(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
I once heard the true story of an American soldier returning from the Vietnam War. His parents told him to hurry back, but before leaving for home he told them a very close friend would be with him. When he asked his parents if that was OK, they answered, “Of course!” But when he told them his friend was handicapped, they said, “Oh, don’t bring him, it will be too hard to take care of him.”
The soldier never returned home because he was the handicapped man . . . and he was seeking unconditional love. He didn’t want to bother his parents with his new condition and wanted to know if they would be gracious and welcoming to his “friend.”
One way we can express unconditional love to our children is through mercy and grace. Meaning no matter what they do we will still love them. No matter how many times they mess up we will give them mercy and grace because we love them and know how much we need mercy and grace from God, others, and even them.
This chapter appropriately comes after the chapter on discipline, because we need to be careful not to go to the extreme. Some parents might lean in heavy on discipline, but mercy and grace must be added into the mix too, a lot of it. One author put it this way, “If we are strict only, we crush the spirit out of our children, or we provoke rebellion. If we are merciful only, we create a culture of entitlement and self-indulgence in the home.”
Our children need to not only be told what mercy and grace is, but also experience it from us. Mercy and grace are seen throughout the entire Bible, and they should be visible in our parenting as well.
We learn mercy from the Bible. It’s the gracious act of someone not giving people “what they deserve”. It’s the withholding of a fair consequence. God is praised throughout history and the Bible for his mercy. He is often characterized as “long-suffering” and not giving people (at least not at that time) what they deserve for their rebellion and evil.
So what does that have to do with parenting? A lot. Our children need to experience that same kind of mercy from their parents. There are times in our parenting that we should withhold discipline when our child deserves it. I’m not saying we choose to show them mercy when we are too lazy at the moment to give them the proper discipline they need. I’m saying we can choose at certain times to not discipline them and use that opportunity to talk about mercy and God’s mercy on us.
There are days in our children’s lives that we can tell they need extra mercy and grace. This gives them and us a picture of what mercy is and allows us to praise God for his mercy on us.
Mercy is something we may rarely talk about or think about in our parenting, but it is so needed and important in every aspect of it. Our kids need guidance, patience, protection, wisdom, and affection. Not a day goes by that they don’t need our tenderheartedness and compassion.
You and I are comforted with God’s mercy every day! Here are just a few verses out of many about our God’s good mercy toward us:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians. 2:4-5).
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Our children need us to have tender hearts for them. Paul Tripp says it best: “Mercy is not taking your children’s failures personally, but viewing their struggles with compassion. Mercy is about blessing your children with your patience. It’s about being as careful to encourage as you are to rebuke.”
Mercy is not natural for us. What’s natural for me is to be impatient. It’s easy and natural for me to get frustrated and irritated at having to repeat myself and correct my children over and over again. My struggle is with myself. Why is it so hard for me to extend mercy to my children when God has given me so much and so freely? When we are gripped with this gospel, we will be merciful people.
Jesus told the parable of a king who freely forgave a large debt his servant owed him (Matthew 18:23-35). This same servant had a servant of his own who owed him money and begged for him to have mercy, but he didn’t show him any. When the king found this out he was furious and said, “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” After this the king punished the “wicked servant.”
Jesus used this parable to teach us that we should be forgiving and merciful to others like our God (king) has been to us. Sometimes our kids are not articulate enough to say, “Have patience with me,” like the servant in this parable did, but we should be sensitive to their crying out for it.
Whether our kids know it or not, God is merciful to them. He loves them and takes care of them. God has called us to be his instruments of mercy in our children’s lives. We are not only called to extend God-like compassion and tenderheartedness to them, but also to point our kids to God’s mercy. We will have bad days and fail at this, but when we do we should confess our failures to our children. Making a habit of being merciful to our children will soften our hearts and theirs.
It’s no surprise that Christians love grace. The name is given to many people, churches, and organizations. There are many songs about grace, it’s discussed and preached, but what is it? Remember mercy is the act of not giving something to someone who deserves it. Well, grace is a gift given to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
God has given us so many good things we don’t deserve. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Ephesians 2 explains that grace is a gift (in the context of salvation). We can’t earn it. If we could, it wouldn’t be grace. It wouldn’t be an un-merited gift. God is gracious.
Christians seem to have a good understanding of “past grace” which is Jesus’ gracious and loving sacrifice on the cross, which made him the sin bearer and not us. Christians also have a decent understanding of “future grace” which is the glorious heaven that is guaranteed to God’s children. God will end suffering and evil, and we will live forever in his good and perfect presence. But the problem, as one author has brought to my attention, is we have little understanding of “present grace.” That is the grace we have right at this moment because of what Christ did on the cross.
The great news for parents is God didn’t leave us alone in the task to which he called us! What Jesus did on the cross has affected not only our past and future, but also our everyday. I’m not sure why parents think they are able to parent their children without help. I’ve heard parents say, “Don’t tell me how to raise my kids.” That parent felt able and already equipped, but can we ever have it all figured out and ready for everything that comes our way? No, we are in constant need of help, wisdom, and direction. We need grace, and so do our kids.
