Life with kids is messy. Just ask God. He’s got a whole planet of them, and the scrapes they get themselves into are the stuff of legends, literally! Luckily for us, He’s the best. parent. ever.
That’s one of the things I like best about Easter, celebrating the Original Gentle Parent, the Author of Intentional Parenting, Unconditional Love in Person, and I love sharing and implementing what I learn from His example.
I had a perfect opportunity to implement some of that gentle, intentional, unconditional parenting last night when I headed into the kitchen to color Easter eggs with a clingy, tired baby on one hip and an over-excited six-year-old dancing around my legs, only to find a tidal wave of sudsy bubbles exploding from every crevice of my dishwasher and covering my newly cleaned floor. My Renaissance Girl had used dishwashING liquid instead of dishwashER liquid…sigh.
Now, just to set the stage, we have a home church and, in anticipation of the extra family and friends we were expecting for the Easter service, I had spent the entire day cleaning and scrubbing and organizing and still had more cleaning and setting up to do as well as coloring eggs and settling little ones in bed for the night before filling Easter baskets.
So I stood there, staring at the billowing disaster and adding a slew of new tasks to my already too-long list, and winged a quick prayer up to my Role Model. Then I threw down a towel levee, plopped my little people down for a good old bubble romp, and grabbed my camera. Disaster-misaster, what we had was a fun Easter memory in the making!
That Old Rugged Cross on a lonely hill is a testimony to triumph…life conquering death, good conquering evil, hope conquering fear…justice served and grace given. And that Empty Tomb we celebrate isn’t about death. It’s about life…messy, muddled, mysterious, mistake-ridden life, the kind we live every day…even Easter!
Joe glared at the rows of tuna cans in front of him, willing the wailing child in the cart at the end of the aisle to just SHUT UP ALREADY! Seriously, where were the kid’s parents anyway? He snatched a couple of cans and dropped them in his cart with a clatter, then pushed his cart down the aisle toward the noisy troublemaker, intent on giving the negligent parents a pointed stare as he passed.
As Joe drew up alongside the child who was now kicking and flailing her arms in addition to that awful caterwauling, he noticed a man with the same towheaded curls as the child standing close by her side. Surely, he thought, that’s got to be the father. Why doesn’t he DO something?
Joe watched in anger and disbelief as the father gently stroked the little girl’s arm and whispered soothingly. What?!? The kid was throwing a fit in public, and all her father was going to do was comfort her? Joe gritted his teeth and tried to escape the irritating pair, casting a disapproving glance at the duo as he sailed by.
A few aisles over, the crying was muted, and Joe sighed in relief. He continued his shopping in peace for a while, grabbing his bottled water and some frozen mackerel, but then found himself confronted by the pair again three aisles later when he landed in the snack department at the precise time the child almost knocked over a stack of Oreos with her flailing.
Joe shook his head in disgust when the father merely cradled her into a loose hug and scooted his cart further away from the cookies. Joe stomped by, barely missing a Fig Newton display in his haste to get away from the fit-throwing child and weak-willed father.
Pitching fits in public, he grumbled, rattling his cart noisily toward the checkout lanes. People don’t know how to control children anymore, he muttered under his breath as he stood in line.
He stiffened as he heard a deep voice he recognized coming from the next checkout lane. He couldn’t see over the tall displays separating the lanes, but he’d recognize that father’s voice anywhere!
“Daddy’s got you, Nina,” the deep voice was saying. “Just lay your head on my shoulder, and we’ll be home soon.”
“Wan’ mama,” whined a little voice tiredly.
A soft sigh reached Joe’s ears, then a choked voice, “Mama lives in Heaven now, baby girl. But Daddy’s got you. Daddy’s got you.”
Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…(James 1:19)
Communication vs. Miscommunication
Image via ImageWorld.com
[Reprinted from Gentle Parenting: A Christian Perspective due to be released in 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Throughout the Old Testament, He spoke through prophets, dreams, angels, and even a bush! He revealed His character in His commandments and in the Names He called Himself and in His interactions with that lovely, stubborn, chosen nation, Israel.
And, finally, in the New Testament, He just stuck His feet right in the dirt and somehow stuffed His infinite Being into the skin of a human.
