And they need true grace.
There is some popular parenting advice out there these days that claims when small children act out, they aren’t actually being “naughty” or doing anything wrong, they are just trying to come to terms with their place in the world, and perhaps finding some aspect of that challenging.
This parenting advice says that they don’t need discipline, they just need your love and understanding and gentle guidance.
As Christian Mums, we always need to weigh parenting advice carefully against the Bible to see if it is consistent with the gospel, or opposed to the gospel.
The problem with this new parenting advice is that it is based on the philosophy that humans are basically good at heart. And this is a denial of the truth we see in the Bible, that humans are sinful at heart, even from birth.
I definitely agree that children need our love, understanding and gentle guidance, but because they are inherently sinful, those things alone will not cut it. You cannot love a child into being a good person – you are not God.
Sometimes I struggle with this parenting philosophy too. I’m tempted to make excuses for my kids’ sinfulness, blaming it on tiredness, hunger or over-stimulation. Those things certainly make self-control harder (even for me, as an adult!).
But how does God treat me when, in my tiredness, I lash out with harsh words to my husband? Does God say, “Oh, don’t worry about it – you’re only speaking harshly because you’re tired. All you need is a good night sleep.”?
No. He responds with gentle, loving correction. “You are tired right now, and that makes it harder to control yourself. Instead of leaning on yourself for the strength to do the right thing, you should lean on my grace. I have all you need.”
You see, the Bible teaches us that our actions are the overflow of our heart. No one can “make” us shout in anger, if the anger wasn’t already in our hearts. No one can “make” our children snatch a toy in selfishness if the selfishness wasn’t already in their hearts.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45
“…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” Matthew 15:18
Sin, at it’s heart, is rebellion against God. To say that our children are inherently sinful means that they are naturally set against God in their hearts, and the actions that spring forth from this rebellion are opposed to what God has set out in his law.
No one, on their own, can stop sinning because it is in our nature. And although I don’t do it perfectly, keeping this in mind has great benefits in my attitude to my children.
- It means I’m not shocked by their sinfulness. When one of the kids comes out with a tantrum over not getting their way or shouts at me in anger, I don’t think “Where did that come from?!?” I know where it came from – their hearts.
- I don’t take their bad behaviour personally. I know that they aren’t struggling with sin because of my failure as a parent, but because of their sin nature. I let them own their own behaviour, and then point them to the One who can help them to overcome it.
- I don’t think I’m better than them. I can relate to them as a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace. And I can say this to them too! “Mummy needs Jesus to help her do the right thing.” Just the other day, my daughter said, “Mummy, maybe you can pray that God would help you not to yell at us today.” It was a real bitter-sweet moment! I might be a little further along the road than them, but we are on the same road.
My husband and I read something once that said when your spouse apologises to you for doing something wrong, you should resist the urge to respond with “It’s okay.” The reason for this is, saying “it’s okay” is saying that what they did wasn’t really wrong at all. If they actually did something wrong, it’s much better to say, “I forgive you”. This acknowledges that they wronged you and by extending forgiveness, you are both agreeing to leave that wrong behind and move forward in grace. Saying “it’s okay” merely papers over the offence; it doesn’t actually bring you closer to each other.
True grace can only come when sin is looked at and acknowledged, unflinchingly. Making excuses for our kids or explaining away their bad behaviour with external circumstances might make us feel like we are being kind and extending grace, but this is not true grace.
True grace says, “Your heart is hopelessly wicked, but God can change you.”
True grace says, “Sometimes you do the wrong thing, when you know the right thing to do, but I forgive you.”
True grace says, “Come. Meet my Saviour, Jesus – I need Him just as much as you.”