Jeannie Cunnion: Nowhere do we find God saying, “Hey, Jeannie, hey, Jim, hey, John, I’m going to need you to be enough for your kids.” He doesn’t say that. He says, “My grace is enough. I am enough, and My grace is sufficient for you.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Jeannie Cunnion, and she knows all too well about the grace that women need – God’s grace – in order to do motherhood well. Jeannie is back with us today on Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Yeah. John, we had a great conversation last time about the pressure so many moms face to get everything right. And I see this in my own experience with Jean, and I’m sure Dena is similar because they’re moms, right? And even dads have this, uh, desire to do that, but I think moms bear a bigger burden in this regard and, uh, maybe to be that perfect parent and check off all those expectations. And if we do, then our children will turn out exactly how God intended. Everybody, here’s the wakeup call. It doesn’t necessarily work that way. Sometimes it flows that way, but it’s no guarantee. Jeannie Cunnion has a great message for moms, and dads, too, uh, and it is this. It’s about God’s grace for us and for our children. And when we know how much God loves us and delights in us, then we don’t have to work so hard to prove ourselves or earn that grace, uh, from the Lord or from anyone else. But it’s a tough lesson.
John: It is. And there was so much good, practical Bible-based encouragement from Jeannie last time. I’ll encourage you to get the CD or a download of the conversation and her book, Mom Set Free: Find Relief from the Pressure to Get It All Right. Uh, just stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to learn more, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Jeannie, welcome back to Focus.
Jeannie: Thank you so much.
Jim: I’ve got some energy. People can hear it in my voice because this topic is so critical.
Jim: And my heart aches for the moms that have that burden that, “I gotta be perfect. My kids have to be perfect.” And they’d say, “No, no, it’s not that.” But the evidences, the actions kind of show that it is that. And that is such a hard burden to carry. It’s impossible. It’s not about perfection. It’s about drawing closer to God. Make that distinction.
Jeannie: Well, I think it – the number one pressure that moms feel, this myth that we go into parenting with is that parenting is about God relying on me to get it all right.
Jim: (Laughter) That’s big.
Jeannie: That’s what I carried into parenting. “He’s relying on me to get it all right. He has entrusted these kids to me, and He’s relying on me to not mess this up.” I think that’s the burden that a lot of moms and dads carry.
Jim: Okay, but let me say – that’s not all bad, is it? I mean, is there an element that there is some reliance that you are the parent? And there’s lots of Scriptures that talk about parenting…
Jeannie: A hundred percent.
Jim: …And what you should do. So is it all bad, or – what do we have to – yeah.
Jeannie: But you carry a burden and a heaviness in that that steals the joy and the wonder from your parenting…
Jeannie: …Because parenting isn’t about God relying on me. Parenting is about me relying on God to get it all right, to be sovereign – who He says He is – despite all of my mistakes.
Jeannie: So yes, we are so significant in our kids’ lives. Motherhood is – and fatherhood is such a high and beautiful calling. It is a privilege. We are so significant. What we say and do matters. Our words can hurt, or they can heal.
Jeannie: They can build up, or they can tear down. But this has changed my life.
Jeannie: I am significant, but God is sovereign.
Jim: Mmm. That is good.
Jeannie: It’s changed my parenting, literally. I am significant in my kids’ lives, but God is sovereign over their lives.
Jeannie: He is their all-knowing, all-powerful Father. He is, not me. So I can trust Him with the kids He’s entrusted to me. And if I can keep going back and remembering that – God is sovereign. He knows what He is doing. And I get to partner with Him, but I do not have to play His role.
Jim: Jeannie, I want to get to where we left off yesterday. Um, this is a hard and tender part of your story.
Jim: But you were raised in a Christian home. You know, I kind of…
Jeannie: Preacher’s kid.
Jim: A preacher’s kid.
Jim: Um, a good girl – I could see in you that you tried to do everything well…
Jim: …Even though I’m sure, like every human being, you had your…
Jeannie: Messed up.
Jim: …Your areas.