As a man I know how it feels to want to be depended upon, be strong, and keep a home that has plenty. We must be careful of wanting to be our kids’ heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I love when my baby girl runs to me in need of my help. I love when I can be there to hold her tight when she is hurting or sad. I wish I could be her everything, but truth is there will be times I let my kids down. So we must point them to the one who has never let us down.
We need God’s grace every day more than we know. In our parenting we need him. Even today as I’m writing this I struggled this morning. My son woke up extra early. So I started getting ready and my two year old came and pushed me while I was using the sink. Like knocked-me-off-balance kind of push. He is a short stout little man. What did I do? I got down on his level, talked to him, and shared with him that we don’t push people, right? Nope, before I could even think I flicked the water I had in my hands in his face. Why? What is wrong with me? I need grace. Often times more than I know. Praise God He keeps working on us. I still have a long way to go. I know it, my wife knows it (she witnessed my childish act), and so do my kids.
We need grace. And one of the greatest gifts of God’s goodness and grace in our lives is found in Ephesians 3:20 which says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us . . . ” God is with us and working in us!
He is with you when you are breaking up another fight between your kids. He is with you when one of them falls and breaks their arm, and he is with you when you drop your child off at school for the first time and you are crying as much as they are. God is with us when things are going well too.
Another humbling truth for parents is we are more like our children than we think. When we realize this and remind ourselves of how much we struggle with the same sins as our children we will parent them different. For example, when my kids are angry I shouldn’t get mad and talk to them like I can’t believe they are acting like that. I have been angry in my life way many more times than they have. And I know, from experience, that when I’m angry I don’t need someone to tell me it’s wrong and expect me to change immediately. That doesn’t work.
We need someone to be patient with us, listen to us, and not bring more anger to the table. We need someone who has mercy and grace. We will come to our kids’ rescue differently when we know and admit that we too struggle with the same problems.
God’s Grace Makes Our Hearts Tender:
I’ve done acupuncture before. As some of you may already know they stick you with a lot of needles, and then to my surprise they start shocking your muscles. With each flicker of electricity your muscle becomes more and more relaxed, more and more tender. It takes a long time. Did you know our heart is considered a muscle because it contracts? In our lives we need lots of little “pricks” and “shocks” to make our hearts more and more tender.
As parents we can be prone to having hard hearts, and what I mean here is the opposite of tender ones. Many parents are resistant to change and content with their character. This will cause frustration with our children because we are calling them to change and grow when we are not willing ourselves. So unless you and I are already 100% perfect we have some changes we need to make in our own lives.
Pointing Them to God’s Grace
One thing we need to be careful of is when we praise our children. For example when we say, “Wow, you’re so good!” or “You did (that good deed) all on your own!” This form of trying to encourage and compliment can mislead them. We should help them see the good they do comes from God’s grace and his work in their hearts.
Here’s an example of how that’s done, “Hey sweetie, I noticed you gave up your toy. Do you know what that made me think about? It reminded me of how Jesus gave up his life for others. I’m so thankful to see God working in your heart to make you more like him.” As one writer put it, “Our encouragement should always stimulate praise for God’s grace rather than for our goodness.”
Laugh and Have Fun
In the part of Texas I was raised people use cameras that can detect deer and hogs. Sometimes these cameras can even be used to catch burglars. These cameras don’t run all the time, but they snap pictures when motion is detected. If a similar “smiling camera” or a microphone was invented that began recording when a laugh was detected, how often would it go off in our homes? How much joy and laughter is taking place in there?
We should have fun and laugh in our homes. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Be silly at home. Dance with your kids. Make them laugh! But make sure you laugh with them, never at them.
Have you ever met very strict people that you respect? You want to be close to and get to know them, but you feel like you have to keep your distance because of their demeanor. I remember when one of those people in my life laughed at a joke and began opening up. I instantly felt the guard was let down and that he was approachable. Parents, are we approachable?
Home: A Place Filled with Grace
Sometimes I despise texting, because you can completely misread what the person was saying. When I get texts that seem insensitive or unfriendly, I try to automatically lean towards thinking he meant it in a nice way.
We should default to the same way of thinking in our homes. We should give our spouses and kids the benefit of the doubt. Our homes should be a safe place where we think the best of each other. Sadly family drama is too prevalent in our world today, and sometimes I wonder how much of it starts with just misunderstanding each other.
A home is a place of honor. The Bible commands children to honor their father and mother, and I believe it is good for parents to also honor their kids. We should model honor for them. We should respect them when they need our attention and want to talk or when they have an idea. Often kids can be looked down on and pushed to the side.
A way to show honor is by being graceful with our words, which are powerful. Power to build up and power to tear down. As parents we should not say, “You are . . . ” followed by a negative adjective. We should never say, “You are fat” or “You are not smart”. We must honor one another with our words and actions. Our family members should receive love, respect, and honor from us and each other.
I don’t think you can go through the parenting years then look back and say, “Yep, I did it all right” or “I don’t regret anything.” We will all have regrets. But the beauty of God’s grace that we see in the Bible is this: God is forgiving and merciful. Truth is, we are all like that American veteran trying to come home.
We all have our own handicaps, problems, and shortcomings, and that is why we need mercy and grace. Each day we have together is a blessing from God that shouldn’t be taken for granted. May God help us lavish mercy and grace on our children as he has done so with us.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org