“Anything—minus hope—equals nothing. Hope is the human equivalent of oxygen when it comes to a person’s ability to live effectively. Take it away, and everything else becomes irrelevant. Without hope it is impossible to live a balanced life. Far worse, without hope, people surrender too soon and die too young… Any parent who wants to raise his or her children into strong, confident and resilient adults has got to grasp the reality of children’s fundamental need to a strong hope… Kids groomed in a grace-based environment find it easier to be visionaries, to trust in a better future, and to long for a greater good…”
Welcome back to my series of reflections on the book Grace Based Parenting Dr. Tim Kimmel! I thought the quotes above would provide a great introduction for this chapter called “A Strong Hope.” It’s the start of the Christmas season as I write this, and hope is certainly a relevant topic at the moment. Hope is often hard to come by, even as the holiday music serenades us in the shopping mall and advertisements promise us a jolly life if we only buy their shiny stuff on sale. My own kids are working on their wish lists right now! In the midst of the holiday hoopla, despair and disillusionment can creep in and take over not only the “world out there” (with wars, human trafficking, poverty and other social maladies) but also our own homes and churches. I know. I’ve been there. It’s a black hole. And yet Jesus Christ came to bring us hope—for the peace and presence of God, for our future in eternity, and for building communities of faith with others in the here and now. I could use a good strong dose of that hope right now.
This is a really long chapter—over 30 pages long—but I’ll try to distill the essence into one blog post! Dr. Kimmel’s words, as well as Scripture verses, are in italics.
“One of the first things we need to understand is the role that helplessness plays in building a strong hope into our children. Their early ability to trust us in the areas where they are helpless to meet their personal needs weighs heavily in their ability to ultimately trust God as they grow older… If he can’t trust the adults in his life when he is helpless, why should he assume that he could trust in a God he can’t see—especially if that trust in God is preached to him by the parents who failed to help him in his time of need?”
Dr. Kimmel writes this to introduce his comments on the rigid feeding and sleeping schedules advocated by some child training authors. He doesn’t mention which ones, but the obvious frontrunners are Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo of Babywise, who have been sharply criticized by many in the medical and parenting fields, especially since this has led to dehydration and malnutrition in young babies. Infants need responsiveness from their parents, not strict clock watching. When a baby is genuinely hungry – which isn’t always on cue from the parents – he learns to trust those caring for him when they are feeding him. That doesn’t mean that parents are slaves to their babies, but that they orchestrate a reasonable, flexible routine. When my first baby was born, I tried to stick to a four hour feeding schedule. She might be crying loudly to be fed, but I would look at my watch and say, “No, five more minutes until you can eat!” Then it was ten minutes of nursing on one side, then ten minutes on the other side, and we were done for the next four hours. If she was asleep when it was “time to eat” I would wake her up. Really! At least that’s the way we started. I eased up considerably as we went along, just because it seemed the sensible thing to do. When her sister was born 22 months later, I entirely ditched the four hour plan and fed when it was a good time for both of us. If she seemed hungry, I nursed her. If we were about to go somewhere and I knew I wouldn’t be able to discretely breastfeed her, I would nurse her before we left. If she was taking a nap, I would “let the sleeping baby lie”! If it was time for bed and she was awake, I would give her a milky “nightcap” until she fell asleep, even if she had just eaten an hour before that. And that’s the way I fed the next eight babies, too. That responsiveness also meant that I had to start the last four babies on a mostly formula diet – though still nursing on a flexible schedule — since by my late thirties and early forties I couldn’t produce nearly enough milk no matter what I tried. If I had listened to eager moms who thought cow’s milk was poison and insisted on breast only, my babies would have seriously failed to thrive. I needed to set aside my mommy ego and do what was best for my helpless babies. They were developing their most basic trust in me, whether it was by breast or bottle! I have watched that first sweet baby girl grow up to be a responsive and responsible mommy to her own little guy. (Sally Clarkson has just written a blog post related to motherly responsiveness to feeding needs here: Do Unto Your Children As You Would Have Them Do Unto You, and Tulip Girl has a series on the pitfalls of various aspects of Babywise parenting.)
