Arms crossed, brows furrowed. As my eyes scanned his grumpy little face my heart just burst and I couldn’t help but smile at him.
This has been happening more frequently, smiling at my son’s grumpiness. I think part of it is just that he’s so stinking cute, I can’t help myself. But there’s more to it than that because his anger used to infuriate me. I think it’s grace.
As I sat looking at the sippy cup that he dropped at my feet, the thought hit me, “This must be God’s heart towards me.” We are God’s children who don’t understand the hard parts of life. We get mad at “running out of juice and having to drink water instead”. We see the things that we desperately want and we don’t understand they aren’t for our ultimate good, like: wanting to wear shorts today but being forced to wear pants because it’s 20 degrees outside. We frown and we “hurumph”. We kick and we scream. We decide that we’re going to wear the shorts anyways and change out of the pants 3 times. God sees our cluelessness and our disappointment in life and I have to believe, because of the gospel, that he smiles at us with compassion because he knows that we are silly sheep.
Legalism can’t handle this kind of sympathy. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”
Before grace flipped my world upside down, I was over my head engulfed in legalism. I really believed that God was frustrated with me all of the time and stood at an angry distance unless I managed to perform well enough to come near Him. This greatly impacted my parenting. A loveless Christianity breeds loveless parenting. When we preach “just do it or else sermons” our parenting reflects this. We end up having resentment towards our kids and we spend most of our days with them swallowed up in fear of what other people think while our children misbehave and that quickly turns to anger when our kids don’t make us look like we’ve got our lives together.
When I think back over the years of parenting advice I’ve been given- and actually believed, it makes me sick to my stomach. The demands that I put on my oldest child were crushing. She is the kind of child that wants to do the “right thing”. She has a sensitive conscience and does everything in her power to please us. Because of my pride, I took that to mean that these formulas were actually working. I looked down on the moms in the grocery store with the tantrum throwing 3 year olds. I handed out advice like, “well, either you aren’t being consistent in your discipline or you’re not doing it right” when women came to me desperate for help in making more compliant children.
The goal in legalistic parenting is having perfectly well behaved kids. We tell ourselves that this is for their good. If they could just learn to “obey the first time, every time, with a happy heart” they will have it easier in life. They will always respect authority, get good grades, not go to jail, and not have sex until they get married. In short, we teach them that they can be good on their own, with the help of some consistent reminders on their back-side, apart from the gospel. Do we get that? We raise our children in such a way that with enough discipline (parenting discipline and then self discipline as they get older) that they have zero need for the gospel! Either they crack under the weight of our demands and hate us or worse, they believe the lies and never see their inability to actually be good and end up rejecting the gospel for moralism.
I don’t have this grace parenting thing down. Not even close. But the more that I lean on Christ’s work on my behalf, the more that I have compassion and sympathy towards my kids. I see their desperate need for a savior. Grace frees us to love our kids in their mess instead of caring about whether their behavior is keeping up our reputation of godliness. I’m not saying that we don’t teach them to respect authority or discipline them. I am saying that perhaps we have taken this thing to a level that is ridiculous and we’ve left the gospel behind. I am saying that when I look back at the “why” of disciplining my kids, it always had more to do with me being frustrated with them for being sinners. In light of the gospel I have to admit that this is the wrong motivation and that we should consider it is the “kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.”
Because I see my desperate need for Jesus in how often I just want to “wear shorts in 20 degree weather”, instead of getting angry and disciplining my son for changing out of the pants I put him in for the third time in a row, I can pull him up in my lap and tell him how much I love him. I can explain to him that because I love him, I don’t want his legs to get cold. When he “hurump”s at me for kissing his cheeks and pulls away because he doesn’t understand, I don’t take it personally. I’ll just keep loving him until he does get it. I’ll keep loving him if he never does. Because that’s grace. That’s the love of God the Father towards us.