The Gospel of God’s Grace is practical to all of life. Its impact changes everything, placing a new foundation under our feet from which to live.
God teaches in His word that we are renewed in our minds. The Gospel changes our thinking and believing, and therefore our actions.
Yet, where the practical nature of the Gospel may seem easy to render into certain aspects of our lives, “parenting” seems to be an area where we wonder how to apply the Gospel of God’s Grace. How do we handle issues in our children’s lives like sin, discipline, correction, consequences etc. Can we trust Grace to truly work when for so long we have trusted so many other parenting approaches?
Before we get into these parenting issues through a true life story of parenting from Grace, it’s valuable to make sure we set forth some foundational things about the Gospel of Grace that will apply to our parenting.
1- Grace is not a license to sin. Properly used, Grace will not teach nor encourage our children to misbehave, rebel, or choose to sin.
2- Grace does not necessarily remove consequences. Not all consequences are punishment. Furthermore, “reaping and sowing” is a principal that has application within the life we live under Grace and the New Covenant.
With that in mind…
A True Story
Our son Harrison is 14 years old and truly an awesome you man who loves Jesus and values so many good things in life. He is wise, caring, fun loving, mature, and passionate. Not to mention, extremely smart and a beast on the soccer field. He is my pride ad joy, and we have been joined at the heart since birth.
As with any child, despite how awesome they are, each has their own quirks and areas of challenge.
For Harrison, his greatest parenting challenge has been to learn to communicate his feelings of disagreement, frustration, or anger without down spiraling into a huge temper tantrum, argument, or meltdown. Over the years, this has been a repeated theme that at times can get very dramatic, to say the least.
I must admit, as a father, I have not always done a good job at setting the right example as my own temper gets caught in the mix as my frustration level over flows in a boil during these episodes.
Yet, since Harrison was much younger, we have struggled to find a way to turn this behavior around and set a new course. Unfortunately, with little, lasting success. I don’t blame Harrison so much for his struggle through this issue, but much more myself for a lack of knowledge of the Gospel of God’s Grace and trusting it enough to apply it in my parenting.
However, I am so glad to be able to share with you that now there is much good news as things have taken a one-eighty turn around with Harrison and this temper kind of issue.
So, what has changed? What has made the difference?
Let me explain.
Up until recently, our main parenting strategy with Harrison and his temper issue has been one of rule-keeping, fear, and punishment as we address the behavior in our attempt to correct the behavior. Each time, there would be a temporary compliance from Harrison, only to result in a reoccurring of the same behavior later. After a period of negotiation and trying to defuse this situations, even the more harsh punishments that registered as being a very unwelcomed consequence to Harrison did little to curb the behavior in the long-run. From taking away privileges to adding on huge inconveniences and stresses, nothing worked to result in true lasting change. In fact, not long ago, I established a written covenant of behavior expectations along with agreed-upon consequences should the covenant be violated. There were even agreed-upon expectations that applied to both Harrison and Amy and I as parents. We all signed it and felt good about it. Yet again, it did not work for very long.
I think for most parents, to some degree or another, the main strategy of behavior modification in our children is ultimately through rules, fear, and punishment, all under the umbrella and foundation of love and loving discipline. Like you, our heart is to teach our children right from wrong and to instill in them the values and character that will serve to bless and prosper their lives. To be sure, that seems like the standard mode of operation that Christian parents should be doing.
Yet, the way God parents us through the Gospel of Grace has some real wisdom for how best to parent our children. We live under a new covenant of Grace and so should our parenting.
This was the revelation that set my strategy with Harrison in a totally different direction. If God trusts Grace to work in parenting me, I should be able to trust Grace to work in the parenting of my son.
First, I realized if I parented Harrison (particularly his behavior problem) from a spirit of the Law, I should not be surprised when his disobedience increased instead of decreased. This is the dramatic limit of the Law we find in scripture. It does a great job of pointing out what we can’t do, where the more we try, the more we are actually enticed to break it and fall short. It does nothing to making our behaviors truly better, but actually does everything to make them worse. God used the Law to introduce the power and need of Grace. The old covenant based on man’s performance and rule-keeping that never worked, led to a new covenant based on the performance of Jesus to destroy sin and death that worked perfectly. The Law shows us we need Grace. Grace shows us the Law doesn’t work. God never intended nor designed the Law to be the solution, but rather Grace.
Second, I realized that all my emphasis on rule-keeping, fear, and punishment, though well-intentioned from a heart of love, was actually doing more to imprison Harrison to his rebellion instead of freeing him. In fact, the covenant we established with Harrison (mentioned earlier) was in fact a covenant of the Law, not Grace. No wonder why he couldn’t follow it, nor would it work to change behavior.