Jim: And that – that’s fine. But you came out of that good Christian family, which was pretty ideal. But then something happened. Um, I want – if you’re willing to talk about that because it ties so closely into the ethos of this, how come you were more perfectionistic and less grace-based – but speak to your marriage and what happened.
Jeannie: Yeah. I was raised, um – and the funny thing is, my parents are still married. So I – I added that pressure, which is I had this beautiful model of marriage to follow, one that was about forgiveness and – and fighting hard for marriage. You know, you stick it out. You – you may…
Jim: Don’t give up.
Jeannie: Yeah. You don’t give up. With God, all things are possible. But in my early 20s, I found myself in a marriage in which I had no peace entering, and so I take full accountability for that.
Jim: You had the gut check even before. Yeah.
Jeannie: I had the gut check. But I believed, I think as a lot of young 20s believe, that I can change this. I can make it better.
Jim: You were in love.
Jeannie: I was in love, uh, or I thought I was in love. And I was going to help him even grow in his relationship with God through the marriage – that once we got married, I could change some things. It would get better. It’s hard not to laugh as I say that because it’s mixed with a lot of grief.
Jeannie: But it was only uh, the marriage only lasted eleven months, and it was over before I – it started. And I talk about that in the book a little bit. But the moral of the story – really, the point of sharing that in the book is that I walked out of that divorce so covered in shame and embarrassment because what I, at that point, thought was, “I have utterly let God down. He has no use for my life anymore. I am a divorced, early 20s woman. Um, and now my testimony holds no value. Um, what can I do? How can the Lord use me now that I had a broken marriage – that we were in marriage counseling every single week for those eleven months?”
Jeannie: Um, and some things cannot be saved. And I say that with a lot of sadness because I believe in marriage, and I wanted to be married once and only once. And, um – and so that was a very hard, hard thing to walk through because the shame was so profound. I was so shattered by that experience.
Jim: Right. And some are going to jump to conclusions. What happened – you had biblical grounds for the divorce…
Jeannie: Very biblical grounds.
Jim: …Just to take that out of the – you know, out of the hands of the critics who might say, “Well, you should’ve stayed married.”
Jim: But there are certain biblical boundaries there, and – and that happened in your case.
Jeannie: A hundred percent.
Jim: But speak to the follow-on. I mean, you’re coming out of this – again, this idyllic home. And you fall into this marriage that doesn’t work. You’re the preacher’s daughter.
Jim: What about that shame that you felt at that time? I mean, the – the boatloads, the truck loads, whatever – however you want to define it. What did that feel like?
Jeannie: It felt hopeless. I mean, again, it just felt like, um, what – how can the Lord use me now? He must be so disappointed in me. I felt like – and this is so not what I was raised to believe or taught. It’s so not what we read in scripture. But the enemy was relentless with me just covering me in shame. Um, how could you? Who does something like that?
Jeannie: And so I carried that shame with me, um, for years when I ultimately met my husband now – Mike – we’ve been married for 15 years and just the greatest gift God’s ever given me. And then we, um, began to build our family pretty soon after we got married.
Jim: And you have three boys at this time?
Jeannie: We had three boys in five years and then had a fourth boy seven years later.
Jeannie: But why I tell this story in the book is because the shame I carried into my marriage with Mike then I carried into my parenting with my kids.
Jeannie: And so I was still living out of this place of thinking that, um, I had to earn back God’s love and favor, that I had to make Him proud of me again, that the righteousness of Jesus Christ that never stopped covering me, had always been there and that all along, I couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now. The grace that covered me – Jesus was saying to me, “Jeannie, I loved you then, and I love you now.”
Jeannie: “And I’m not done with you yet. And although your sin grieves Me, breaks My heart, I – I love you, and I welcome you at your worst.” I mean, Scripture says He welcomes us at our worst, in our darkest.
Jim: How long a process was that? And what was the recovery like? I mean, you don’t wake up a week after divorce court saying, “Okay, God, I got it.” How long did that process take?
Jeannie: It was about 10 years.
