Saturday, April 10, 2010

Parenting with Grace -- Seized by Temptation

The house was full of guests, and it was quiet time. Short on space, I had then 3 year old Jordan sit on my bed with a few books, hoping she would take a short nap. Beside the bed, in a crib was Emma, peacefully sleeping, for now. Emma normally napped for two hours, but today, thanks to Jordan, Emma's nap lasted 30 minutes. I never did get the full story as to how Emma woke, but certainly Jordan was the instigator. Not what I needed on a busy day full of company!

I was not happy with Jordan that day. I was frustrated and overwhelmed. I felt bad for Emma knowing that she was going to have a difficult evening with lack of a good nap. But what would have been appropriate punishment for the offense? I actually opted for no punishment. In my heart, I knew that the circumstances had made it impossible for Jordan to obey. I had not worked through all the logic in my mind, but I knew I could not punish.

The following day, I Corinthians 10:13 came to my mind: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I then understood the reason my heart was uneasy with punishing Jordan. She had been tempted beyond what she could bear. And she had been tempted by me! Yes it was a full house of people, yes it was a situation in which the best scenario could not be found. But I should have taken an extra few minutes to think through how Jordan would do being so close to Emma during quiet time. I had placed Jordan in an impossible situation.

But wait, isn't life full of impossibilities? Don't children need to be taught to obey no matter what? Doesn't God give us impossible assignments such as "Be Holy"? Yes, but that is where grace steps in.

When God gives us impossible tasks, his grace, his presence is available to fill the gap between what we can do and what he expects. This gets a little deep in theology, but follow me. When God commands us to be holy, we strive for it, fail at it, then God's grace through the death and imparted righteousness of Jesus Christ fills in the gap for us. We are not holy, but God's grace, Jesus Christ in us, makes us essentially holy. And what about the other impossibilities of life? God's grace is present in those, too. For when we are weak, then he is strong.

God's grace is present in temptations as well. First, he says that he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. He graciously only allows into our lives what he knows we are strong enough to resist (strong meaning our human efforts + his strength). Second, when we are tempted, he provides as way out!

In Jordan's quiet time disobedience, there was no way out. Not only had I placed her in an impossible situation, but then I left the house to run errands (don't worry, other adults were still present!). Had I been home, I would have continued to check in on Jordan, give her gentle instruction and direction, and possibly removed her from the room when I realized the impossibility of resisting the temptation of waking Emma. My presence would have been her saving grace. But my presence was absent.

God's grace, God's presence, is never absent for those who love him. I am not a perfect parent, I will never be able to be perfectly present, perfectly gracious, and perfectly wise. I will continue to place my children in situations where they will be seized by temptation. I will continue to forget to graciously provide a way out. But what I can do is take a few extra minutes when a disobedience occurs and see if a lack of grace has created the problem.

Imagine that - a lack of grace on my part can actually cause disobedience! I still call it disobedience, because the expectation was not met. But instead of punishment, it is time for training. Go sit in a chair together, talk about the situation and the expectation and talk about how to resist temptation.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Every Sunday we fill the pews, listen to the messages, and are thankful for the grace God extends to us daily. But as we pile back in the van, does the grace continue? Do we extend grace to our kids in the same way God extends grace to us?

We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Do we consider our children as our neighbors? For if we, loving ourselves, seek from God mercy and grace, should we not also extend mercy and grace in equal measure as we have received?

A friend and I had a challenging conversation about parenting and grace last week. My job as a parent is to accurately reflect the nature of God in my relationship with my children. Unfortunately, I tend to only reflect the character of God as Judge.

"What does parenting with grace really look like?" After years of parenting in an authoritative manner, my friend has found that the discipline was creating obedient bodies but was not reaching the heart.

This is a frightening realization for any parent. If obedience, our children's or our own, is not from the heart, we are nothing better than Pharisees.

"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Matthew 15:8

How have we come to this? How is it that devoted, prayerful parents, parents dedicated to teaching the principles of faith, have children whose hearts are on a permanent moral vacation?

Somewhere along the line, many of us were given a promise. Discipline the child and he will love you. Discipline the child and he will not stray. Train him up in the way he should go and he will not depart. Yet their hearts are departing.

About two years ago, I came across a verse that has radically changed my focus in parenting.
Romans 2:4 - Do you think lightly of the kindness, tolerance, and patience of the Lord, not knowing that the kindness of the Lord leads to repentance?

That's what I really want, repentance. I don't need my kids to think my way, act my way, live my way. I need them to live with a soft heart, willing to see their own sin and need of a Savior. If the Lord leads me to repentance with kindness, can the same be true with my own children? In order for me to accurately reflect God in my children's lives, I must learn to discipline with kindness, tolerance, and patience. In other words, I must parent with grace.

But the question remains, what does it look like to parent with grace? It is not a quick formula or an easy to memorize method, because that is not how God deals with me. His love for me, and his discipline of me is unique. Therefore, parenting by grace will look unique in each home, and for each child.

In the coming weeks, I will be reading the Bible with an eye out for moments of grace. I am looking for where God shows us grace, and then thinking about how I can extended that same aspect of grace to my children. I will share what I find here on my blog, along with a good dose of humility for how often I fail in my endeavors of grace.

A final thought from Psalm 103:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

Lord, help me today to remember that my children are but dust. That they, just like me, are in constant need of compassion and grace. Lord I cannot love them like this in my own strength ~ for my own heart is often far from You. So begin in me, help me to accept that I am in need of grace.