GOD. With. Us!
Why in Heaven’s Name would He do that? Well, that’s been the subject of dusty tomes and esoteric debates for centuries, but in truth the answer is very simple: God is a Father, a Daddy who wants to connect with and build a relationship with His children.
In the Old Testament God revealed Himself as a Father who is Creator, Provider, and Protector. He showed Himself to be an involved Father, interested in every detail of His children’s lives, from what they ate to how and where and when they worshiped Him. And He revealed His purity, His incomprehensible Holiness that kept His beloved children hopelessly separated from Him and helpless to change that fact. All the rules for cleansing, all the rituals, and all the formulas, only served to highlight the pitiful fallen state of God’s beloved children.
And that ritualistic, external, temporal cleansing? It became internal and eternal.
Stones once thrown in righteous judgment were laid down in humble mercy. Punishment was replaced with grace as Righteousness Himself stood between sinful man and his dire fate.
And so we have Jesus, God Himself with us in the flesh, God’s heart in a very literal sense laid bare for all the world to see, the perfect Parent to model ourselves after.
We have the Father…not a father, but THE Father…to look to for guidance on how to parent our children.
So, let’s get practical. What does God’s parenting look like, and how can we model ourselves after Him?
Well, Jesus raised twelve children, so let’s take a look at how He did it!
Twelve of God’s children, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and talents, became Jesus’ disciples. The word disciple is the root word in discipline, so to discipline our children means to disciple them.
What characteristics defined Jesus’ discipleship? In other words, how did He treat His disciples? Was He harsh? Did He yell? Did He punish them? Clearly, He had the authority to. But since He came to take our punishment, it really wouldn’t make sense for Him to start meting it out, would it?
Was He distant, unresponsive to their needs? Did He make demands, insist on instant obedience, and toss around kingly commands?
No, no, no, and no! Jesus treated His disciples gently, tenderly. He listened. He responded to their needs, answered their questions, spoke their language. Jesus encouraged and guided and taught His disciples.
He drew them close to Himself, lived with them, ate with them, traveled with them. Jesus didn’t just say He loved His disciples. He didn’t simply feel love for His disciples. Jesus lived love for His disciples. And He lived that love daily, mercifully, sacrificially.
So, what are the characteristics that defined Jesus’ discipleship?
Gentle. Tender. Responsive. Available.
Listening. Encouraging. Teaching. Guiding.
God, Himself, intimately and empathetically connecting with His children.
That is perfect parenting.
I, however, am NOT a perfect parent. In the time it’s taken me to write this so far, I’ve failed at pretty much every single one of those perfect parenting qualities. I only say that to point out that we aren’t shooting for perfection here.
If perfection were possible, the Cross wouldn’t have been necessary.
I have failed and will fail again as a parent. But even my failures have great value because they lead me back to the Cross, time and time again.
My failures remind me to turn to my perfect Parent, God, and trust Him with my children. And my failures offer me the opportunity to be transparent with my children, to ask for forgiveness, to show them it’s okay to be human and make mistakes.
In short, my imperfections are perfect for demonstrating God’s unconditional love. I call this particular parenting ‘technique,’ for want of better wording, “If you mess up, ‘fess up!”
So, what are some ways we can reflect Christ-like qualities in our never-perfect-but-best-effort parenting?
1.) Build your relationship. Everything, absolutely everything in raising children, is dependent upon a secure parent/child relationship, and the foundation is trust. We talk all the time in Christian circles about needing to trust God more. Why? What’s so important about trust? Trust is the secure knowledge that we will be cared for, that the person we are dependant on is who they say they are and will do what they say they will do. Without trust, there is no relationship. You build trust in your children starting from day one by responding faithfully and quickly to their needs, day or night, even if their ‘need’ is simply reassurance that you’re there.
2.) Be there in the moment. This isn’t about quality time or quantity time. This is about actually being with your children when you’re with them. I’m talking about muting the television and making sustained eye contact all the way through the story of how they had the piece of string first and how it was taken by a sibling when they only set it down for a minute and…well, you get the picture. Jesus showed He cared by listening and responding to what was important and relevant to His children.
