Finding the balance between Grace and Law is a monumental element of Christian parenting. When do we enforce something, and when do we let it slide? When do we confiscate our teen’s music, and when do we grudgingly tolerate it? When do we emphasize “house rules,” and when we do we not?
The line is different for every kid — and parent — and that’s what makes it hard. That’s also probably why so many parents resort to formulas, as if there’s a proven, psychological method for producing good kids. Nevertheless, there ain’t any.
After the Virgina Tech shootings, the media shifted into high gear, probing the killer’s psychology, social networks and upbringing. Behind it is a deep-seated belief that humans are machines, and that if we’re raised, programmed and treated properly, we avoid malfunctions. (I pondered these implications in a brief series entitled Parents, Peers or Predestination — Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.) Sometimes we bring this mindset to Christian child-rearing. So when teenage Jimmy gets caught smoking pot or comes home with a tongue stud, we immediately assume we did something wrong. Did we? Maybe. Maybe not.
As I see it, the teenage years should be a testing ground for what kids are taught in adolescence. It suggests two distinct roles:
- The parent’s role is to set and enforce PARAMETERS
- The adolescent’s role is to test, implement or reject them
By the teenage years, one should have the moral framework and mental capacity to distinguish good from evil, to spot the lie. Spotting a lie requires a certain amount of autonomy; it’s not something we are told but something we must personally deduce. But there is danger, because where there are lies, there is the potential to be lied to. This risquÃ©, tender process is what scares the wits out of the average parent. Watching our kids stumble and make bad choices is excruciating. Nevertheless, bumps and bruises do wonders in clarifying Truth and accelerating the learning process.
The “parenting funnel” suggests that our role is different in this “learning process.” Two factors are intrinsic and should be deposited in our kids early on: LAW and GRACE.
This is important: Just as the Ten Commandments preceded the Cross, Law must always precede Grace. Mount Sinai came before Golgotha. Likewise, the narrow end of the parenting funnel is one that emphasizes parameters, emphasizes Law. Of course, there is love, acceptance and warmth at this stage. But this is also the stage where “moral order” is established. Why? The Apostle Paul said in the Book of Romans that “. . .through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). And this knowledge of sin is precisely what exposes our need for Grace, our need for a Savior.
Our kids must know the Law and have an acute knowledge of their own sin; but they must also know Grace, and see His arms outstretched to them. As parents, we embody both these roles: We hammer the gavel of condemnation and then we extend the embrace of Love.
One of my all-time favorite “parenting verses” is this:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
— I Peter 4:8 NIV
This is the wide end of the funnel. The Law tells me I have broken His commands; though I must strive therein, I will ultimately fall short. But the Cross tells me I am forgiven and empowered to move on. This dynamic — the dance of Law and Grace — should permeate how we parent. After we speak the word of Truth or of Discipline, we must be there with the steady, unblinking embrace of Love.
The level of responsibility we abdicate to our kids should depend on what point of the funnel they’re at. But, at some point, they will stumble back, confused, hurt and tired. There is power in letting kids make their own choices. And when those choices go awry — as they most surely will — we must be there with Love and Grace.
Me and Lisa are blessed to have raised four solid kids. Glory to God! I can say with confidence, love covers a multitude of sins. But most of the time, the sins have been mine.