February 2, 2016
What If I Did This Parenting-Thing With Grace?
I really do believe that God designed human beings to constantly remind one another of our desperate need for him. Inside and outside the church, intentional or unintentional, humans are continually hurting or being hurt by another human. Once you come to terms with the fact that God created us to disappoint one another, a sweet freedom takes over and life feels a bit more breathable. Grown adult humans become more palatable, enjoyable even, once we see ourselves as a part of the grand setup for God to be greater. But just when one thinks they’ve got this adult-thing down, another brand of human interrupts our dance—children.
THE MOST HONEST REFLECTION
Ah, children: The mirror-bearers who walk among us holding the reflection of our deepest struggles, imperfections and failures—the tiny people who could care less about our need to NOT speak words for at least 1 hour in the morning, or, the ‘not so tiny ones’ who don’t even acknowledge the 8 extra hours we worked this week so that they could eat food. These creatures share little concern for our headache, our over-drafted bank account, or the jerk-boss we put up with so that they can flush the toilet. However, our “heathen-babies” do seem to have a knack for bringing all of our greatest fears and failures to the forefront. There is no human like that of a child to keep parent-people unashamedly dependent on something greater than themselves for sanity (and I don’t’ mean Prozac—but okay, maybe a little).
I don’t consider myself a great parent by any stretch of the imagination, but, I did start the parenting-gig quite early in life. Growing up as the oldest of 3 siblings, with the youngest a full decade behind me, a mama-bear reluctantly crawled out of hibernation the moment my 1-year old sister peed her bed in the middle of the night and crawled into mine…for the next 2 years. I have been “mothering” my 2 younger siblings ever since (and they love it).
Perhaps it was being introduced to motherhood at such a young age, or, my attempt to distract myself from all of my undealt-with dysfunction, but as soon as Justin & I said, “I do,” I said, “let’s do this.” I wanted a baby something fierce when I was just a baby myself. Bless 22-year-old Kasey’s heart—she was clueless. Praise the Lord that he gave her 3 more years of clueless-bliss before the first projectile vomit-teer entered the picture. Now, I am mother to a 10-year old daughter, Emma Grace, and a 7-year old son, Lake. Justin and I, in fact, lost a child at 14 weeks between the two.
I am pretty confident that Em is a prophetess walking around in milky-white skin, consumed with the Holy Spirit and simply tolerating me until she becomes the youngest person to be elected president of the United States. And Lake is so irreverent and undignified for his age that I could not be more proud. He is sure to become a pastor.
I am awe that both are still breathing. I have come to be grateful for the simple things. My babysitters love it—I walk out the door yelling behind me, “Just throw some food at them, keep them alive, and I will pay you!” John 1:16 is quoted and held to a lot in my home, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Because, dang, there is nothing that can prepare you for the amount of grace you will need in parenting. I was not prepared for it-at.all.
I was not prepared for…
- Becoming a human feeding machine open for business every 2 hours,
- The epic foulness tiny people are capable of,
- The extra pair of underwear one must now carry in her purse at all times—not for the child, but for herself,
- The first emergency room “episode” that ends with a $500 price-tag and the reassuring words from the doctor, “It’s just going around,”
- When you no longer hear the sound of those “annoying kids” screaming in the restaurant because they now belong to you,
- The first time your kid rolls their eyes at you, and you call CPS…on yourself,
- Oh, and don’t even get me started on the naming and discovering of genitalia.
Honestly, parenting is like walking around naked all the time—it is the most awkward, vulnerable and exposing process of our life. When you realize that 99% of the stuff your kids imitate comes from the 99% of the stuff you don’t even know that you are doing, you really just want to quit and hand everything over to nanny-Disney.
WHERE GREAT PARENTS ARE BORN
Most of the behaviors and words we are shoving at our kids stem from our own unpremeditated, raw responses. Everything, from the tone of our voice, our posture, our facial expressions, or, our unsanctified regret over the pet hamster, is influencing who our child is and will become. Our children imitate us—their brain, which is in the process of giving them their personality, belief system, and relational ability (or lack thereof), is soaking up everything we do and don’t do as their parents—this truth is daunting, downright troubling even. Our children see what makes us happy and what doesn’t—they are in turn, happy, or not, about the same things. The implications of this are so staggering.
If you are a parent, or you hope to be one some day, listen (or read) up! The next few lines are really important.
Great parents are born from grace, not strategy. Great parents lead with lavish displays of who we are in Jesus, not how we got there.
Great parents do not spend their energies attempting to master certain parenting techniques or strategies, because they realize it will never work—we are incapable of managing the 99% of us that emits our spontaneous, natural responses. If parents spent all of their energy strategizing how to be a great parent, they would have no time to actually parent. Plus, we would go insane attempting to monitor all of our verbal and nonverbal behaviors for the betterment of our child. Therefore, we are left with only one, most gracious parenting path—to desire God most and let him handle the rest.
PARENTAL JESUS CRAVING
Parenting is a process, not an event. Our children are watching the working out of our salvation. There is nothing elegant about this process. Mostly it is messy and awkward. As adults, the mark of maturity is the understanding that we are but children ourselves—clinging to the pants leg of our Father like rebellious, longing babes. Great parents are the first to admit that we do not wake up with an overwhelming, natural desire for God, but instead, we must discipline ourselves to believe God again and more readily today than they did yesterday. As we grow up, we realize that our brain does not naturally consider the most loving way—but only through the meditation of God’s Word will our Spirit be activated enough to crave Jesus most and love our people with the overflow of fruit. (That’s fruit—singular, not fruits—plural, by the way. When we desire God most, the Holy Spirit actually spits out all of these things at once: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Now that is a potent cocktail of great parenting right there.
