I grew up in a Christian home and my life was wrapped up in God for as long as I can remember. I like to say I really “fell in love with Jesus” when I was 12 years old at Bible camp. My Christian faith was the biggest influence in my life through my teen and college years. And yet it wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s, the mom of three small children, that I realized there was a flaw in my religion.
I came by it naturally, in every sense. My upbringing leaned heavily on behavior. We were fairly immersed in “the law” – Old Testament and New. To be a Christian was to obey every “jot and tittle.” I was also naturally inclined by personality, a first-born, perfectionistic, people-pleaser.
My youngest son was a toddler when my husband and I joined a small group with several other parents in a similar season of life. We’d been with the group around six months when one of the leaders called me out. She told me my spiritual pride was intimidating the other moms. I was crushed. But God used that painful encounter to get my attention and radically change the trajectory of my spiritual life.
Pride broken, I was ripe to receive God’s sweetest gift of GRACE. It came as a miracle, and for a season I was taught all over again what it really meant to follow Jesus. I soaked it up like a sponge, basking in my newfound freedom to follow God not out of obligation, but from sheer delight.
God’s rescue came just in time. My own children were in their most impressionable years of spiritual formation, and with the Spirit’s help I was able to shift my parenting focus from behavior to grace. It wasn’t easy. As a “recovering perfectionist” I had high standards for my kids. Not only did I want my children to make “good choices” – but I wanted their choices to make me look good, too. Shifting my lens from outward standards to internal formation was a new way of thinking. But God was very sweet to show me over and over again what He thought of me. I was “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”* This did not depend on my own perfection or performance. It was His gift of grace to me through the righteousness of Jesus. God had given me a new identity, and I wanted my kids to understand this as their identity, too.
My parenting was directly impacted by the things God was teaching me personally.
One major shift had to do with spiritual disciplines. I was by nature a fairly disciplined person, and since college I’d been making Bible study a priority. It had always been a bit like homework, something I did out of obligation and my innate desire to excel. But now with this new grace mindset something was different. I sensed God wooing me to Himself in whole new way. I remember a summer when God seemed to invite me to “linger longer.” The time I spent with Him each morning grew to be something I thoroughly enjoyed, rather than something I was forcing myself to do.
My own newfound pleasure in spending time with God began to make an impression on my husband and kids. God used my joy to entice my family, and soon all of us were pursing “disciplines” together. Of course, each of us did this in our own unique ways. My husband tried for a while to join me in journaling, but found he hated it. His favorite way to connect with God was through late-night walks and praying out loud. Our boys, too, found their own special ways to connect with God. One played music, and another drew pictures. And one boy began (earlier than I should probably admit) drinking coffee while having his “quiet time.”
Another of my own grace lessons had to do with my sin. The more time I spent “lingering with Jesus,” the more I was bothered by the sin in my life. Especially troubling was my habit of lying. Since childhood I had been using “little white lies” to bolster perfection. I didn’t like to be wrong, so I’d embellish the truth to cover mistakes. But with this new spiritual season came an increased desire to be truly holy. I hated my sin. And then the day came when I’d had enough, and I was truly broken. I asked God to help me, and He did. It felt like another miracle, as Jesus did for me what I couldn’t do for myself, and He replaced my lies for a love of the truth.
This too, changed the way that I’d parent. Instead of giving my boys a list of rights and wrongs, I’d point them to Jesus. I shocked them by saying, “You can’t stop sinning.” But Jesus can do what you can’t! My husband and I together began to talk to our boys about the Holy Spirit. We wanted them to know from an early age what it looks like to be “full of the Spirit” instead of “full of self.” This was an image that seemed to make sense, especially as our boys reached their teens. Our oldest son once wrote notes to himself (in a Sharpie marker all over his Pottery Barn desk) – reminders to stay humble and surrendered to the Holy Spirit.
Another big “ah-ha” for me came when I re-discovered the Bible as “story.” I had begun to wrestle with my childhood legalism, and I was trying understand why I didn’t believe everything I’d been taught. I knew it had to do with grace, but I struggled to explain this to my own parents. They’d ask, “Don’t you believe everything in the Bible is true?” And I did, but…
It took several years, but finally the light bulb came on. The Bible is a story about God’s grace! This was such a revelation, I was giddy with excitement. I saw the whole thing through a brand new lens. I finally understood how the law’s part in the story was to highlight our sin. We couldn’t be holy. We couldn’t be faithful. But all the way through the entire storyline we see how God IS holy and unbelievably faithful. He loves us with fierce and furious steadfast love – the love that led to Jesus. Jesus is the big “ah-ha” in God’s great story, and He changes everything. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we share in His own righteousness, and He gives us His Holy Spirit to lead us in holiness. This unfolding story is a miracle in every way, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my kids. My boys were teens when I wrote my first “book” for them. It was called The Covenant Story and it was my way of making sure my kids would always see the Bible through the lens of God’s story of grace.
God’s grace lessons are endless, and they multiply for every season of life. A couple of years ago our family expanded when we added two more teenaged sons through adoption. Since then my husband and I have been learning about grace in a whole new way. We discovered quickly the radical differences between parenting from birth, and becoming Mom and Dad to emerging young men. Even if we had wanted to manipulate behaviors (and believe, at times we did) it wouldn’t have worked. We were thoroughly dependent on God to do what we couldn’t. We began praying together like never before, for God’s grace to cover the years we’d lost with these sons. We’ve learned to “parent through prayer” rather than stressing out over changing the behaviors of our teens. It takes a whole lot of trust, but I can say without reservation – God has been faithful.
I am, as you might guess, a bit of a grace fanatic. God’s grace has transformed my life in every way. By it He has given me a new identity, and a new understanding of holiness. He was won me to Himself by telling me over and over again how much He delights in me. He has turned discipline into delight, and obedience into freedom. God’s grace has become my lens for understanding faith, and my lens for being a parent.
*This is from Colossians 1:22, a verse I wrote on an index card and carried with me for several months during this season of relearning my identity in Christ.