I was crazy about both of my children from the first time I held them! The only thing I love more than being a mom is being a wife. But the second I saw my babies, I sensed the weight of responsibility I held in my arms. Overwhelmed, I started down the road of motherhood. I was determined to do it “right!” I read all the books, eagerly seeking to learn about how to discipline and train a child. As my children approached the ripe old ages of about four and seven, I began to worry about their spiritual maturity and I decided to seek counsel. Fighting back tears, I shared my concerns with my pastor. He was very patient and graciously asked, “Well, what is it that you are expecting from children that age?” He then suggested I begin to pray the following prayer:
“Father, please cause to ring in my children’s ears what You think they need to hear today, and cause them to have understanding on their level.”
Although I was well-meaning and had the sincere desire for my children to love God, I thought that I was the one who would accomplish my every expectation I held for my kids. God had to show me the truth of Psalm 138:8, “The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting…”, and that it in the same way that this verse rings true in my own life, it is a true for my children as well. It is really up to Him to accomplish every good thing He has planned for my children — and that His plans take time.
During those years, I found myself surrounded by some very well-meaning, sincere people whose parenting style was performance-based and rule-oriented. I was drawn to this approach. On the surface it appeared that these parents were getting positive results, as if a guaranteed outcome would be granted if I just did things “right.” So it made logical sense that if I followed the formula and controlled my children’s environment, they would love God and be people who possessed certain godly character traits.
After being in this mindset for only a few years, I found myself looking around at the older children who had been parented this way. What I observed were frustrated children who were sincerely attempting to live up to their parent’s expectation of what they defined as godly standards, whose outside influences were very controlled, and who knew the right words to say, but they were not allowed to grow at their own God-given pace or be themselves. As these children got older, I looked on with sadness as many of them walked away from the church and even their family.
My husband and I came to a crossroads and asked ourselves the following questions:
- Was expecting our children to act like, look like, and believe a certain way the right approach?
- Was it our calling to completely control their environment, keeping them “safe” in the walls of our home and church?
- Were we helping them to become the individuals that God created them to be, or were we trying to fit them in to a mold?
- Were we helping them to learn how to think for themselves?
- Was this rigid, rule-oriented path the best path for our children?
- Did our approach to parenting show that we were trusting God to work in our children’s hearts, or did it show that we were depending on our efforts and control?
We chose to learn how to parent our kids the way God parents us – – with grace.
God changed our direction and began teaching us how to live the gospel with our children on a daily basis. We began to relax and enjoy these gifts God had given us, all the while guiding them in the right direction as we sought God for wisdom, trusting the promise found in Philipians 2:13 “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” And that He will do His work in their hearts.
I am very grateful that God was so merciful to us and that He opened our eyes to the destructive path of legalism we were walking. The exhausting weight of rules and legalism was sucking the life out of our family. Learning to walk in the cool shade of God’s grace not only breathed life into our children, it allowed God to bring our whole family to life.
If you would like to read about how God led my husband and I to practically live out His grace with our (now grown) children, helping them to understand God’s grace, I have written about it in my book: “Grace Gifts: Practical Ways To Help Your Children Understand God’s Grace” . I have also written a FREE 25 Day Devotional Journey that goes with the book. You can find that HERE.