Third, I realized that I needed to trust Grace to change disobedience and to be the guiding influence to steer our children away from sin towards living rightly. Contrary to much of what we are taught about how to live the Christian life and help others to do the same, people governed by Grace are the most free and faithful of all. They sin less, not more.
Fourth, I realized I needed to speak from Grace to Harrison’s new-creation identity, not his rebellious behaviors. An obedience problem is always first and identity problem. Harrison needed to know who he is so he could see how his behaviors were foreign to himself, and not a reflection of his true nature and identity.
If all Harrison believed about himself is that he was a temperamental teenager unable to control his emotions and always prone to losing control as evidenced by his failures to live up to the rules, then guess what Harrison would continue to do? Yup, keep misbehaving over and over, and over again.
So, here’s what I did.
After another long, meltdown episode of shouting, after I threatened to end his soccer season, I stopped myself, stepped up to the cliff side of Grace and took a step of faith. I went to the refrigerator door upon which our covenant of behavior was placed, took it down and in front of Harrison, I ripped it up. I told him that I would not remove him from the soccer team, I believed in who He was in Christ, gave him the details of how he has everything already within him to handle these situations much better, and that I trusted that from then on, he would carry himself differently when moments of potential temper flares presented themself. “You realize Harrison, all of these battles we have from time to time are not who you are, and that loss of temper and control of your emotions is completely foreign to the young man you are, newly created by Christ?” “You are not a young man of dishonor and disrespect for your parents” “I love you and believe in you, and know that you will be able to navigate these moments better in the future.” “No son, there is no punishment tonight.” I hugged him and walked away.
He was speechless, and then proceeded to his room. After several minutes, I walked up to check on him. He seemed very sad.
“You did hear what I said, right? You have your soccer season back.”
“Dad, that’s not what I want anymore, our relationship is more important. I was wrong, and have been disrespecting and dishonoring you and mom.” “You are right, that’s not who I am, I see it, and I believe it.”
“Well Harrison, lets close this chapter, I know things will never be like they have been again. You know who you are, and what you have in Him.”
As I walked back downstairs, Amy asked (not being around for the whole covenant-ripping and talk thing with Harrison), “What happened?” “What did you do about all this?”
I replied, “It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”
Grace can, where everything else can’t.
Since then, we have had not one single episode. Even, when there was every opportunity to do so.
The Big Take Aways
So what are the potential take aways for you as a parent to apply to your parenting?
1- I spoke to his identity first, not his behavior. Grace teaches us who we truly are because of what Jesus has done to us. As we believe in our righteousness in Christ (and a whole lot more), we will live it. Right believing leads to right living. Behind everything we do wrong is a wrong belief about ourselves and/or God. The same is true with our children.
2- I influenced heart-change through kindness, not harshness and punishment. Punishment never made anyone Holy, nor will it do so for your children. Jesus took our children’s punishment for sin and brokeness. Consequences are not always punishment. When our daughter Cailyn has to spend her time cleaning her room when she left it a mess instead of getting to go outside or play on the ipad, that’s not punishment, it’s consequences. If I yell and scream at her, telling her what a slob she is and take away her dinner from her too, that’s condemnation, shame, and punishment. I can correct my child with our condemning them, and give meaningful, firm consequences without punishing them. Punishment yields temporary obedience out of fear. Consequences yield obedience out of learning that irresponsible and bad actions have consequences that remove pleasure and self-inflict pain.
3- I trusted Grace to manage his behavior, not rule-keeping and fear. The Bible teaches that it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. If God trusts that to work with me and manage my life, I trust it to work for my children. I know that a spirit of rule-keeping and fear doesn’t work in my life, people’s lives, and my children. However, Grace does. It is the only thing that has changed me and my behaviors, it governs me into freedom and faithfulness where everything else just led me deeper into the prison of my own flesh.
4- I communicated confidence in who he is in Christ to help him have confidence, not condemnation. If Harrison bases his identity and sense of self from his performance as a person, he will be all over the map internally and therefore, externally. Condemnation is the root of so many bad things coming out of people’s lives and living. Show our children who they are in Christ, and they will be able to determine the foreign nature of sin to their lives on their own without us having to ride them with shouting, fear, and punishment hanging over their heads.
5- There are still consequences given in our parenting, but they are from a foundation of Grace, not Law. They are based on teaching the reality of reaping and sowing in life, not punishment, condemnation, guilt, shame, and fear.
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts…