When Parenting by Grace Doesn't Lead to Change

BY JESSICA THOMPSON

A twelve-year-old girl stomped out of the room and slammed her bedroom door. Her two parents sat at the table completely befuddled. They had been trying to lead her to grace, to forgiveness, to a remembering that she was loved. And yet it ended like it always had before. Before when they demanded obedience, they never shared the truth of forgiveness for sins. Before when performance was a must, speaking nourishing words of grace to a hard heart never even entered their minds.

Confusion reigns as they look at each other with deep sadness and the words “now what?” fall flat on the table.

Many parents find themselves in this scenario. We have been trying to feed our children the grace they so desperately need and yet they continue to disobey. They turn a deaf ear to our cries of “He is better. He loves you. He forgives you. Let’s remember His goodness together.” They continue to rebel and we feel at a loss. We have done what we thought we were supposed to do and we see little or no change in their lives.

In this place of confusion, we must remember the Gospel.

@@Parenting our children with grace isn’t a fix-all.@@ It isn’t some new Law that we must obey in order to reap our just parenting rewards. The Bible tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Your child’s heart and your heart are both in a desperate situation. Remembering that our hearts are naturally prone to disobedience, will help when your child does not want to obey. You don’t need to be confused by their sin or failure to be changed by a word of grace. It is the condition of all of our hearts without Christ’s intervening work.

We are no longer under a Covenant of Works (Law). We don’t obey (by parenting with grace) in order to get (obedient children). Operating under a Covenant of Works only leads to confusion and despair, or pride and anger. We are now under a Covenant of Grace (Gospel), where we obey by parenting with grace (because we are loved) and we trust (that He has our kids exactly where He wants them). This leads to renewed patience with our children; it leads us to love them when they are unlovely. This leads us to pray for our children at every turn. Paul Miller, in his wonderful book, A Praying Life says,

@@It took me seventeen years to realize I couldn’t parent on my own.@@ It was not a great spiritual insight, just a realistic observation. If I didn’t pray deliberately and reflectively for members of my family by name every morning, they’d kill each other. I was incapable of getting inside their hearts. I was desperate. But even more, I couldn’t change my self-confident heart… [I came to realize that] I did my best parenting by prayer. I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing.

So now what?

Back to the child who stomped out of the room; what do we do with her? You let her have some time while you are praying for her and then you go to her as Christ has come to you: “He is gentle with the ignorant and wayward” (Hebrews 5:2) and “He sympathizes with your weakness and was tempted in every way you are” (Hebrews 4:15). Let her know that you understand how hard it is to obey, but also let her know that her behavior is not acceptable in your house.

@@Parenting by grace doesn’t mean that we don’t lead and teach our children proper behavior.@@ It means that while teaching them proper behavior we remember who we are (great sinners), who He is (a great Savior), and we make sure that we don’t equate their performance or obedience with a right standing before God.

For all the parents with a wayward child right now, remember that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and His mercy never comes to an end. Great is His faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

May this be the heart cry of our parenting: believing it for our children and for ourselves.

Press on beloved, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). He understands what it is like to endure hostility. He loves you. He is praying for you right now.

Press on.

Jessica is an author of several books and a frequent conference speaker. Her heart is to see women, families, and children freed from the bondage of moralism and to live in the truth that in the gospel there is joyful freedom awaiting them. Jess has a Bachelor's Degree in Theology and with her mother, Elyse Fitzpatrick, she co-authored the books Give Them Grace and Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions. She has also written Exploring Grace Together and Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus. Jess believes the truth that salvation is "naked confidence in the mercy of God." She has been married to her high school sweetheart since 1995. Together they have three teenage children.

Twitter @TheJessLou