But is that the way God parents us? Well, yes. Sometimes. But not all the time. Often, I make mistakes and do not get what I deserve for them. I get grace instead. Unmerited favor for no good reason other than His love for me. It is a different kind of lesson, but still quite effective at shaping my heart.
So then, if that kind of grace must be a part of my parenting, then which time do I decide to give grace? And how often? Is it possible to give a consequence and grace at the same time? At what point does grace start to look more like license, and license begin to erode training? Besides walking closely with God for these kinds of case by case answers, I read books.
One book I really loved is called Grace-Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel. Wow. It really convicted me, and made quite clear what grace in parenting was and was not. I totally recommend it.
It is written by a mother and daughter pair, and basically shows how rules were never meant to make us good. Rules were set in place by God to show us that we were broken, that we could never ever be perfect. To show us our desperate need for a Savior. (Now I'm really going to paraphrase, based on what I read three days ago.) What this book said, in the two pages I read, is that in our parenting, it is critical that we are not saying to our kids, "I see that you're having trouble loving your brother. Well guess what, you HAVE to be loving because the Bible says so." But instead, we should communicate, "I see that you're having trouble loving your brother. And you know what? You can't truly love him by yourself. You need a helper. You need Jesus to teach you." It suggested we practice presenting a child's version of the gospel whenever they are faced with their mistakes.
Don't be surprised when they fail. Don't shame them for it. Don't tell them to just try harder. Tell them that everyone makes mistakes, and that's why everyone needs a Savior.
Yes, they get consequences. Yes, there is follow through and training with God's word. But there is also a clear message that they WILL fail to do what is right from time to time and that it is humanly impossible to be "good," (though so many kids I know, including my own, are striving for that title already).
I mean, how many of you are reading or have recently read blogger Emily Freeman's Grace for the Good Girl? I believe it conveys the exact same message because so many of us as adults are broken in our understanding. We think we need to earn something with God, and so we perform the heck out of life and end up defeated. Grace is what erases all moral tally marks, empties our 'good' banks, and reminds us that we were never going to get there. And we didn't have to, because Jesus got there and is happy to wrap us in His goodness instead.
It may sound negative to basically communicate to our children, "You'll never succeed at being 'good'," but in fact, that message should be freeing to them, and to us. Every other religion seems to be all about trying harder and harder to reach God or prove oneself to Him. But true, authentic Christianity is about throwing up our hands, acknowledging our need for God, inviting Him into our lives, and allowing Him to transform us from the inside out. Only grace can be that freeing and that promising. And our kids need it.
So I'm going to get Give Them Grace, which means you'll be hearing more about it, I'm sure. And in the meantime, when my children disobey, I'm going to try the gospel approach. I have to say, when I'm being a disobedient kid, it works on me.