AMBASSADORS OF GRACE
My 2016 self can hardly breathe when I ponder the fact that God has given me another year of fighting for my children. My heart trembles to think of another year flailing about in the buff—all things pointing down for the world to see. “Is it too late to say that I’m twenty? Cuz I need Spanx to hold up my body.” (sung to the tune of the great Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”).
As naked as parenting may feel, it is a divine favor leaving no room for interpretation—children are straight from the hand of God. I believe that Psalm 127 is true; that God gives us the gift of children (either biological or adopted) to remind us that we are very much in need of grace, and also, very much set free from shame.
Whether you are an expert archer or still in training, I challenge you to look for opportunities to parent everywhere. The gift of children is not reserved for those who conceive, but a reward of blessing for all those who are willing to sit on couches, listen, gather around a table, attend a baseball game, mow a yard, offer their time, and in general—anyone willing to take a hard look at their reflection for the glory of God.
I may be but a rookie parent to some, but here are a few nuggets of parenting-truth that I have learned the hard way and via seasoned parenting-vets. These truths are not strategies, but instead, ways of existing with your children that will set you both free to fail and love without return. I pray it extends strength to those of you willing to parent well, often, and everywhere you go.
- Stay Honest About Your Story.
Parent, if you don’t own the depths of your own sin, then you do not know the great pardon of God. Our children see our sin, often and more closely than anyone else in our life. If we do not know the places of our heart that want to distrust God, our children will be leery of trusting us. We must be ready and available to confess the places in our life where we struggle to trust God, ask our child’s forgiveness for however they watched it play out, and offer our children the place to call us to the carpet if they see it again. Parents can stay more self-aware to the degree they are honest about their past. We give our children loads of understanding about why we sin “that way” when they also understand the context of our motives (i.e. I lose my temper easily because I watched my dad lose his. He drank too much and when he was drunk, he used really awful words. I hate that I sometimes repeat those same behaviors and say those same awful words to you, child. Please forgive me. I really want to choose a new way with my words and actions. I see my sin and believe God’s grace not only covers it, but will give me the strength of self-control and gentleness to make a better choice next time).
When we as parents attempt to hide our past trauma, hurt or rebellion, we are only assuring our children live in an energy that flows with anxiety, anger, irritability and impatience. Our past is not buried—it is living, and it is finding a source of oxygen somewhere in your home, many times in the busyness and life of our own children. Our past is either sucking love from our child, or, giving love to them as it remembers the faithfulness of God in all things.
Once a child’s brain can reason between good and bad for the wellbeing of others (about 6 to 8 years of age), their brain is fully capable of hearing and processing even the most brutal and embarrassing parts of our story. Waiting much past this marker leaves room for the devil to play; drawing dividing lines in the sand of your home and reinforcing toxic cycles that are really hard to break as they grow up.
- Stay Curious About the Story of Others.
All the broken systems in the world come from somebody wrongly judging somebody else. Racism, slavery, poverty, religion, and political diving lines all stem from low levels of human compassion. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give to my children is to create an atmosphere in which the life story of others is not only held in high regard, but considered.
Justin and I know from experience that to create this atmosphere for our children is really hard work, because it bumps up against our own comforts. Therefore, this space only develops from an intentional posture of humility on the part of the parent. We often ask Emma Grace & Lake to watch and consider others, not in an awkward, disrespectful way, but in a teachable space that allows me to push their minds to consider the layers of people. I ask my children to consider our waitress at the restaurant—“What kind of day do you think she has had?” “Do you think she likes this job?” I ask them to consider our checkout clerk at the grocery store—“How many hours do you think he has been on his feet?” “What is one thing you think we could say that might put a smile on his face?”
You know, God created all humanity for his glory, so they really are worth a good look. In order to stay satisfied in him, we must stay humbly curious about others—it is one of the greatest gifts that we can give our children.
- Stay Aware of Your Role as a Grace-Ambassador
Parents are asked by God to model a relationship that transmits a love that gives life to people. Parenting is establishing a framework for our children to understand that God is the ultimate authority over their life, not them. This means that as a parent I am the representative of God to my children—I am the tone of his voice, the look on his face, and the touch of his hand. Gah—how does one even stay standing after this? Only in grace.
Grace is the unconditional overflow of God’s love despite what we do or don’t do. And it is only with this brand of love toward our children that they will grow up to be grace-ambassadors of their own.
The divine nature of God’s authority is loving, patient, compassionate, and generous. God wants our children to see an authority that gives freedom, not one that crushes it. Therefore, parents must reflect God’s way of truth and love—through honesty with our children about our own struggles, creating moments for them to notice and serve others, and by establishing a home that overflows with grace. And yes, this means setting boundaries on who they hang out with, what they watch, and what activities they engage in. Remember, our children’s brains are soaking up everything they hear, touch and see. From the screen they watch, to the conversation they over-hear at your dinner party, parents must ask ourselves, what is the best way for me to reflect God’s nature to my children? Word of warning here: establishing yourself as one who reflects God’s authority to your children will come at great cost to you, parent. It will cost you friendships, time, energy, and in general, most of the stuff you did before you were a parent.
Most parents I meet either need to cut themselves some major slack, or, have allowed way too much slack to build up on the rope. This is why parenting lands us only to hope in Jesus to fill all of our gaps. Ultimately, as parents we want our children to place their hope and confidence in the only one who can save them and set them free. Therefore, we allow God’s grace to make us happy. When parents reflect their deepest happiness lies in Jesus, our kids walk out in hope. This hope ushers in obedience and joy that has the power to bust up lies and break toxic cycles over the course of their life. The more we believe God’s grace is true for us, parent, the more our children will believe it is true for them.
May we be parents who leads with grace from the wellspring of hope within our heart.
Please download & print this beautiful truth to grace the walls of your home (as pictured below).