Thursday, August 09, 2007

Being Intentional

Today I had a discussion with a Godly, wise man about what we teach our children at a very young age about the character/nature of God. His point was that many of the standard Sunday School stories we tell children have become moralisms that can reinforce a legalistic or works based world view as opposed to teaching the grace of God.

This was a timely conversation for me. I have been really working with R on how he handles difficult situations. He is my hair-trigger tantrum guy. If things are going his way he is the dearest love you will ever meet--loving, kind, considerate. If he does not get his way it is an entirely different story. He jumps up and down, stomps his feet and shrieks before falling into a puddle on the ground. We have been working on the "right way" to handle situations by using our words and a respectful, polite tone of voice. This morning he handled a difficult situation beautifully. As I was lavishing him in praise for "doing the right thing" he said, "I did the wight thing. Mommy is pwoud of me and God is sooo happy."

I cringed just a little because although I do want him to think of his good deeds and obedience as pleasing to God, I am mindful that it is a VERY fine line in his 3 year old mind between wanting to honor God with his little life and beginning to believe he can/must earn God's favor.

Grace is such a difficult subject for grown ups to comprehend, how can we start to lay appropriate foundations at a 3 year old level?

I was a communications major in college, so I am mindful of the metamessages we send as parents, that is the message within our message that we are often unintentionally communicating. I want to be intentional about and responsible with the message of the Gospel with my children...but I am starting to feel overwhelmed at the task.

I am working on unconditional love with them. I tell them frequently that nothing they could ever do would make God or their Daddy & I love them any more or less. But as to what comes next...I am unsure. Like so many of you, I take my role and responsibility in leading them to the Lord seriously, but I am confused about how far to go with concepts without confusing them more.

Am I overthinking this? Anyone have any great resources they might recommend or tips?


Big Mama said...

I don't have any answers, but I'll be interested to see if any one else does.

I've noticed during nighttime prayers just this week that Caroline says "Dear God, thank you for all this stuff" as she motions around the room with her arms. And I think to myself that I hope she realizes it's about more than all "the stuff".

elizabeth said...

First of all, you have a gift far greater than I have ever realized. I have been blessed to have you in my bible study and to be inspired by you on many occasions, but had no idea that you have this wonderful gift of writing! Im sure you are an inspiration to everyone that reads your blog. As to sources to use with the triplets, I have found with my girls (and starting that early) that teaching them the Westminster shorter catecisms for children was very simple and clear to them. Also, there is a lady that sings songs with these in them and my little one has really picked up on it. It is Judy Rogers and you can go to to buy her CD's. We have the one entitled, "Teach Me While My Heart Is Tender" and we love it. Hope this helps and can't wait to be back together in bible study.

Renee said...

I would highly recommend Judy Rogers' music too. She and her pastor husband are long time friends of my family and even introduced my husband and me. Her daughter and I are best of friends and our husbands work together. Needless to say, we think a lot of them. And my boys request Judy's music quite a bit. I'm sure yours would enjoy it too!

Embracing my cup said...

Erik and I are reading an incredible book called Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. It is exactly what you are talking about. I think you would love it. I can't tell you how much it has affected the way that I parent. It is like no other parenting book that I have read. Can you tell I REALLY like it??? I highly recommend it!

keri said...

j, this is so hard! and it is a struggle for us as adults as well! don't we want to think we can do the right thing to make God extra happy with us? but its simply not true.
i struggle with wanting to focus on their behavior and wanting to fix them. but our goal should be heart change for our little ones. i have found the book "Don't Make Me Count to Three" by Ginger Plowman a great resource....she gives very practical examples of how to help your child see their sin and need for repentance. she uses lots of scripture and encourages us to use scripture with our children too. its so hard to go through this whole strategy EVERY time they disobey...obviously i'm a sinner too and often end up just yelling or getting angry at them...but when i do take the time to sit down with them and help them see their heart issues, the results are so sweet. i'm in this with you!

Phyllis R. said...

JMom ~ You have one of the sweetest hearts around. It might seem funny saying that since we've never actually MET, but I've read all of your posts. I love your heart.

I want to say that I certainly have days when I wonder if I am parenting the way God wants me to with our boys. But, we have been blessed with two wonderful children (now teenagers) who love the Lord, and I LOVE when I hear them relate anything that happens back to God.

I actually didn't take away from R's comment that he was trying to earn God's favor. I took away this: here is a little boy so in tune with God that he relates his behavior back to Him!

