I remember I had been just lapping up all this Grace stuff, I was feeling so free in my relationship with God and loving the fact that for the first time I knew God’s love for me consistently, on my best and worst days. But then I realised, surely Grace has to impact the way I parent my kids and especially the way I discipline them.
Wayne Jacobsen once said “You understand grace properly when God is the safest person to be with in the midst of your sin”. That was a real guiding light in those early days. But God was deepening my understanding and experience of Grace and here he was using my kids to do it. So the new test question was something like this, how can I be gracious in the midst of the worst tantrum.
One of the things I realised was that what most of us call grace is actually “mercy under the law”. What I mean by that is simply this, we simply push the boundary back a little further. We say things like: “Jonny, you have had your chance now, but next time you try a stunt like that, you will get the hiding of your life!” I see it at school too, we say “Ok I’ll give you one day of grace, but if I don’t have the assignment in tomorrow then you lose 20% of your mark.” We think this is grace but it’s not. Whenever we have a limit what we have is mercy (I am not going to give you what you deserve today) but tomorrow you are going to experience the full weight of the law.
As I was engaging God on this issue, I feel like he brought a book along my path called “Loving your kids on purpose” and the first paradigm that slapped me sideways was when Danny said you can’t control anyone! I knew that I was now in the deep end, he had just taken my foundation away. Isn’t that what parenting is all about? Isn’t it about bringing your kids under control so that they will learn to grow up to be well mannered, well behaved kids?
Next time we are tempted to lambaste “pastors” for their religious structures etc maybe we should take a look at how we parent. I realised that the way I parented was every bit as religious at the institution I had left behind. Religion and sadly parenting too often are about control. Yet God, I was learning wasn’t trying to control me or my action, instead he was giving me the freedom in our relationship to make mistakes, and then learn from them and grow, but not on the outside but on the inside first.
When we parent using control we are only ever concerned with the outward behaviour, when that looks good we are happy and we stop being concerned with the real issues, the stuff going on inside. When we give our kids choices instead of trying to control them, we learn what’s really going on inside them. This then gives us insight into the real issues that need to be addressed. Doesn’t this remind you of the Garden of Eden?
I am amazed that God wasn’t scared of us making bad choices and we as parents need to learn that too. What makes it easier is that God made provision for our bad choices, the bible says that Jesus was slain before the foundations of the earth were laid. What I love about that is that it means I am really free to make my own choices, because God has made provision for my bad ones.
What does that mean in regards to Grace and parenting? Well it means that our kids are free to make choices even bad ones, but this freedom also includes experiencing the consequences of those choices. What people misunderstand about sin, or bad choices, is that they are their own worst punishment.What God through Grace makes provision for is that the relationship continues so that we can process and learn and grow from those poor choices.
So now when I am disciplining my boys, I give them the freedom to make both good and bad choices, and if/when they make bad choices I am there to make sure they take responsibility for them. We’ll talk about how they can clean up their own messes. Instead of distancing myself I stay engaged and help my sons helping them learn and grow through their bad choices instead of punishing them for their bad choices. What we are all learning is that it is far easier to get a smack on the bum, than it is to have to take responsibility and fix our own messes, but at least we aren’t alone, we have a loving father with us the whole time.