An interesting and thoughtful answer to a tricky pastoral question from living out
Insightful. Thought-provoking. Honest. Mostly right. More to say but no time today.
(HT: Sophie Roberts)
The Happy, Humble Work of a Mother is a super blog post on the unique challenges of parenting pre-school kids. The heart-issue behind all of our work and especially work that is draining, repetitive and that often goes unthanked is ‘are we content to serve the needs of those who most need our help, regardless of their response?’ Well, in the gospel we remember that our work is an imitation of the work of God in Christ who came to serve us. As Melissa McDonald writes When ‘we humbly sacrifice our time and energy again (and again!). Joyfully we reflect our Savior.
Why not share it with those in need of encouragement in their work of raising kids today.
(HT: Mim Pike)
In the last post we thought a little about the danger of a rules-based parenting model as well as the opportunity we have as Christian parents to model grace in the home. In particular we wanted to highlight that in our approach to parenting we have an opportunity to commend the gospel to our children by the very way we live it out as we raise them.
If we adopt a legalistic attitude to parenting we teach our children that love is conditional on performance even as we tell them that God’s love shown to us in Jesus is unconditional. Should we be surprised if our children reject the gospel because they are confused as to the character of God? The first diagram represents a home where the culture of the house contradicts and undermines the message of the gospel we proclaim.
Six marks of a grace-filled home
A grace-filled home will be a place where the grace of God, the love of the Father, will be worked-out in the way we raise our children. I’m sure there are many more things that could be said but here are just six ideas as to what that would look like;
- Fun – Just as our Father in heaven delights in us as his children so we too are to delight in our children. We must find the time to enjoy their company, to take pleasure in what gives them pleasure.
- Forgiveness – Just as our Father is quick to forgive our many failings so we will be quick to forgive our children even as we discipline them.
- Firm but fair discipline –God does discipline his children as a father so must we.
- Family comes first – God is a God of relationships; Father, Son & Spirit who delight to serve and bless each other. So as we reflect his likeness we will raise our children we will sacrifice self-interest as we put their interests ahead of our own.
- Freedom – We will not control our children and impose our will upon them. Our father in heaven gives us freedoms and sometimes we make bad choices but under his watchful eye he let’s us take responsibility for our actions. So too we need to learn to let our children express their personality, gifts, character and also allow them to take appropriate risks.
- Failure – Just as we need to hear from our Father in heaven ‘It’s all right. I forgive you. I’ll help you recover from the mistakes you’ve made with your kids’ so we too need to communicate something of that same ‘permission to fail.’
Becoming a home of grace
Tim Kimmel in his book Grace based parenting which was a kick start to the ideas represented above writes: You wonder, ‘How am I to raise up children to love and serve God?’ The answer is actually not that difficult. You simply need to treat your children the way God treats you. He does it in His grace.
And here’s the good part. If the only thing you get right as parents is His grace, everything else will be just fine.
On Saturday at City Church we gave some time to thinking about how the gospel shapes our approach to parenting. Not just when and how we read the Bible with our kids but to what extent a theology of grace shapes the culture of our homes and our approach to every aspect of raising kids.
What is grace-based parenting?
Tim Kimmel in his excellent and very practical book Grace Based Parenting calls on us as Christians to ‘Treat our children the way God treats us’.
Grace-based parenting means parenting in a way that is consistent with the grace of God revealed in the gospel but more than that it means raising our kids as an overflow of our personal grasp and delight in grace. The goal of such parenting is to do all we can to reflect the character of the God of all grace to our children. As we parent this way we give them the best possible context for understanding and responding to the God of grace as revealed in the gospel.
Why do we need to consider grace-based parenting?
Unless we deliberately pursue a grace-based approach we will slip into a performance-driven, rules-based model. Legalistic parenting is our default method of parenting because self-justification is our default mode of living.
As Kimmel observes – Our parenting is the result of our theology. How we view God determines how we parent our children.
- If we spend our lives trying to keep the rules to make ourselves acceptable to God we will communicate to our children that their lives are about trying to keep the rules to make themselves acceptable to us.
- If we need to prove ourselves to God by our performance in order to be accepted by him our children will feel the need to prove themselves to us by their performance in order to be accepted by us and by extension God.
If your life is a performance in order to gain approval then your children will view their lives as a performance to gain your approval.
How do you spot legalistic-parenting?
Kimmel argues Legalistic parents spend most of their time trying to make sure their family does everything right. They assume that what God demands of them should be their primary business.
Legalistic parents love their kids and very much want the best for them but living up to mum and dad’s standards to feel secure in their love turns childhood experience into one of duty and not joy. It is one of conditional love rather than the unconditional and undeserved love that is grace.