Feeding is a profound metaphor for our spiritual needs, too. Jesus knows we are hungry and thirsty. “I am the bread of life!” and “I am the living water!” are two of his most poignant promises to those who come to him, whether it is the woman at the well, or the hungry crowd of thousands on the hillside, or a 21st century family in the suburbs.
As parents, we need to be aware of our children’s real life needs, so we can come alongside and offer loving nourishment and help. They will certainly need leadership and encouragement in their spiritual lives. Otherwise: “They have no idea how to find the way, know the truth, or gain the life… Passivity when it comes to their spiritual life signs their death warrant in advance. Few find their way through to God on their own. They need loving parents enthusiastically leading the way.”
Then there are the practical needs in their lives. Yes, they need to start learning independence. But first they need guidance and a tactical boost. Maybe it is tutoring in a weak academic area, or help choosing a healthy breakfast, or intervention with an irritable sibling, or tips on filling out college scholarship applications, or a small loan to start a lawn mowing business. Whatever we do, we can train and equip them for success in the future.
“Fortunately, children don’t stay helpless forever, and eventually they become old enough to feed themselves, groom themselves, communicate clearly, and even stand up for themselves. Their minds develop well enough to think inductively and deductively. Our mistake is when we fail to relinquish our control over these areas once children have gotten to where they can handle them on their own. Parents who run their children’s lives and make most of their decisions discourage them from individual thinking. This can damage their ability to learn to lean on God. It also confuses their ultimate choice to put their hope in God and could mislead them into thinking that God likes to keep them hopeless, too.”
God does not isolate us from worldly traps that could bring us down. He wants us to become mature enough to function around them and not be influenced by them. He doesn’t want us to remain as spiritual infants, fed only on milk, though that is where we all rightly start. “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
So as parents, we must transition from protecting our children to preparing them. We give them more options, knowing that they will make some bad choices and learn from them. “Eventually they’ve got to stand on their own two feet. God gives us their childhood (especially their teenage years) to let them practice making decisions under our roofs. Simple logic would say that if children are going to struggle and make bad choices, it’s better that they do so while they remain involved with loving parents to help them through it. When parents don’t let them practice, children often overreact to the freedom when they go to college or go out on their own. Unfortunately, those mistakes can do greater harm to them (and to others). Grace-based parenting is shrewd about helping children grow up and develop independence before they are sent out on their own.”
We’re teaching our kids to trust in God, that there is hope for a good future, but what happens when things don’t seem to turn out all right? I have a young adult daughter, still living at home, who has faced a lot of tough circumstances this year. It seems no matter how hard her effort, something comes up to wipe out any gains. She is learning endurance through all of us, and I’ve reminded her of how much more compassionate she will be with others after struggling so much herself. As Dr. Kimmel writes, “Now, there’s one more area where God wants to use us to build their hope, and that’s when God chooses to solve their problems in ways that wouldn’t be of their own choosing… In these types of scenarios, they are hoping for a physical miracle, an intellectual epiphany, or a relational windfall to suddenly make everything right. The God we trust in doesn’t always deal with these problems in ways we expect or hope for. Sometimes He answers our pleas with answers like “No” or “Wait” or “Later.” When He does, it’s because He is working to make us better and stronger and to draw us closer to Him. He has a bigger plan that this setback fits into. Children need to have a hope in His love that enables them to trust in His character while walking down these painful corridors of their lives. For the child facing these crises, the grace that has surrounded him, the love he’s been shown, and the character of the parents who gave him that grace and love provide a natural springboard for him to rest in God’s final answer to his pleas. It helps him hope when everyone else would give up.”
I feel like I’ve already learned so much from this chapter, yet there is still so much more! How about “A Checklist for Building Strong Hope”? Here are the bare bullet points in bold italic, which Dr. Kimmel expounds on for several pages, along with my brief comments on each one in parentheses.
