Parenting and Grocery Store Tantrums

  As parents of four children, my wife Jill and I don’t have to leave the house to have opportunities to disciple not-yet believers in Christ. Add to the mix that we also need to be reminded of and apply the gospel to our lives, and you have a small community on mission within the confines of our home! We don’t only go to missional community to make disciples; we are a missional community that makes disciples. We are always making disciples, especially when parenting our kids. This means that when a kid holding Legos in one hand and a lightsaber in the other wakes me up at 5:30 a.m. to tell me he’s hungry or has to pee, it’s discipleship time. I don’t get to throw the gospel out the window because it isn’t time to gather with others for worship or our weekly meal yet.

If we are to see the mission of Jesus move forward in our homes and neighborhoods, something more than a scheduled series of events or classes is needed. While these events and classes might be valuable equipping tools to help resource our people, only when we approach everyday life situations as opportunities to bring the gospel to bear on each other’s lives will we consistently learn how to walk in obedience to all that Jesus has commanded.

Discipleship in All of Life

In the mess of everyday life, we must apply the gospel. Applying the gospel is speaking the truth of what Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension has done for those who believe. The gospel radically changes who we are, and often in the ordinariness of everyday life, we forget who we are in the gospel. We are sons and daughters, made into new creations through the Christ. So, applying the gospel is reminding a believer of their identity in Christ by speaking the work of Christ into their particular situation, and by showing how Jesus is better than the current idol they are desiring in that moment. But to know how to bring the gospel to bear on their life, you need to not only need to know the gospel, you need to know the person too. You need listen to them, you need to hear or see what they struggling with. Applying the gospel requires proximity, life together. Paul said that it is through speaking the truth in love to one another that we grow up in Christ (Eph. 4:15).

Jill and I are blessed to be raising four children. This gives much opportunity for us to speak the gospel with them (and each other) in ordinary life. Discipling kids, much like anyone else, is no easy task. Apart from the work of the Spirit in our lives, it's actually impossible. Left to ourselves, don’t we just want to manage our kids behavior so we are comfortable?

We as parents are often more caught up in how our kids behavior reflects back on us than whether our children are honoring and displaying God. How often does our embarrassment by their sin lead us into shaming them? But do we stop and ask ourselves, “How is this discipling them to Jesus?” Truth is, it's not. That's just piling our sin on theirs and making a big old mess.

What if, as parents, we were so rooted in our identity in Christ that when our kid’s behavior is deplorable we lovingly corrected rather than hopelessly joined in? What if this kind of discipleship of our children became more common in our own lives? What if this was more common not only with our children but in all of our relationships? How much more might we proclaim the gospel if this kind of discipleship was our normal, everyday routine?

Everyday Discipleship in the Grocery Store

Jill and I will often and intentionally go grocery shopping together with all four of our kids. While this may sound a little like we’re asking for trouble, we do this intentionally so that we can “bump into” people we might know individually and strike up a conversation. Of course, there are times when this may seem to backfire when our four kids get a little out of hand. Crowded grocery stores, plus two adults, plus four kids, equals plenty of opportunities for our idols to surface. There is nothing like a little stress to pull our sin to the surface.

On one such trip, our youngest son was disappointed over not getting to ride in a particular type of cart. He wanted the race car shopping cart, but all of those were being used by other customers and he wouldn’t settle for the regular shopping cart. He threw a tantrum. In the moment of my son’s tantrum in a busy grocery store, I forgot the gospel. I wanted to control his behavior. I wanted him to be quiet so people would stop looking at us. Ultimately, I was in sin, wanting my son to obey me so that others would see me as a good parent.

Jill, rightly bringing the gospel to bear, gently corrected our son. She gospeled his heart while rebuking his behavior. She didn’t need to focus on what others think of her because of our kids’ behavior; she needed to disciple our son. So, she was freed up to bring the gospel to our disobedient child in the midst of everyday life.

Do you see it? I was living out of a false identity. When my son threw a fit in a public place, my identity was in how poorly my kid was behaving and in what others might think of me. Contrast that with Jill, resting securely in her identity in Christ. She loved, adopted, and accepted; she was able to discipline our son correctly. Like Jesus, she pursued the one in need with little concern with what those around her thought of her. She certainly addressed our son’s behavior but ultimately, and just like Jesus, she shared how the source of this outburst was treasuring stuff more than obeying God’s command to honor and obey his parents (Eph. 6:1).

She was able to tell our son that she too often fails to obey God, that she, like him is a mess and needs the grace of God to obey. She offered hope in the gospel by telling him, “Jesus is the one, the only one, who obeyed his Father perfectly. And he obeyed right away, all the way and with a happy heart. He obeyed to death, paying the price for all your disobedience and my disobedience so that if we trust in him, we can be brought near to God. Son, you’re not good and neither am I. We both need Jesus to rescue us from our wanting other things more than what he wants for us.” That’s speaking the truth in love. In that moment, it was precisely what our young son needed to hear. Maybe you would say it a little differently. Certainly the same gospel presentation doesn’t need to be shared in all situations, but we should seek to speak the truth in love in some way regardless of the situation.

As I watched her demonstrate Jesus in her pursuit of a sinner (our child) and heard her declare the gospel, I was convicted of my own sin. My son was restored and got into the regular shopping cart and we went on our way.

Freedom in the Gospel

As we travelled the aisles getting groceries, I was growing more and more disappointed that I wasn’t able to do what my wife had just done. “Some leader of the household you are!” I thought to myself. And before I could move any deeper into condemning myself, my wife preached the gospel to me, as well. She turned to me and reminded me of what the Spirit had just shown me, that I was not helping our son by getting frustrated because of my fear others. Then she reminded me that God is glorious so I don’t have to fear others, and that the gospel is big enough for me to find forgiveness for this and all sin.

The gospel is real and it is very, very big. Bigger than my sin; bigger than my children's sin. Look, we don’t always get this right in my household. If you spend some time with us, you’ll recognize that we are far from perfect in demonstrating and declaring the gospel. We need much grace. But our hope doesn’t rest in our ability to be perfect inasmuch as the ability of the Perfect One to perfect us. While we desire to walk in obedience in making disciples, ultimately my obedience is not as important as Christ’s obedience is to the outcomes.

The gospel frees us to see these challenging situations as opportunities for discipleship. We can either join in the sin of others and make disciples of ourselves or demonstrate and declare the gospel and make disciples of Jesus. As parents we all disciple our children in the ways of someone. As followers of Jesus, we have the power through the Spirit to disciple them, and all people, in the ways of Jesus.


Gino Curcuruto is a disciple of Jesus, husband to Jill, and father of four. He is a chiropractor by trade and missionary by calling. Gino enjoys making disciples in the everyday: at home, at work, on the block, and within the church. Twitter: @ginoc