Friday, June 29, 2012

'Give Them Grace' - In Action

I am still slowly reading and digesting the book that I mentioned in my post on Monday: 'Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus' (By Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson ). I knew the opportunity would soon come to do some of this ‘dazzling’ and I didn’t have to wait long….

On Tuesday morning it was about 11:30am. We had just finished up lunch and I was packing up our bag for the pool. As the kids were waiting for me to finish cleaning some things up they had turned the TV on and found that one of their current favorite movies was playing on the Disney channel – 'Let It Shine'. The movie was about ¾ over and they’ve seen it at least twice already. About 10 minutes later once I was ready I announced that it was time to go to the pool and that they could go load up into the car. Justice and JJ immediately protested, asking if we could stay home until noon so they could watch the last 20 minutes of the movie. I then explained to them that I really wanted to get to the pool right when it opened because we had to leave by 3pm that day (rather than our usual 4pm). I also mentioned that this particular movie was on constant re-run on the Disney channel right now, so that they could surely catch it again soon. Justice said, “Ok, I’ve already seen the end anyways,” and he proceeded to the car with the bag, along with Jayla who had already gone out. However, JJ got very upset and began some major hollering/crying that escalated into what us parents would call a full-out ‘temper-tantrum’. He expressed through his venting that the part coming up in the movie was his favorite part, and that he didn’t want to miss it, and he resisted heading out to the car.

Now freeze for a minute. At this point, I knew that JJ had completely lost his self-control and that it was my responsibility to use this as a teaching moment and discipline him. However, this is how lazy I’ve gotten: I actually pondered just giving him a ‘talking to’ in the car, on the way to the pool because I wanted to get there right at opening time, and nothing was going to stand in my way! (Geez, and I wonder where he gets his selfishness from!) I was literally thinking: The car is already packed, Justice and Jayla are already out there, let’s just let this one slide…. But then, with the recent ‘high’ from the insights of this book, and the recommitment I had made in my heart to TAKE THE EXTRA TIME to shepherd my children, I realized this was my moment to start.

So, I told JJ to head to his room and I would be in. He knows the drill. He knew he was ‘in trouble’, and he complied, sobbing all the more. I quickly ran outside to tell Justice and Jayla to play in the driveway for a few minutes until I was done talking to JJ. Then on the way back in I prayed that God would speak through me and penetrate JJ’s heart with truth.

Now, freeze again. I first want to tell you how I normally would have handled this prior to reading this book. It would have gone a little something like this:
I would have asked him, “JJ, what was wrong about the way you just acted?”
He would have said something like, “I didn’t listen to you and I lost my self-control.”

He knows the right answers because we have gone through this scenario time and again, and we try to ‘label’ behaviors and responses with the same words that the Bible uses. [So, for example we call a temper tantrum a loss of self-control] From there I would have tried to draw out the heart issue by asking him, “And what was going on in your heart when you decided to act this way?”

We then would have talked about how in his heart he got angry when he didn’t get his way, and I would have retraced with him how he decided to vent his anger and then wound up losing self-control over his emotions – all because he didn’t get what he wanted.
At this point I would have then, in plain words, given him wisdom on what the Bible says about self-control. One of the verses I would talk with him about is Proverbs 25:28. I wouldn’t have quoted it word for word, but rather would have said something like, “A man without self-control is like a city whose walls are broken down.” Then I would have asked him if tonight when we go to bed if we should leave all the doors and windows to our house unlocked and completely open. He would say, “No,” and when asked why he would be able to generate the right thought along the lines of it not being safe because then just anybody could come into our house. I would try to help him to see that having self-control is the same as locking or guarding our house. That when we ‘lose it’ we end up doing foolish things that we regret and in addition are practically inviting attacks. In the end, this will lead to consequences.