Jim: Ten years.
Jeannie: It was…
Jim: Think of that.
Jeannie: …Ten years that I…
Jeannie: And it was a beautiful unfolding – intimate moments with Jesus in the Word where I started to – it was like He was highlighting passages in Scripture for the first time that I had read all along. Romans 8:1 – “There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ” – not a little. There is none. And then you go onto one of my favorite, uh, verses, which is Romans 8:38 through 8:39. And the Message paraphrase writes it so that it says, “Absolutely nothing can get between you and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced you.” But what I did – and what I think a lot of moms do is I put a “but” in that sentence. Absolutely nothing “but”…
Jeannie: …Can separate you from God’s love. For me, it was divorce. For somebody else, it’s addiction or adultery or an abortion or any other thing that we carry that we believe makes us unlovable and unworthy of God’s welcome and affection.
Jim: Okay, so a mom is hearing you…
Jim: …Say all these things. And maybe they’ve gone through something similar, maybe different. But they feel the same way – that, um, you know, God’s grace is not sufficient for me…
Jim: …Because God knows what has happened to me. You don’t. And it’s too big a sin for God to cover.
Jim: I mean, that’s pretty arrogant in some ways…
Jim: …To say it that way if you think about it.
Jim: But it’s true.
Jim: You know, God, through Jesus, can cover everybody else’s big sins, but mine, well, mine are too deep and too big.
Jim: Speak to that woman right now in terms of how to grab the first rung of the ladder out of that pit…
Jeannie: Well, I think the fact…
Jim: …To say, “Okay, Lord.”
Jeannie: …That she’s listening, you know? The Lord has you listening now for a reason.
Jim: Open your ears.
Jim: Okay, I like that.
Jeannie: Open your ears. And though our sin is great, His grace is greater; it is so much greater. And the invitation is to receive that Grace and know that Jesus says, “You are clean. You are free. You are covered in the righteousness of Christ.”
Jim: So one critical thing is they need to be in the Word.
Jeannie: In the Word.
Jim: Read the Word, especially those Scriptures that are talking about God’s love for you.
Jeannie: Go read Romans 8 where it talks about absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God. And then confess to Him those things that you believe have separated you or are separating you and ask Him to open the eyes of your heart to see you the way He sees you…
Jeannie: …Which is literally covered in the goodness of His son.
Jim: So true.
Jeannie: It’s so hard to believe and accept because it doesn’t seem fair.
Jeannie: We should have to work to get that back.
John: Mmhmm. I appreciate the way you put that. And, um, I’d like to just suggest if you don’t have a Bible, contact us. We can send you one. But we really do believe getting into the Scripture is a key part of grabbing onto the grace of God and letting go of all the rules and performance aspects of life. And um, our number, if you want to talk to a counselor, if you want to request Jeannie’s book, get a CD or download of our conversation is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Jeannie, I want to turn a little bit, um, to specific issues that some might be facing. Um, there’s other challenges that moms face, uh, where their children are suffering in some way, um, from rejection, a mistake they made or simply because life is hard. Um, you know, it’s not going the way the teenager wants it to go.
Jim: Maybe they’re not as popular as other kids are – whatever it might be. Um, you describe a time when one of your boys was suffering from rejection and how that broke your heart. So in this formula of grace and pursuing God and Romans 8:28 – that all things work for good to those who love the Lord and are called by His name – that’s a tough way to parent, too, because your children somewhere will suffer in some way.
Jim: And there is a benefit to suffering. So tie that all up for me.
Jeannie: Oh, that’s a big one.
Jim: Yeah, it is a big one.
Jeannie: (Laughter) You know, I think when we think about that passage – you know, God works all things together for good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose – and the most beautiful part of that, I think, is the next verse, which talks about what is the good to which He’s calling us? And that is conformity to the likeness of His son. And so if we can – if – if I can as a mom remember that – that the – that the hardships and that the sufferings that my kids go through, that I walk through alongside them, that God is using them, He can be trusted to use that to conform them into the likeness of His son.
Jim: You know how contrary that sounds to our culture…
Jeannie: I know.
Jim: …Of winning?
Jeannie: But it’s…
Jim: The quarterback – you’re on top. It’s me versus you. It’s a zero-sum game. And by the way, I’ll pray for you as a Christian…
Jim: …But it’s still the same game.
Jim: I mean, it’s true – we’re about being winners in this culture.
Jeannie: Well, we have to get honest, as parents, about what is our greatest hope for our kids?
Jim: Right. That’s a great question…
Jeannie: What is it?
Jim: …We keeping coming back to.
Jeannie: What is our greatest hope?
Jim: So what was that story where your – your son – one of your sons – we don’t need his name obviously – but what was the suffering he was going through? And what was your solution?
Jeannie: It was peer rejection – meaningful, deeply painful peer rejection.
Jim: What age?
Jeannie: And one of the things that came out of that was a change in my prayer life because I kept praying to the Lord, “Lord,” you know, obviously I’m praying for relief. So (laughter) where I could be praying, “Lord, use this to, you know, create perseverance because perseverance creates character.”
Jeannie: But as a mom, I want to see my son relieved from his pain, right?
Jeannie: Even though I know everything that Scripture teaches me about how God will use that. But I was praying for my son. And I kept saying, “My son, my son.” And I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to start praying for him as Your son. God, he’s Your son. I can surrender him back to You. So I’m praying for my son. But at the end of the day, God, he belongs to You, and You love him infinitely more than even I do, which is hard to fathom. But help me trust You with the child You have entrusted to me because he’s Your son. And so I started to pray for all of my boys that way, particularly in hardship. “Lord, help Your son in this painful experience,” or “Help Your son as he struggles with sin and temptation. God, would You help Your son? Equip him with the power of Your Word to fight against sin and temptation.”
John: Don’t you think, Jeannie, that a lot of moms would, despite what you just said, want to get in there and fix this – you know, talk to the other parents and – and help…
Jeannie: I want to fix it.
John: …Straighten out some of this?
Jeannie: I mean, we’re good at problem-solving…
Jeannie: …But we do our best parenting through prayer.
Jeannie: We do. We do our best – so I’m a problem-solver. It’s my first go-to to fix, fix, fix. And thank God I have a husband who says, “Let’s pray, pray, pray. Let’s take this to God in prayer.”
Jeannie: Um, and so, yes, I’m a problem-solver. But we – what our kids need for us to be more than problem-solvers is prayer warriors. Our kids need us to be prayer warriors because God can do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. As hard as we are gonna try, you know, He can blow us away.
Jeannie: You know, if I can remember – uh, one of the really fun things that came out of writing from – this book for me was if I can remember God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness and His goodness, if I can really hold onto that, then I stop wanting to write my son’s story…
Jeannie: …And I become grateful that God never gave me the pen.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Jeannie: Honestly, because I’m trying to write his story as if I really know what’s best for him, as if I can see the endgame. So it’s not like something you can hold onto. But honestly, if I can keep remembering God is sovereign, He is faithful, He is good, then it helps me unclench my fists that are trying to control outcomes…
Jeannie: …Because that’s what I do. And I can surrender the outcome to God because if – surrender – I – we tend to think of surrender as, like, giving up. And it’s not, right? Like just saying, “All right, I surrender them to you, God, I give up.” But it’s not giving up. It’s giving over. So it’s this constant handing over of my boys back to God…
Jeannie: …And saying, “You write the best stories, You’ve always proven to be trustworthy, and I’m gonna choose to trust You in these things that feel like I sure would like to clench my fists and control the outcomes.”
Jim: Yes. Well, and I – I want to get back to that success issue because I think, again, our culture inculcates our good Christian thinking, if I could put it that way…
Jim: …What – what we can learn in suffering, in losses pretty much, and it emphasizes success. And uh, oftentimes, you know, our version of success doesn’t line up with God’s plan of success.