Kids with legalistic parents leave home feeling guilty and one of the overwhelming attitudes that runs through the home is ‘fear’. Fear of failure, fear of being a disappointment to our parents, etc.
Where does rule-based parenting lead?
Let’s look at two passages in scripture in which the Apostle Paul warns Christian parents against it.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4 NIV) lit. word exasperate means ‘make angry’. Two commentaries draw out the meaning here;
Effectively, the apostle is ruling out ‘excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, arbitrariness, unfairness, constant nagging and condemnation, subjecting a child to humiliation, and to all forms of gross insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities.’ – Andrew Lincoln
Behind this curbing of a father’s authority is the clear recognition that children, while they are expected to obey their parents in the Lord, are persons in their own right who are not to be manipulated, exploited, or crushed – Peter T. O’Brien
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3:21 NIV)
Embitter ‘signifies to ‘irritate’ either by nagging at them or by deriding their efforts. Fathers are to obey the injunction so that their children do not become discouraged or think that it is useless trying to please them within the common life of the home. – Peter T. O’Brien
If we are to treat our children as God treats us then we will need to parent with the gospel and from the gospel that we might make the gospel attractive to them.
What happens when we parent our children out of grace?
The three-fold definition of grace: parenting to produce love, significance and hope
Six marks of a grace-filled house
Ed Drew has some helpful advice on making the most of the opportunity this Halloween
(HT: Richard Perkins)
How can you learn the foundational truths of your Christian faith so that you really know what and why you believe?
For centuries Christians learned these truths through catechisms such as Genevan, Heidleburg or Westminster.
The new city catechism is ‘a joint adult and children’s catechism consisting of 52 questions and answers adapted by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation catechisms’. 52 Q and A’s with video and memory verses this looks to be a great new resource for families to learn the Christian basics together.
I’ve just started a 3 week seminar track at City Church on relating to family. Last night we began with relationships with our parents.
Here’s the section on relating to Christian parents. I grew up in a loving home but not a Christian home in which Christ and his priorities governed our lives as children. It’s easy for me to think that growing up in a Christian home has all the advantages and should be very easy compared to others. Well that’s not necessarily so, as a number of friends at City and elsewhere have highlighted.
A. What makes it so hard?
1. Them being disappointed in us
Some Christian children have the sense, as they enter adulthood, that they have not lived up to the expectations of parents.
a) Do they feel perhaps that we have not made the most of the privileges and opportunities they did not have ( if they were first generation Christians and we grew up in a Christian home). The thought that we should be further on in our faith or more committed to Christ. Maybe they think we should be in Christian work as they are/were.
b) or perhaps they think we are taking them for granted (because we are busy, maybe busy doing Christian things) and not honouring them into adulthood
c) or perhaps they struggle with our failings and lack of wisdom. Parents can fail to remember how immaturity impacts our living. They think back to their earlier selves and suppose they wouldn’t make the mistake we are about to make (job, relationship,etc.) forgetting that wisdom is learned over a lifetime.
2. We being disappointed in them
a) Seeing sin in their lives
Maybe we think they are not living
As consistently, as radically, as faithfully as we think they should given the gospel.
Here’s one comment from a friend:
‘Another challenge can be when you see un-Godliness in your parents. As an adult you are more aware of your own sin, and many of your attitudes are often passed down. When the Spirit highlights these to you, it can be difficult when you see them in your parents too, and easy to get angry and frustrated with them. As children you don’t consider that your parents are sinful and are battling sin. As now fellow adults we must remember that as much as we still sin and are a work in progress, so are they. We have to give them as much grace in their sanctification as they have given us for 18+ years!’
3. Theological differences
Consider the following three testimonies
1. ‘When I moved church it did create a fair amount of tension with my mother. She saw me as abandoning my local church, turning my back on the things I was involved in at my ‘home’ church and moving to a church whose theology she didn’t agree with and, indeed, vehemently opposed with regards to some issues.’
2. ‘I’ve seen people bulldoze in when they ‘discover’ a different way of doing things and really insult their parents with their new-found way of doing church etc. This can also have an effect on younger siblings still at home. If their older siblings start being openly critical about your church and so on, this can be very hard to handle if you are still at home.’
3. One of the challenges can be when you take a different line on something e.g. your ecclesiology, views on baptism etc. I guess this can be particularly difficult if your parents are very sure and thought through. A change in view can understandably be taken as a verdict on your up-bringing and your parents’ current beliefs and practices. The thing is, it is in a way a judgment! There is never an easy way to disagree with your parents.
