Monday, October 5, 2015

Book #30: Give Them Grace

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Amazon Synopsis:
All of us want to raise good kids. And we want to be good parents. But what exactly do we mean by “good?” And is “being good” really the point?
Mother-daughter team Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson contend that every way we try to make our kids “good” is simply an extension of Old Testament Law—a set of standards that is not only unable to save our children, but also powerless to change them.
No, rules are not the answer. What they need is GRACE.
We must tell our kids of the grace-giving God who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message your children hear, if you are just telling them to “be good,” then the gospel needs to transform your parenting too.
Grace-based parenting seems to be the parenting trend of my generation. Part of me balks at anything "new and revolutionary," but most of me thinks this is actually a really Biblical idea.

This was a very complex book that took me a long time to work through. At first, I had some major questions. But the more I read, the more I agreed with the premise . . . whether or not any of my questions were really answered. Haha. This is going to be an extremely long review, mostly punctuated with passages from the book that stood out to me.

One thing I loved about the book was the authors' emphasis that our efforts as parents don't guarantee anything.  The introduction puts it like this:
Although we long to be faithful parents, we also rest in the truth that our faithfulness is not what will save our children. Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting or your children. (22)
And later:
Freedom to love and enjoy our children flows out of the knowledge that God saves them in spite of our best efforts, not because of them. Salvation is of the Lord. (53) 
What a relief! This next quote totally echoes what the author of Crazy Busy said:
We have far too high a view of our ability to shape our children and far too low a view of God's love and trustworthiness. (57)
Chapter 3 was hard for me. Fitzpatrick calls out parents who thrive on works-based-righteousness. She talks about the people who asked Jesus "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" (John 6). Her description of them perfectly describes me:
They wanted the list. Can't you just hear their hearts? We can. Just tell us what to do and we'll get about it. We know we can and we really want to, so just give us the list and we'll work it out. (63)
But Fitzpatrick says that a list of rules is the last thing we need. And it's the last thing we should be bringing to our parenting.
Do you want to do the work of God? Okay, then believe. Believe that God is strong enough to save your children, no matter how you fail. Believe that he is loving enough to bring them all the way into relationship with himself, whether you understand "grace parenting" or not. (63) 
I wrote in my Saturday 7 that while I agree with the book, I can't quite figure out how to apply it practically. Fitzpatrick really does try to help. She gives anecdotes and suggestions on dialogues to have with your kids, but they were so over the top. This one was really hard for me:

She tells the story of a mom and her kids in the pool. Mom is just trying to enjoy the peace and quiet. Kids won't stop fighting. They're playing Marco Polo, but David keeps cheating and Susan keeps yelling at him to follow the rules. In the story, Fitzpatrick identifies David as the rebel and Susan as the rule-keeper. (Guess which one I identify with. ;-)) And she says they're both in the wrong. David needs to stop cheating, but Susan needs to show grace. That's really really hard for me. I wrote in the margins, "So David wins. Soon he'll start cheating and telling Susan, 'You have to show me grace!'" Fitzpatrick devotes a whole chapter to the prodigal and the Pharisee. I'm definitely a Pharisee and it's very hard for me to wrap my brain around grace. Listen to this:
The gospel is not good news to those who pride themselves on their hard work. It is infuriating news. But it is good news to the younger-brother types who are tempted to turn away from the faith fairly early on because they don't think the gospel is for sinners.(71)
So how do I raise my kids not to pride themselves on hard work? Let them revel in their sin so they'll appreciate the gospel more?

Fitzpatrick goes on to say this about Susan: "What does Susan need to hear? She needs to hear that her desire to prove her own worthiness is one of the greatest hindrances to faith that she'll ever face" (72).

While I was reading this book, I was tempted to hold on to the caveats from the beginning: I really can't change my kids. It's up to God anyway. Why do I torment myself to try and get it right? I should just give up on the grace idea. But "the grace idea" is pretty much the whole theme of the Bible and despite my years and years of Christian training, I've obviously missed it. My desire to prove my own worthiness is one of the greatest hindrances of my faith. I have to try to help my kids understand it from a young age, so they're not left to grapple hopelessly with it like I am now.

Again, I don't feel like I have a ton of answers. The last third of the book focuses on practical applications. I think I need to re-read it about four times to really take it all in. I've already admitted it's hard for me to apply. It's going to take years of practice. But for now, my mind is opened to it. I can try to be aware of ways to show God's grace instead of just ramming the law down my kids' throats. I liked this paragraph. Pay attention to the order:
Remind your children who they are, of your love and welcome. Then remind them of God's gracious offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Then command their obedience. (106)
She's not saying we eliminate training our children in righteousness or expecting obedience. But the rules and regulations have be the third rung on the ladder behind love and grace.

I loved the second to last chapter. It seemed like kind of a random addition, but is so important. Fitzpatrick emphasizes that our purpose in life is to glorify God. Our modern American society has trained us to think that God can only be glorified in our children when they're obedient and compliant. And we can only glorify God as parents if our kids love Jesus. But, Fitzpatrick posits that God is glorified even through the pain, the sin, the rebellion, and the anger. He is glorified through redeeming our kids from their sin. He is glorified when we continue to trust him and follow him even when we're not seeing immediate results. "God's sustaining power is seen and developed in our weakness and failure" (151). We know this. We know the passages in scripture that say, "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) But Fitzpatrick fleshes it out in a way that was new to me. I loved this:
Sometimes he shows us his power by changing the circumstance, miraculously accomplishing what we could never accomplish. At other times he shows us how his sustaining grace enables us to endure situations that otherwise would crush us. Sometimes he makes us feel his strengthening arm upholding us in the trial. At other times he teaches us to walk by faith believing that his arm is there even though we don't feel it. It is in these varied circumstances that we learn of his greatness, his sustaining grace, and his ability to glorify himself in ways we would never have imagined. (152 - emphasis mine)
 The last chapter reminds us again that this "method" isn't a cure-all for parenting, we're not always going to get it right, and a lot of the time we're not even going to be sure how to do it.
When we're feeling our weakest and really don't have any idea how grace or the gospel might apply in a particular situation (and are not sure if we care), we'll know that it's okay to be silent and simply wait. Many times, our children don't understand the gospel or grace either. We don't need to try to drum up some gospel speech that isn't resonating within our hearts to be sure we've got our bases covered. (164)
Overall, this was a difficult book because it's a paradigm shift for me. I'm probably going to have to read it - or other books like it - a few more times before it really starts to sink it. But I would absolutely recommend it. Maybe you all will understand it better than I do and help me out. ;-) I'm going to end with these words of wisdom from the end of the book. They sum it up better than I ever could:
Further, we know that sometimes it is nearly impossible to remember the gospel at all, let alone think about ways to bestow it on our children. Jesus? The cross? What? And then, when we find ourselves floundering without a clue, we are overcome with guilt because we aren't living up to our own expectations. I thought that understanding the gospel of grace and how it applies to parenting would transform me, but here I am forgetting what he's done and being the same old me again! When we forget the gospel and then feel guilty about it, we are completely missing the point of the gospel. Our ultimate joy as parents is not dependent on our ability to parent well. God's smile on us is not contingent upon anything other than the record of the beloved Son. It is based on our belief that Jesus has already done it all perfectly for us. Grace simply means resting in Jesus' blood and righteousness. (161)

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