3.) Encourage, don’t discourage. Jesus built up His disciples, giving positive directions, allowing time and opportunity for them to try, helping when they needed it, and forgiving them when they failed. Never, not once, did He lash out at His disciples in anger. He taught them gently and encouragingly, often in stories that related to their daily lives, and He was always available to discuss or clarify or answer questions.
4.) Practice what you preach. This is foundational, right along with trust. If you don’t live out how you want your children to turn out, you can be pretty much guaranteed they’ll go an entirely different way! Listen to your children if you want them to learn to listen. Respect your children if you want them to learn respect. Model compassion, kindness, honesty, forgiveness, and a grateful spirit if you want your children to grow into adults with those character traits. Jesus lived out every one of those qualities for His children!
5.) Don’t make excuses. If you fail (and you will) apologize! Nothing penetrates hurt more deeply and with more healing power than an honest, open apology.
6.) Give grace. The unconditional love of God is beyond human comprehension. Even ‘veteran’ Christians resort to trying to earn God’s grace when they’ve already been given it freely. We all fall into that trap, time and again, because we just can’t wrap our little human brains around something as awesomely simple as unconditional love. We think it MUST be more complicated, and we end up complicating it by trying to pay for something that is free! So help your children while they’re looking to you, their earthly parent, for an example of how their Heavenly Parent operates. Give them grace. Guide them gently. Forgive them when they fall, and get down on their level to help them back up again.
7.) Enjoy your blessings. Your children are a reward, a blessing, a gift straight from the heart of your Father to you, His precious child. He wants you to feel what He feels, to experience Him through your children. He wants you to delight in your children so you’ll understand how He delights in you. He wants you to feel the depth of concern He feels when you stray into danger, the heights of joy He feels when you run trustingly into His arms, the pangs of compassion He feels when you are hurting or scared. Take the time to enjoy your children, and you will find yourself closer to the heart of your Father than you can possibly imagine!
Up next in ~A September to Remember~ is The Peaceful Housewife with a ‘vintage post’ about modeling grace in our parenting. Lovely!
~~~To the Time Out Corner!~~~
As I’ve blogged about previously, we are on a new journey into grace based discipline in our house. I am learning so much about Christ from my children and about parenting my children from Christ. I am seeking to model my parenting from how my heavenly Father parents me. He is, after all, the ultimate parental figure.
In grace based parenting, your connection with your child is foremost. As a result of that connection and the relationship you build with your child, true loving obedience is born. This seemed strange to me at first, as one of the suggestions you often see is time-in’s, or loving your child during the undesirable behavior rather than sending them away to sit by themselves as punishment for their behavior. Sending them to time out can send the message that you will not love them or be connected to them if their behavior doesn’t please you.
In reflecting on this, I wonder if that’s part of why so many people are codependent. I also think that’s part of why I struggle with understanding how Christ can love me with my character defects. The manner in which I discipline, or disciple, my children teaches them about Christ and His love. I have a very sobering responsibility to ensure that I model Christ’s actual love and correction rather than a skewed version that is overly heavy on punishment or on grace.
So I asked myself how Christ corrects me when I am sinful. He convicts me and speaks to me gently but firmly, and then He waits for me to ask for forgiveness and make amends. He never breaks His fellowship with me or throws a tantrum. He doesn’t lash out at me in anger. He always has the end result in mind – when I am made perfect and whole in Him when my life here is done. He doesn’t demand that I apologize when I don’t yet fully understand why what I’ve done is wrong or try to make me feel guilt and shame in order to force me to behave. The connection is first. The relationship. I am not capable of being fully and constantly sinless for Christ. Praise God, my relationship with Christ isn’t dependent on my actions or character. He loves me and disciples me even when my character defects are rearing their ugly little heads. He is constantly reaching out to me, drawing near to me, guiding me, filling me with His Holy Spirit.
So how does this translate to my parenting? I need to be constantly drawing close to my children, guiding them, filling them with wisdom and grace. I need to remember that my relationship with my children is foremost and should not suffer because of their character defects. I need to disciple my children gently but firmly and help them to understand Godly character and the fruits of the Spirit. I don’t need to demand superficial apologies that aren’t sincere or try to control my children’s’ behaviors by making them feel guilt and shame. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to convict my children and be there to help them understand that conviction. I need not behave in anger and I must keep the end result in mind – I have been entrusted with the very important job of helping to raise up a servant of Christ.