How we honour our parents in such situations is a vital part of our Christian lives. Whatever we might think of our parents’ faith, home church, etc. we are not to stand in judgment over those for whom Christ died (c.f. 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14-15).
For some children of Christians the battle can be parents who want us to go on in our faith but they also want us to succeed in ‘worldly’ terms.
One person’s said:
Their normal desires as parents for their children (go to uni, get a good job, get married, buy a house have kids etc.) clashes with God’s desires for you. these don’t necessarily have to be different. Let me give an example, if a child express an interest and feels called to overseas mission but the parents advise, focus on getting a good job, house family and then you can go
Why would that be so?
a) Worldly Pride: They want us to be seen to be succeeding as they talk with friends and family about us
b) Human Fear: In some cases, the risks that we are willing to take ourselves are risks our parents struggle to let us face as their children, in case things don’t work out.
c) A parent’s instinctive concern: Sometimes they love us too much to let us go!
Conclusion - When it comes to Christian parents..
1. It can be pretty short-sighted, not to say ungrateful to God, if we choose to focus on what is ‘wrong’. Is it all we can do to criticise God for giving us parents, however imperfect they may be, when they have served us well and sought to raise us in the faith?
2. Christian parents are a powerful testimony to the providential grace of God.
One very helpful comment from a friend:
‘Did we choose that family? Did we pick faithful parents? The fact that God placed us there to receive the gospel is a powerful picture of his election before we were even born. 5 year olds who get converted (like me) are very clearly pursued by God, not the other way around!’
3.Christian parents are a reason to thank God
‘I often hear Christians talk about being brought up in a Christian home with a sense of embarrassment.’ It shouldn’t be so.
4. Honouring our Christian parents gives them a great opportunity to grow in their own faith
As our parents see us living out our faith before them in a humble yet godly way, knowing how and when to challenge the wisdom of parents and how and when to submit they are blessed.
One father and grand-father said:
A Christian can have a very positive effect on their parent, just by their example and can often be a release for them from their rigid ideas…I am amazed when I sit and listen to my children’s wisdom and spiritual understanding. Parents need to let go and earn the respect and love of their children.
(With special thanks to those who offered their wisdom – you know who you are!)
Fascinating article in this month’s Atlantic Magazine Why women still can’t have it all. Anne-Marie Slaughter is certainly not seeking to put the clock back to a time before feminism but she is calling for a change in work-place culture and a change in priorities and expectations for working mothers.
Interestingly, there is one thing missing from what is a lengthy article – what is all this doing to our kids?
See also Christine Odone’s feature in today’s Telegraph Finally,the lie about working women has been exposed.
Preaching through the 10 commandments I sought out some advice from friends and family on what it means to honour our parents. Here’s what we came up with.
20 practical ways to honour your father and mother
- Show gratitude for the ways they have shown love – however imperfectly — thank them for their love in sacrifice, commitment, care, concern.
- Visit often
- Phone home. One guy said to me ‘ I phone both of my divorced parents at least 3 times a week during my walk home from work it’s because I know that communication and keeping in touch is important to them and makes them feel valued. This doesn’t come naturally to me (difficult relationship with my parents sometimes) but I continue because honouring is important.’
- Continue to seek out and then listen well to their advice – even if you choose a different path. Mark Twain once said ‘When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.’
- See they are well cared for in their old age (that may mean saving for their future, moving your home, etc.)
- Pray for them (if they are Christians ask how you can be praying for them).
- Tell them how great Jesus is (if you and they are Christians they will be blessed more than you can imagine…if not their salvation!)
- Say you’re sorry if you can look back and see ways in which you did dishonour them and thank them for their patience with you
- Repent of any attitude that wishes they were out of the way…to free up more time or because you want your inheritance now!
- Encourage and facilitate active grand-parenting! Let them in to your lives even more as grand-parents.
- Don’t talk negatively about them behind their backs or grumble against them to others.
- Speak positively about them to others
- ‘Value your parents as most parents give their best to their children. I know this isn’t always the case but as a mum myself, I know we do the best we can’
- Expect the relationship to improve. ‘The beautiful thing about growing older is that my mum and step dad have become my friends.’
- Ask her Dad’s permission before you propose.
- Value what is most important in them especially if they prayed for you and encouraged you in your faith.
- Remember important dates…birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s day, Father’s day
- Place photos of them in prominent places in your room
- Accept them for who they are even if you wish they were different.
- Don’t take what you have been given for granted – a secure, loving, lifelong relationship
Ask yourself: ‘would we be happy if our young children treated us like we, now grown, treat our parents?’ Kevin DeYoung
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