Jim: What does success look like to God? And you’ve hit it. But man, it’s hard, as a parent, to decouple success as a 4.3 valedictorian, quarterback of the football team, scholarship offer, whatever it might be – and of course, goes to Bible study every week and, you know, is the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club and all those kinds of things. And those are good things. They’re not bad things. If you’ve achieved those things…
Jim: …That’s good.
Jim: But it has to always be in context of what God is teaching you. Are you humble about those things, et cetera? So when you’re looking at, uh, success, how do we learn to let go of those expectations – the ungodly expectations, that we want the outcomes to be, you know, that they’re all those things? Not every kid can do that. There’s only one spot to be the president of FCA.
Jim: There’s only one role here. And uh, how do we manage that, as a parent, to – if our kids are just average, if I could say it that way, and to be okay with the fact that God’s lifting them up in different ways, not the way the culture would applaud?
Jeannie: Right. I think to get okay with that, we first have to get okay with that in our own lives. I think that’s always – so often, it comes back to that in parenting. How do I define success in my own life? And what do I anchor my worth in? And if we’re anchoring our own success and our own value in our accomplishments, we’re gonna be putting that same kind of pressure on our kids. And so it’s that constant invitation from God to come back and say, “I am who God says I am. He created me for a purpose. I’m gonna stay in my lane, and I’m gonna watch Him be glorified in it.”
Jim: Yeah. Um, let me ask this, as we are nearing the end – I’m thinking of the prodigal child – the – the parents that have really struggled.
Jim: And you’re touching on that. Only God can do that. Only God can draw somebody to Him. Only God can, uh, knock the scales from someone’s eyes if they’re living in a way that is not honoring to Him. And as parents, you know, we feel like failures.
Jim: Uh, I know Jean and I, we had a situation once. And, I mean, it was my goodness, we have done a horrible job here.
Jim: And you start self-loathing…
Jim: …And all the criticism. It happens to every one of us.
Jeannie: It does.
Jim: And you have to think that through as a couple, pray about it.
Jeannie: And it’s painful.
Jim: And it’s painful.
Jeannie: It’s so painful.
Jim: But I think especially for those parents who have a prodigal child, who are really killing themselves because – there’s all kinds of rationales for that. “We didn’t spend enough time with him or her. Uh, we didn’t do the right things, we didn’t apply the right formula. If we only would have done these things differently, they would’ve turned out, uh, loving God and knowing God.” What is that balance there – when you start talking about really leaving it and handing it over to God – that these children are God’s, and you have a 20-something who may be addicted to drugs…
Jim: …Or is far from the Lord in physical purity, or whatever the situation might be?
Jim: What do you say?
Jeannie: Yeah, God is not finished with that child yet. But I do think this – I think that there is a particular verse that – that the enemy does so well in twisting and using to create so much guilt and shame in the Christian parent’s life. And it’s Proverbs 22:6 where it talks about train your child up in the way they should go…
Jeannie: …And when they are old they will not depart from it. And we read that verse as a promise rather than a proverb. So if you read that as an if-then promise, then you’re thinking, “It’s all on me.”
Jeannie: “And if I do it all right, they’ll turn out all right. And it’s all on me. If I do it all wrong, they’ll turn out all wrong because this is an if-then promise.” But it’s not, it’s a proverb, which is wise instruction for us to follow. And so the invitation, even in a verse like that, is to say, “That is a proverb. And by God’s grace, I will do all that I can to lead my children to love Him and know Him.” But again, it goes – at the end of it, it goes back to saying, “If we understand that though we are significant, we are not sovereign,” we are freed up to say, “Lord, I matter in my child’s life. I matter. What I do really matters, but I am going to trust You with the kids You have entrusted to me.” I really want parents be able to – to read that verse and find freedom in it because it’s wise instruction. But at the end of the day, there is only one who will not fail our kids…
Jeannie: …And it’s not me, and, Jim, it’s not you, and, John, it’s not you. There’s only one who has never and will never fail them, and that’s Jesus.
