I guess it’s been a while since I wrote another installment in my Grace-Based Parenting series on the book by Dr. Tim Kimmel. I’m sure you’ll give me a little grace on that, won’t you?
If you are new to the series, you can read the other posts here:
In today’s post, partly to make up for lost time, I am going to cover three chapters:
- Chapter 6: A Delivery System for Grace
- Chapter 7: The Freedom to Be Different
- Chapter 8: The Freedom to Be Vulnerable
Here we go! Dr. Kimmel’s words from the book are in italic, interspersed by my commentary in normal font.
A DELIVERY SYSTEM FOR GRACE
In this chapter, Dr. Kimmel again contrasts parenting by legalism vs. parenting by grace.
“In one sense, legalism is a lazy man’s religion. It’s an empty Sunday suit that doesn’t require much of a personal relationship with God. It doesn’t require much thinking either. You simply memorize the list of things that good Christians do, and then you try to check off as many as possible during the week. You also study a much longer list of things that Christian’s don’t do. You have to work overtime to avoid doing those things, while at the same time avoiding anyone who does them as well. My parents slipped into the narrow groove of legalism and found its predictability quite soothing.”
“There’s something instinctive about turning a belief system into a checklist and faith into a formula. It’s also easy to distill beliefs into programs and rituals that substitute for true intimacy with God. When God gives you children, you head to church to see if someone has some answers in a prepackaged and predictable plan for turning them into strong Christian kids.”
How do you walk away from that kind of legalism, either what you grew up with yourself, or what you have already imposed on your own children? First you have to recognize it for what it is. Then you have to form a picture in your mind of what you want instead. What does grace look like to you? What does it need to look like to your children?
“One thing I knew: I didn’t want my children to grow up in a home where they felt that God’s pleasure was determined by their behavior. Nor did I want them to feel that there was no latitude in how they lived out the different nuances of their personalities. Strident parenting formulas have a bad habit of using spiritual molds to create look-alike, sound-like, and act-alike Christian kids. I wasn’t interested in that. It ran counter to the way God operates in his grander relationship with His creation. There’s nothing about that kind of plan for parenting that encourages an original relationship with God, let along original kids.”
After 20 years in the Christian home schooling movement, it is easy to see the kind of peer pressure on parents to make their families conform to some outward ideal or standard. I certainly got sucked into this for a while, and unfortunately, I even promoted much of it in my own writing. This is ironic, since one of the beauties of home schooling is supposed to be the freedom to be creative to meet the needs of your own children. And yet like Dr. Kimmel says, somehow home schooling gets turned into a lifestyle checklist of sorts. Ultra-conservative curriculum with Bible verses sprinkled liberally (oops, that’s a bad word, isn’t it?) throughout? Check! Ban network TV, Disney videos, and all secular music? Check! Girls wearing home-sewn skirts and dresses and preparing to be only wives and moms? Check! Courtship only? Check! Go to church with a bunch of home schoolers? Check! Homesteading? Che… No, wait, I never got to that one, though I have made my own yogurt and once or twice I attempted to grow strawberries and tomatoes! And we have a pet bunny. Does that count? To be honest, we never did completely comply with all of those rules. But they sure looked attractive, and we sure dabbled in them! And there are many good things to be said about living that way. Unfortunately, we also made it seem like outward performance was what really mattered. Compliance with our sometimes arbitrary rules was mandatory, and dissent or even reasonable appeal sometimes brought swift and harsh parental judgment. We’re still working our way out of these negative patterns of parenting. It’s hard when it is ingrained!
I just looked up from my keyboard to see my 17 year old daughter sitting on my bed across from me with her sketchpad. Today she drew a potted plant, a green apple and an onion on the dining room table. Now there seems to be no model in sight for her to draw — except for me?!? Yes, she is sketching me! I’m curious to know how she sees me, her 48 year old mother with tired eyes and gray hairs popping out left and right. She is giggling, telling me that her drawing is “humorously bad.” But I’m even more curious to know how she sees the inside of me. Hopefully it is not humorously bad. Does she see a passion for living and loving well? Does she see a heart of acceptance and grace? Does she see her own value and worth reflecting in my eyes? Does she see someone she can trust and respect? I hope so!
“Grace-based parenting works from the inside out. Fear-based parenting works from the outside in…. Grace-based families are homes where children are given:
1. The freedom to be different
2. The freedom to be vulnerable
3. The freedom to be candid
4. The freedom to make mistakes”
The next four chapters of the book cover these four freedoms. In this post, I’d like to go over the first two, the freedom to be different and the freedom to be vulnerable.
THE FREEDOM TO BE DIFFERENT
“It is not a grace-based home when parents allow their children to be free but then punish them for being different… Declaring war on his differences just because they don’t fit our fancy is a good way to snuff out a child’s sense of wonder and amazement for a lifetime.“
Of course, finding the wisdom to give our children the freedom to be different can be very tricky! What is a matter of taste and what is a moral issue? What is a senseless fad and what is a trend to embrace? And what are the true meanings of worldliness and godliness? To tell you the truth, I have an almost allergic aversion to the words “worldly” and “godly” because I’ve seen them so misused over the years. I confess that my disillusionment over this needs to give way to a more positive discernment! Why totally ditch the words when they still have some good use in them? Why not use their power for grace rather than for legalism?
So what is real worldliness? According to Kimmel, “If we want to understand how the “world” shows itself, don’t like at things or actions but rather at attitudes: the lust of the flesh (the desire for sensual pleasure), the lust of the eyes (covetousness or materialism), and the boastful pride of life (pride about our position in the world). This means that almost anything can have a worldly or a redemptive application depending on who (or Who) we’re focusing on in our hearts.”