So, we would have talked along these lines and I would tell JJ that he has to learn to keep his self-control, and that it is mommy and daddy’s job to hold him accountable. Then we would proceed with discipline (we follow what is outlined and explained in the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart – by Tedd Tripp) and then I would have prayed for him, that God would help him to have self-control the next time he is in a similar situation.
Again, that is the way I was doing things prior to reading this book. But I’ve felt for awhile that something was missing, specifically in my dialogue with my kids during discipline. Combine that with my recent laziness and ‘let it slide’ mentality, I found myself just hollering commands at my kids when they were misbehaving to get them to stop. Prior to our getaway, I had identified that this was not purposeful, and not how I wanted to parent, and asked God to help me to change. While reading this book, I definitely identified what has been missing. I am sure you will also be able to pinpoint it as well after reading the following excerpt of a similar scenario displayed in the book. I know this is long, but you’ve gotten to the best part now, so keep reading! Here is an excerpt from pages 57-58:
One day, when Wesley was four or so, Jessica remembers sitting in the park with a new friend we’ll call Catherine. Catherine was new to Christianity and new to our church. Like all moms do at parks, she and Jessica began a conversation about raising their children. The conversation turned to the subject of discipline. Jessica was trying to biblically explain to Catherine how important consistent, loving discipline is. She talked glowingly about how beneficial it had been in little Wesley’s life.

But then, when it was time to leave, Wesley decided he didn’t want to go. Apparently, it was against his plan for eternal happiness. So he threw himself to the ground in the parking lot and had a fit. Jessica felt humiliated. Everything she had just said to Catherine about the benefits of discipline was flying right back in her face.

Jessica struggled with her own works righteousness (a term explained earlier in the book). She felt fearful and angry. She struggled with her desire that her new friend think well of her and her parenting methods. She wondered, What does she think of me now? What does she think of my son? She started making excuses, “He normally doesn’t act that way.” By the time she got Wesley buckled in the car, she was consumed with her own failure as a parent. I do exactly what the Bible says. Why isn’t God helping me or changing my child? I’ll never talk about parenting to anyone ever again!

If Jessica had remembered to parent in light of grace, she could have responded differently. Knowing the character of her heavenly Father, she could have remembered that every time something unexpected happens, it is God once again approaching her in love to show her the glories of the gospel and the beauties of grace. She could have been reminded that spanking doesn’t transform the soul; only Jesus Christ does. When she saw Wesley lying there throwing a fit, she could have seen a picture of her own heart. She could have heard the Lord remind her that this heart of a rebel is just like her own…..Then Jessica could discipline Wesley with these words (I combined pages 21-22 and 58 to give you the full response below):
“Sweetheart, I will discipline you now because I love you, and you must learn to control yourself. When I tell you that it is time to go, we must leave. I know you didn’t want to go, but when we don’t get what we want, it isn’t okay to start screaming and throw yourself to the ground. There are two things you must understand: first, you were being unsafe. God has put me in charge of you, and he has told me to keep you safe. When you lie in a parking lot with cars around you, you could get hurt. So, when I tell you to come, I am doing what I believe will keep you safe. Second, when you don’t get what you want, you are not allowed to start screaming and crying. You are sinning against God and against me when you disobey and complain. I understand that you didn’t want to leave the park. I know how difficult it is to show control when you don’t get what you want. God tells us to be self-controlled, Wesley, but you can’t. That is the bad news, but that is not all the news there is. The rest of the news is so exciting! You can’t have self-control like God is asking you to, so you need a Rescuer to help you. And the really great news is that God has already sent one! His name is Jesus!

Do you know what Jesus did when he had to go somewhere he didn’t want to go? He told God that he would do whatever God wanted him to do. He did that for you, and he did that for me. The place he didn’t want to go was the cross. He knew the cross was going to be hard, and it would hurt him a lot. But he did what he didn’t want to do because he loved us.

Jesus knows that there are times you are angry and selfish. But he has loved you in spite of your sin. And because of this, Welsey, because of Jesus alone, because of what He has already done for you, if you believe in him, you will grow to have self-control more and more. But you’ll never be able to do this on your own.”