Jeannie: And we are free to confess that, and that doesn’t make us failures. It makes us people who know the extravagance of God’s grace and can parent our children with more of a lightness and more of a joy…
Jeannie: …Um, and more of a wonder. You know, wonder is this hopeful expectation of what God’s gonna do next.
Jim: Yes. Well, and I love that, Jeannie, because, uh, I think, as parents, we fail to see the long view.
Jim: I mean, I think what that proverb is alluding to is the fact that a person in their teen years and in their 20s doesn’t have a lot of wisdom often…
Jim: …But by the time they’re old, they’ll have a lot more wisdom…
Jim: …And they’ll understand what mom and dad were saying…
Jim: …About staying close to God, uh, leaning into God…
Jim: …Trusting God. I think life, in its intention, in why the Lord has done this is that when we are old, we will know God is right, and…
Jim: …The world, it’s wrong. And that’s the bottom line. And…
Jim: …We, as parents, simply need to keep that conduit open…
Jim: …Uh, to God’s heart – that God is for you. And I love that.
Jeannie: And He…
Jim: I love that.
Jeannie: …Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Right, as parents, we want that heart changed by Friday, right? We want it – what we put in, we want to see immediate change. And Paul writes about how God will complete His good work on the day when Christ Jesus returns. This is a lifelong process.
Jim: Mmm, that is so good. Jeannie. And I love this statement from your book, Mom Set Free, where you said, “God’s grace taught you that you are a great sinner, but you also have a greater Savior.”
Jim: And, uh, in turn, it’s helped you relax as a parent and let joy live loud in your home. I love that description. Uh, what does that look like in your family on a daily basis?
Jeannie: I think, uh, a big part of it is just that “me too” mindset, that willingness to come alongside our kids and say, “Me too – I know what it’s like to struggle. I know what it’s like to need Jesus.” And there is a freedom in our house to be honest, to take off our masks and let down our guards and talk about the ways in which we, um – our weaknesses – the ways in which we need the Lord, uh, to keep working in our lives. Uh, I do think that when we are clenching our fists in our homes and trying to control outcomes, which I’m really good at, we steal all the joy. Right, where does the joy go when we’re so focused on control? And I’m learning how connection is such a more, um, beautiful way to parent my kids than control – a connection over control mindset. How can I connect with them? How can I make sure they feel seen and heard in a way that opens their hearts up to the conversation, rather than just trying to control the way they’re going to go through this hardship or through this experience?
Jim: It’s so well-said. And I’m telling you, this is a great resource. If you’re a mom that feels shame over your parenting mistakes or maybe unrealistic expectations for yourself or your children, uh, striving to control, as Jeannie’s talking about, maybe all of that creating anxiety about your, uh, child’s faith and future, I mean, this is the resource for you. I so appreciate, Jeannie, you being diligent and faithful to the Lord to write this down. And it – it takes boldness because you’re exposing your weaknesses in here. Just like the Scripture says, uh, you know, you become low so that people will lift me up. And you have done a wonderful job lifting up the Lord and His principles and His approach to us as sinners – both moms and dads. There are plenty of both in this book. I – it’s written for moms, but we’re in there, too. And I want to encourage you to get a copy of Jeannie’s book through Focus on the Family – Mom Set Free. Is there a better deal than this one? And just support Focus with a gift of any amount. If you can’t afford it, we will get it to you. Someone will cover the cost of that. So we don’t want that to be an impediment to you being a better mother. Just get in touch with us, and we will get this great resource in your hands.
John: And our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Online you can find the book, a CD or download of our conversation, and more at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Jeannie, again, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your love of the Lord. And I can tell you are doing a great job being a mom.
Jeannie: Aw, well thank you for having me.
John: Well again, that website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or our number – 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Well coming up next time on this broadcast, Ken Davis takes a humorous look at why the Bible compares us to sheep.
Ken Davis: They follow each other! They’re stupid! One sheep does something, the rest of them do it! They crowd into a corner, pretty soon they’ll die from suffocation! They all get in there. It’s a crowd. It’s a party. Let’s join. They’re just right there! We’re not like that.
End of Teaser