“I’m not advocating raising out-of-control, over-the-top kids. But inside the boundaries of respect and honor, there’s room for our children to be the creative individuals God made them to be.”
So does it really matter if your son wants to dye his hair purple if his heart is already gold? Sure, there might be practical ramifications to discuss, but is even the mention of it seen as rebellion? What if your daughter tends to laugh a lot and be a bit rambunctious, and you are naturally a quiet introvert? Should you project your preference as being the “godly” way for a “lady” to live and disapprove at her “prideful” attempts to “call attention to herself”? Is there the freedom to be ourselves? (I just ordered a Christian book called Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer? by Ron Braund and Dana Spears. I think it will address the topic of kids who just want the freedom to be creative rather than boxed in by rigid rules. I’ll let you know what I think after I read it!)
If you want respect as parents (and you should), then you should be willing to grant that same courtesy to your own children. Listen. Respond, not react. Look at the heart through the lens of grace. Don’t be quick to judge. Seek to understand, then to be understood. Go for a workable and cooperative relationship — and this goes both ways! I know that the same goes for our spouses. We are different, but do we grant each other that freedom to not think or act the same? Is the popular phrase “being on the same page” used to unite or divide? (As in, “How can we understand each other and come to some sort of agreement?” rather than “You don’t think like me and I know what’s right, so you obviously must be wrong!”)
Slice-of-life side note: Because we have a large family, when I bake chicken thighs, I do two pans. We each have our own different tastes, which I try to reasonably accommodate, so I usually do one with teriyaki sauce and one with barbecue. I usually end up eating both kinds! I got up from the computer a little bit ago to get our dinner in the oven, and asked my 11 year old daughter to get out the barbecue sauce and pour it over some of the chicken. She wasn’t exactly wearing a frilly apron; in fact, she was standing on her skateboard, right there in the kitchen, just like a modern day Caddie Woodlawn!
THE FREEDOM TO BE VULNERABLE
“One of the great things about God’s grace is the safe haven it offers to a transparent heart. He doesn’t require masks in the throne room.”
“There’s no sin too bad, no doubt too big, no question too hard, and no heart too broken for His grace to deal with.”
“Children are born with an unsophisticated set of emotions. It’s not that their emotions are underdeveloped. It’s simply that they haven’t had the time to temper them within the crucible of daily life. Their immature emotions can often prove unreliable for the situations they find themselves in. They are prone to vast mood swings, vain imaginations, and inordinate fears. They need to be in a home where parents don’t overreact, underreact, or write them off.”
Yes! I agree! Wow, these childhood years can be full of fluctuating emotions. We expect them to think and act rationally. Do we even always think and act rationally ourselves? Add in a night of poor sleep, a bad day at school, or a friend who has slighted them, and it gets even more complicated. Our homes and communities are laboratories for learning how to deal with the realities of life. It’s a lot of trial and error. We shouldn’t expect the right answer the first time we do the experiment. Remember Thomas Edison, failing 999 times to get the light bulb right? It took all of those failures to get to the one success! Hopefully it won’t take us that many failures in a row to figure out basic parenting, but I’m sure I’ve made at least 999 motherhood mistakes — each year!
Also, as Dr. Kimmel reminds us, our feelings don’t always match up with the facts. That improves with time and maturity, as we learn to interact intelligently with our surroundings and not get jerked around by momentary impressions. For a child, though, this is particularly challenging. They need us there to help them think it through, to ask questions, to clarify impressions, to counter false information, encourage their hopes, and console them in their disappointments.
I want my children to know that they can talk to me about anything, that I won’t react in shock, horror, hasty assumptions or harsh judgments. At times, I’ve done a halfway decent job at this. Other times, I have failed miserably, and I know how hard it is to regain a child’s trust after I’ve broken it again and again with my lack of discretion. I hope I have learned my lesson and that my kids will know deep down that it is safe to be vulnerable with their mother.
I know that I need to feel safe being honest with God. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But if you’ve been disappointed with life and especially with other Christians who seemed to have all the answers, it might not seem like he is a loving Heavenly Father after all. That’s when it helps to remember that grace is not based on my performance, but on the sacrifice of Jesus for you and me. How much more loving could God get than to die for sinners, taking their punishment, and, much more (!) offering them true, intimate fellowship with himself?
As I am reading these three chapters, I see how much I need grace as a mother. I must get a good grasp of it in my own life before I can ever hope to deliver it to my children. Our home can so often be filled with chaos, conflict and confusion. There are so many areas where I personally need inner healing, true godly wisdom, and a reasonable perspective for handling the challenges of each day. How about you?
A few last words from this chapter….
“Children with parents who find their ultimate love, their profound purpose, and their supernatural hope in Jesus Christ have parents who can show them how to face their vulnerabilities with a love that is secure, a purpose that is significant, and a hope that is strong.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
You might also like to read:
And, from one of my other blogs, www.watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com
“Encourage with discretion all that is good in your pupils; let them feel your support without being embarrassed or hampered by it. Education, as the very word shows, means helping someone to develop himself, to draw out all that is good in him. It is the greatest of all benefits. That too is the meaning of the expression to direct¸ direction. Unless interpreted in this sense, I like the word formation less; it seems to me to carry the suggestion of a preconceived form into which one is to force people whether they like it or not. But people do not lend themselves to this kind of treatment and so the form remains empty.
Remember that it is our souls which are God’s joy; not on account of what they do for Him, but on account of what He does for them. All that He asks of them is to gladly accept his kindness, his generosity, his tolerance, his fatherly love.
Do not worry any more about what you are or are not. You are the object of His mercy. Be satisfied with that and think only of that.”
Abbe de Tourville