Friday, July 01, 2011

Parenting with Grace

I love love LOVE hearing Christians talk about how much they love being a parent and how they've trained their kids in grace. Too often the usual conversations are complaining and lamenting together about how hard parenting is (and it is of course.) Complaining is too easy to do and it doesn't help. I decided to do this quick post because it's the sort of thing I wish I could hear more often.

Right. So, onto the story.

I was doing school with Lily and Renna had been quietly (for the most part) listening to us while she colored on a little white board at the table. Suddenly, I realized I had no idea where Renna was and she was unusually quiet. (Yes, you other mother's know those moments right? It's too quiet so therefore, the child is up to no good.)

"Renna, where are you?" I called out, and out of the seemingly empty living room Renna pops her head out from the other side of the couch where she'd been crouching down. "I'm over here." Well, that's good I thought, that she answered me right away. "What are you doing?" I ask as I go over to see what she's getting into. "I'm doing my fingernails!"
She had taken the purple white board marker to all her fingernails and obviously knew she was doing something wrong because she felt the need to hide while doing it. I had, yet another, moment in parenting where I wasn't sure what to do. Did this deserve a punishment? If so, to what degree. I decided she didn't need a punishment since she hadn't disobeyed (I usually try to leave the punishments more for when she blatantly disobeys me.) So, what should I do though? I don't want her to hide from me and do something wrong. What is the goal here? ... to keep communication open.

"Renna," I said, "You knew that was noddy because you were hiding from mommy, right?"
"Yeth, Mommy." -note- she always sounds penitent, but I'm never quite sure if she really is because she'll often do the noddy thing again soon afterward.
"You are not allowed to do this by yourself," I took her to the bathroom and started to wash off the purple. "If you want your fingernails painted you need to ask me and we can do it together.... but you do NOT hide." I'm still not sure if she's getting any of this and wondering if I should do something else.
I realized though that Lily's school right then didn't need me to do anything much and I told Renna that we could paint her fingernails while Lily did school (she was just reading a word and then drawing a picture of the word... like "rat" and drew a picture of a rat.)

It didn't take long and her fingernails were painted, and the whole time I'm wondering if I was too easy on her? She hadn't gotten any of the marker on anything except her fingernails and it washed off, but should I have been harsher? I kept telling her while I painted her nails that she shouldn't hide from me and that she just needed to ask if she wanted her fingernails painted.
Guess what? After all that lecturing and painting, she said at least 3 times "I like you, mommy." It was really sweet with a little hug besides. I know our goal isn't to get our children to like us, but when she said that I think she understood what I was getting at. I think she'll be less likely to hide from me to do her own thing than if I had of punished her for what she did.

I've been thinking a lot about sin recently... why is sin bad? Because sin separates us from God. Why is it wrong for our children to disobey or hide from us as parents? Is my goal to punish my children for what they do? To dole out judgment religiously? Or to bring about an appropriate and loving relationship between us. It's a lot to think about as I try to understand God's grace toward us and somehow try to parent my children the same way. Especially when Lily told Renna one day that "God doesn't like us when we sin." Which... isn't true. The Bible says that He loved us while we were still sinners and gave His son, Jesus, to die for us. So I needed to explain to them that no matter what they do God will still love them and I will still love them, BUT I also don't want them to just do bad things! It's so tricky, but they seem to understand when I explain that I don't want them to get hurt (for instance) and that's why they need to learn to obey. But of course, it's more than that too. Because sin separates us from the one we sin against. I wonder at times if I'm too easy on them and at other times if I'm too harsh with them. Trusting Jesus with all of this is the outcome of these thoughts. I can't pridefully parent my kids according to a "certain system" when I'm striving to parent them with grace as God does with us. I often feel like I have no idea what I'm doing and just have to trust God with them and listen to the Holy Spirit moment by moment to say what I need to say, and just plant those seeds that only God can grow.

Later as I was thinking about this I thought of an analogy. It might make sense to only me, but when I thought of Renna hiding from me and painting her nails with a marker.. it made me think of what religion can be like (in a small way.) Painting her nails was NOT a bad thing to do. It wasn't a sin to have her nails painted, right? What was wrong then? It was that she was using the wrong tool and trying to do it alone. How often does religion look like that? We want to do good and love people and read our Bibles or many other things that are good thing, but we don't do it through the power of the Holy Spirit with those of us who are born again. Or, said in another way.. we don't do it with the grace that God gives to us. You could argue that she got almost the same outcome even with the wrong tool, but what was her feelings as she hid. My little three year old that knew enough of what she was doing to think she needed to hide. Pretty obvious that she knew she shouldn't be doing what she was doing right!? Well, when she hid she was missing a time we could have together.

Understanding sin and why it's a bad thing is important. It's all about the separation from God and a ruined relationship with Him. It's NOT about perfection! Religion is about "being good" to "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect"... but that is why it's NOT about religion.. it's about Jesus and what He did. We couldn't be perfect.. "'Who then can be saved?' And Jesus answered them saying, 'With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" And God did make a way through Jesus' perfect life and sacrifice. But it wasn't so that we could then be religious and earn our way into favor with God. If that were the case then what Jesus did would mean nothing. Through Jesus our relationship with God can be restored.

SO as born again Christians.. should we religiously try to do good on our own and end up behind the couch with the wrong tool as my three year old did? Making a small mess and missing out on the relationship? Or should we work with the Holy Spirit (God/Jesus) guiding us daily in our lives into those "good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in."

Every aspect of our daily lives can be lived with and to Jesus, and turn the little messes that we make on our own, into special moments of worship to Him. We probably don't feel like we are hiding as my daughter did on purpose, but I can imagine the weight lifted off her shoulders when she was getting to do the good thing that she wanted to do in the right way. Just like when we accept the grace available to us each day to do the good things that we want to do anyway... the "burdens" are suddenly made light because it is no longer our strength, but God's strength made perfect in our weakness.

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