The nightmares of hell had past, and in their place stood my heart dripping with the blood of Christ that I now knew without question or doubt had been poured over me. I was no longer consumed with fear of my salvation – the nagging anxiety of which soil I had fallen in. For the past five years the parable of the sower had left me hanging in suspense. So it was fitting that after being set free from bulimia, I was suddenly living and breathing a new parable. I remember reading and weeping tears of joy over Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector.
It was so interesting to me that throughout my time with bulimia I had been living as a pharisee, cloaked in the guise of unworthiness. I had thought that if I could get my act together on my own, then I could make myself worthy of being in God’s presence. I was looking to my own righteousness to save me. (No wonder the nightmares of hell!!!) And it wasn’t until Jesus had broken me, saved me, delivered me from bulimia, by absolutely nothing that I had done, that I suddenly went from being the pharisee in this parable to the tax collector. His deliverance enabled me to cry along with the tax collector, who was “standing far off” not even lifting up his eyes to heaven, and beating his breast, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
And the first practical outpouring of this personhood change, from pharisee to tax collector, was my parenting. There was a major fundamental switch. I began to parent like a tax collector and not like a pharisee. In the parable the pharisee starts his prayer with thanking God that he is not like “other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” My prayers became the exact opposite with parenting my girls. I began to parent them by seeing myself as needy and helpless, just like they were. It is striking to me that the parable begins with saying that Jesus told this parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
All through my years with bulimia, as I found myself trying desperately to prove my righteousness, it went hand in hand with “treating others with contempt,” … and the “others” were my children. I had pushed away God’s grace and mercy until the time that I could establish my own goodness, and in doing so I had no grace and mercy to give to my children. I could not extend to them what I was not myself receiving from Christ. Staying in the needy place is humbling. In fact, the parable ends with, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The lowly, humble places produces parents full of grace and mercy. The most gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness type of parent is the one who is beating his breast, crying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is the lowly place I long to parent from. Even now I feel the hypocrisy rising within me when I start to see my children from the high places of the pharisee saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like my child.” I am most tempted to ascend to the high places of the pharisees when I am most distant from tasting what I have received from Jesus, when the gospel starts to grow cold in my hands.
And the only way to blow on the hot coals of the gospel is to read, meditate, and pray over its words. I remember once asking my college pastor what I could do to strengthen my love for Christ. Read. Meditate. Pray. He said there was no magic potion. I must discipline myself to be in the Word, a discipline I had forsaken during my journey in the wilderness of bulimia. I must let the gospel keep me raw. I must let it fill up my cup to overflowing so my children are daily recipients of the showers of the grace that has been extended to me. This is my daily prayer – to parent from the lowly places, praying that my children would have a tax collector for a parent.
In a series of marvelous events, my once college pastor in Wheaton has now once more become my pastor in North Carolina. After the reading of the Scripture he says every time, “This is true, and it is given out of His love for us.” Let this drive us to the Scriptures that keep us in the lowly, humble places, the places where we taste most deeply of His love and kindness, that in turn will be enjoyed by our precious children.
The pharisee, thanking God she is not like her children, shouts “How could you do that again?!” “Didn’t I tell you not to do that?!” “How many times will I have to tell you not to do that?!”
The tax collector, asking for mercy for herself from her God, speaks to her children from a deep well of grace. She sees herself in her children. And together they run to Jesus.