changes Everything and a 12-week study in Revelation. He and his wife Emma have three young children.

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