After sharing soul-comforting words like those, Jessica continued with a time of discipline and prayer for Wesley that would grant him faith to believe that the Rescuer he needed loved him, would forgive him, and would help him to have self-control.
I bolded the parts that really hit me.

What I have been missing in my dialogue, is giving my children the grace of the gospel. Yes we talk about this grace outside of discipline moments, for example during our family devotionals, but I have never worked it into my words during discipline. Basically, during discipline I had always been pinpointing the bad news, (i.e. telling JJ that he doesn’t have self-control) and then loading on a command/a rule: he needs to get it. But, I haven’t been telling him the good news - the beautiful gift of grace - that Jesus loves him in spite of his performance or lack thereof(sin). The grace dialogue above expresses that God’s love for us is not dependent on our works/obedience (i.e. whether we can keep our self-control or not) but rather rests on the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus alone. Where we fail, Jesus has already succeeded and the point is that we would recognize that and our need for HIM!

The author explains it this way (pg. 36 ):
This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach our children God’s law (rules/commands). We are commanded to do so but not to make them good. We are commanded to give them the law so that they will be crushed by it and see their need for a Savior. The law won’t make them good (i.e. me telling JJ that he needs to have self-control). It will make them despair of ever being good enough, and in that way it will make them open to the love, sacrifice, and welcome of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Yes, give them God’s law. Teach it to them and tell them that God commands obedience. But before you are done, give them grace and explain again the beautiful story of Christ’s perfect keeping of it for them. Jesus Christ was the only one who ever deserved to hear, “You are good,” but he relinquished his right relationship with the law and his Father and suffered as a lawbreaker. This is the message we all need to hear, and it is the only message that will transform our hearts.
And once this heart transformation begins to happen our actions follow suit if we’ve come to genuine repentance. If we do end up obeying God’s commands, the right motivation is because of a love for God and trust in his gracious plan and power. We’re not working/obeying to earn God’s blessing. We work/obey because we already have it! [more thoughts directly from the book]

JJ had been showing me over and over with his actions and emotions: “I can’t! I can’t keep my self control.” And I had essentially been answering that with: “Oh yes you can, and you will. The Bible says you have to, so you can.” But I should have been answering his “I can’t” with a resounding – “You’re right! You can’t! But let me tell you about what Jesus has done….”

Now, back to JJ’s scenario. After he had cooled down, I went to talk with him and I tried out this new explanation that included grace. It wasn’t word for word from the excerpt I have in blue above, but the main parts were close. Immediately he realized that what I was saying wasn’t the usual “you need to have self-control!”. I am not kidding, he started off hanging his head and looking at the floor, but as I spoke of what Jesus had already done for him, he looked up at me, and looked so relieved that it made me start crying! It was like this huge burden had just come off him. I wonder if he was wondering what happened to the mom that usually swept right in ready to aim a rule/command at him. Before, the rule/command was always the primary part of what I taught him. This time, I still told him that God expects us to have self-control, but I DRENCHED him in the truths of grace – that although he really struggles to keep his self-control, there is hope because he, JJ, is the exact sort of person Jesus loved to be around and came for. The good news of the gospel is for sinners, like him and me.

From there I continued with a time of discipline - as outlined in 'Shepherding a Child's Heart' book - and time of prayer for JJ.  And you know what, by the time we were done, over 20 minutes had gone by and there was no way that we were going to make it to the pool by opening.  But I didn't care anymore.  By the look I had seen on JJ's face when that burden came off, I knew God had given me confirmation that taking the time to shepherd my children was LIFE giving to them.  And every mom desires that for their children.

Wow has this book spoken such a fresh perspective into me! Until my children fully grasp the love and obedience and sacrifice of Christ on their behalf, only then will I be able to observe the heart change (and eventual behavior change) that is genuine and real.

Have I mentioned I am only half way through the book? :)

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