I recently read a really good secular parenting book. It was practical, insightful and loving. And it got me thinking about grace.
I know loads of fantastic parents who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, so this is in no way a dig at non-Christian parents. If anything, it’s a dig at myself.
Advice given in this book included (these aren’t direct quotes):
Start each day with a clean slate – no matter how badly yesterday went.
Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – give yourself a break and look ahead, not behind.
Teach the children to be kind to one another, because in this family that’s how we do things.
Family traditions should be kept, no matter how people have behaved.
These are all really important, in my opinion. Great advice. But how do you do this without grace? When you’ve been called names and had things thrown at you, how do you put your child to bed with a goodnight kiss and, “I love you” and start the next morning with, “Good to see you, how are you feeling?” How do you forgive?
And how do you forgive yourself when you realise that they’ve learnt their bad anger from you, or when you snap at them again because you were distracted by something else?
When her brother deliberately ruins the craft she’s been working on for three days, how can I tell her to forgive him and love him anyway?
And how can I hand my daughter a Christmas Eve Krispy Kreme when she’s tantrummed all the way there because no, she will not be getting a Segway for Christmas?*
For all of these predicaments and more, I need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I consider his grace to me, that the Son of God should die for me, an ungrateful sinner, then forgiving others becomes possible.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.
When I come to the cross of Christ with my parenting failures, confessing again that I’ve fallen short, again, and that it was completely my own selfish fault, I find sweet forgiveness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
And none of this – the forgiving others and the confessing my own sin – would be possible without the Holy Spirit, who changes my heart daily.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.
I suppose if you don’t believe in the grace of God and you’re not filled with the Spirit, then you need to summon the strength from within you to forgive your family and yourself. It can help to believe that your children ‘don’t mean it.’ He didn’t know it would make her sad if he did that; she doesn’t know how expensive Segways are. It’s only natural they should fight – all children do. He’s calling me names because he’s upset about something – he doesn’t mean to hurt me.
Sometimes these are the things I tell myself. But that’s not what the Gospel tells me.
The Gospel says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3.23-24.) There is no difference between parent and child. We’re all sinners in need of mercy.
So if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer, I marvel at your ability to parent well. I marvel partly because you’re doing it without a church family to help you, and without the wisdom that the Bible gives us, but mainly because you’re doing it without the daily supply of grace that I desperately need.
*I should say that the examples I’ve used about things children do are not specific to my own children. My daughter has never actually had a tantrum over a Segway! I don’t want to defame them.