I am constantly reminded of this in the 12-steps of Celebrate Recovery. In step 12, having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs. The verse that goes with this step is Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, but watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” My children are children of God. They are my brother and sister in Christ. If they are caught in a sin, I need to restore them gently, using caution to ensure that I am not sinning against God by abusing the responsibility that He has entrusted me. It is a sobering responsibility. One day, I will be called to account for how I raised my children. Will I have neglected that responsibility by being overly permissive and not enforcing boundaries? Will I have abused that responsibility by attempting to control and change my children into what I believe that they should be? Or will I have done the best that I could with Christ’s help to model the love of Christ and give them a healthy understanding of God’s love, grace and conviction?
Today’s though-provoking ‘vintage post’ is from Jessica Bowman, author of
To read more awesome insights from Jessica, you can find her over at Bohemian Bowmans!
Well, the New Year is around the corner, in case you weren’t aware. And now that the Christmas sugar buzz is wearing off, I suppose most people, like me, are starting to reflect on 2010 and peer curiously towards 2011.
There are some a lot of circumstances in our life that I have no control over. This post is about the other things.
The things I can do.
First of all, I’m not a resolution making person.
I never make New Year’s resolutions. I think the “success” rate of them is abysmal, and I don’t want to be disappointed in myself later for not meeting some silly and entirely too specific goal. Instead, I just enter every new year with the obvious plans of growing wiser that year, becoming a better parent, wife, friend, and follower of Jesus.
This year, I can feel myself funneling my regeneratory New Years powers in a certain direction.
No, it’s not a weight goal. Though it probably should be.
I’m not wanting to climb a mountain.
Or learn to make jewelry.
Or visit Disneyworld.
It’s a Family Mission Statement whittled down to one. single. word.
I’ve been thinking a lot about respect the last couple of months. In regards to parenting. In regards to learning.
I began to learn about respect in marriage a few years ago when I read a book about it. I had never thought very much about respect before then. I had never realized the importance of it. The magnitude of it.
But, for some reason, though that book did shift my respect paradigm in relation to my husband, it didn’t leave that little box that I put it in. It never occurred to me that the concept could spill over into seemingly unrelated areas of life, like education.
But in the last quarter of 2010 I began to think a lot more deeply about education. About learning. About parenting.
And the theme I kept coming back to is Respect.
I’ve realized anew this year, that in practice, I don’t respect my children very much. I hold my authority over their head and play my “because I said so” card too often.
I often times feel like I am living out Colossians 3:21.
“Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.”
I’ve been crushing the spirits of my children.
With my impatience. With my harshness. With my disrespect.
So with tears and the simple, unrefined prayer of “help” repeated untold times as I lay in bed at night, I began to grasp a hold of the practice of respect in our day to day.
I’ve increasingly stopped talking to them as if they are children, but instead as if they are grown ups. Or, more accurately, as if they are people.
As if they are people created by God with talents and purpose that I have no right to squash with my annoyance.
So much of what children do that exasperate us are not “sins” at all. They are just people with very little experience at life who need to be led by example.
Examples in authority are powerful.
It is ever so hard to step outside of the parenting you were parented with.
Or the marital skills that were modeled for you.
And it is ever so illogical to think that if we are harsh and impatient with our children, they will learn to be respectful and loving of their siblings and friends and future families.
So, I’ve been learning to respect my children. To treat them as people. To listen. To explain things they don’t know yet, as if they were another grown up, instead of as if they are inconveniences and ever disdainful children.
And, lo and behold, the more I’ve treated them with respect, the more they have respected me. And each other.
The more patient I’ve been with them, the more patience they’ve shown each other. The calmer I’ve been with them, the calmer they’ve been with each other. The more attention I’ve shown them, the more attention they’ve shown each other.
I realize this isn’t a complicated concept. And is the second greatest commandment at it’s base.
Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
But sometimes that can feel truly hard to practice and own.
So, that is my purposeful word for my family this year.
And it is already changing us.
Don’t forget to check Jessica out over at Bohemian Bowmans, and take a look at her ebook!