1. Children develop a strong hope when they know their parents recognize their God-given abilities and liabilities and turn them into assets for their future. (Dr. Kimmel applies the Proverbs 22:6 verse “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” as meaning we should not only train our children in God’s ways, but discover the individual way our children are created and called to be and equip them for success in that. We also need to determine what their specific weaknesses are and help them to overcome in those areas. They are not mini clones of us!)
2. Children develop a strong hope when their parents lead them and encourage them to live a great spiritual adventure.(One of my favorite phrases about life and parenting is “the grand adventure” so he instantly has my ears on this one. What he’s getting at is that our goal shouldn’t necessarily be “the safe life” for our kids. Over-sheltering leads them to be critical of others, and naïve about the dangers they will face. Life is inherently risky. Will they be ready? Not to mention that Christians are called to risk their lives for the gospel anyway, whether they are foreign missionaries or not. Yes, we should be shrewd. We don’t throw a defenseless child to the wolves. But we do teach them to rely on God, to discern good from evil, to make wise choices, to deal with the inevitable dangers. Much of what we do as Christian parents is a reflection of our middle-class suburban sensibilities. Parents in Third World countries don’t have our options, yet they can still raise spiritually savvy children who can withstand whatever cultural pressures and socioeconomic circumstances they encounter. Speaking again of over-protective parents, Kimmel writes, “These protected environments don’t allow a system of spiritual antibodies to develop within the character of the child. This produces a generation of people who must within a spiritually sterilized environment in order to survive. These are nice systems that produce nice kids who marry nice kids who go to nice churches and hang out with like-minded friends. Meanwhile, the lost people in the world around them continue in their doomed condition. In these environments, there is little spiritual adventure. God is nice, Jesus becomes a plush toy that we cuddle, and we become irrelevant.” I cried when I read Kimmel’s analogy of the ship that never goes past the harbor entrance. That’s because of a simple quote my second daughter taught me when she, at age 19, traveled by herself to spend three months in the remote (and very hazardous) mountains of Bolivia: “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is NOT what ships are built for” (William Shedd). I know I linked these in the post for last chapter, but here they are again: A Ship in Harbour is Safe…, and And They Are Strong and Bold… (Girls and the Grand Adventure) and Come With Me Here. Those who have children in public school may wish to read Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School by David and Kelli Pritchard. I just received my copy yesterday, so I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I’ve read so far is very good and very stretching. I am still home schooling several of my children, as I have for 20 years, but also have two in public school.
3. Children develop a strong hope when their parents help them turn their childhood into a series of positive accomplishments. Equip, equip, equip! I often tell my kids, “I am here to help you succeed!” But I need to follow through more with this for sure!
And in all of this, what do they need? Our own example! They need to see us exercising self-discipline, growing intellectually and spiritually, and taking on new challenges with gusto. With our kids, we sometimes also need to “learn the graceful art of ‘pushing carefully’ by establishing realistic standards and then shoving them in the right direction.” Yow, that one hits a little too close to home for me. I tend to lean more toward being lax in making my kids work hard at school and chores, and it has come back to bite me. Other parents might lean into pushing their kids to over achieve – which doesn’t make them better people, just more proficient in certain areas. “They need to see their commitment to achievement as a way to glorify God as well as a way to make them more valuable to others. Grace helps us keep achievement in its rightful place, as a means to an end.”
Kids won’t always win. They also need to learn to lose gracefully, to get past their failures, and to try again. Parents make powerful cheerleaders when the going gets rough. And when we are discouraged in parenting, we need a little cheer of hope to keep us going, too:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9).
There are six more chapters in this book. I hope to write about them soon, but for now, I’ve got some work to do on my own harvest!
You can read my previous posts on this book here:
Chapter 1: “Why Well-Meaning Parenting Falls Short”
Chapter 2: “The Truth Behind Grace”
Chapter 3: “A Secure Love”
Chapter 4: “A Significant Purpose”
You can read my previous posts on this book here:
Grace to you,