This makes it obvious that you and your husband have made God such an important part of his little life that he now thinks of God in relation to what he is doing in a day. HOW AMAZING.

MamaBear of The Potter Place said...

I'm with Phyllis. I just adore your heart for God and your passion for raising Godly kids. You're the kind of friend I dream about meeting someday, but so far that hasn't happened. My hat is off to you for so clearly articulating what so many of us moms are experiencing as we trudge through the trenches of motherhood.

katie said...

great questions j...
i agree with keri, that the struggle to teach our kids grace and the gospel is the same struggle going on in our own hearts. we so naturally gravitate toward rules, right and wrong, etc... it's exhausting!! i think deep down we believe we can do without jesus. if we can just get it right and fix these few things, then we'll be okay... or, not need to repent anymore. not sure if this makes sense... but repentance is where true freedom lies. and peace. and joy. and it's where we need to stay as parents. and where we need to lead our children. disobedience is our opportunity to go there! so, we can thank God even for our children's disobedience.
your heart and desires are such an encouragement to me.

Wendy said...

I am reading "Leading Little Ones to God" by Marian Schoolland to my kids right now. I really like it! The chapters are short. Some of it is probably better for older kids, but I think it may be a good starting point.

I also enjoyed the book Keri suggested, "Don't Make Me Count to Three" by Ginger Plowman. I found that to be helpful w/discipline.

derrickandamy said...

I love that you have such a heart for the Lord. Your desire to do the "right" thing with your children so speaks to my nature. I have to remind myself daily that God knows my heart and that I truly desire for my child to know Him. I know that he will honor that regardless of how I "help" Him. Enjoy your kiddos, they sound so precious!

Hannah E. said...

I, too, am working through these issues. The thing I'm reminded of though is that without rules and the law, grace wouldn't be amazing grace. Both are necessary elements, and I want to teach both God's standard of right and wrong that they are to follow as well as unconditional love. I am right there on this journey too! The only other specific thing I feel on my heart that is important to do is to remain sitting at Jesus' feet each day, in the Word, long enough to grasp the concept of His love and grace for me, and to see and experience on a daily basis His perfect parenting of me! On the days that I do that, the perfect blend of grace/rules seems to overflow into the realm of parenting my son! Thanks for sharing, it encourages me today!

Kelly said...

I don't have any suggestions -- although I've written down a few books to read via the other posters.

But I can chime in and say this is a question I'm wrestling with too. I was raised in a good, Baptist church with solid theology and many mature adults -- but what I picked up most from my deeply Christian upbringing is Pharisee 101. As I've become an adult and matured in my own walk with God, I've struggled to shed the Pharisitical skin I inherited. Above all, I want my children to know and live in the fullness of God's grace.

A Place For Ministry Wives said...

You're not alone, jmom. :-)

I agree that it is such a fine line. And it doesn't stop with the "moralisms" issue either.

I want my daughter to have a strong faith in God and His power to answer prayer and I want her to know that He can and often will move mountains...but I also want her to know realistically that she won't get everything she "wants". I've explained to her that God answers prayers with yes, no or I've reinforced with her that He does and will answer. However, even though we can pray and trust God according to how He calls us to do the end...THY will be done.

I want her to "want to live the Christian life"...the wonderful life of saving grace...and to live for Christ because it truly is the best and most freeing way to live...but in my heart, I know at times, even as a Christian it has sometimes not felt all that "freeing". I don't want to paint a picture for her of walking with Jesus being an "easy road" - because it's definitely not that.

I want her to want to make the right choices because they are the best for her life, heart and spirit...not because if she doesn't...there's a "big, bad God in heaven that is going to punish her."

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. This is just the first of hard, godly, parenting challenges you will encounter. If necessary, don't feel like you can't explain both sides of the equation to your a level they can understand...and then just reinforce it at future age appropriate levels as they grow.

Speak to their heart...not to their behaviour.

Have you read, "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Ted Tripp? Here's a link to the book.

It's a "must read". It talks about leading and responding to your children according to heart matters and not behavior matters. I think you'll enjoy it.

Peace to you and those three cuties. :-)

A Place For Ministry Wives said...

P.S. And don't forget the most important thing...remembering that you're not alone and it's not all up to you. :-)

Wendy said...

Love Shepherding a Child's Heart too.

Room for Grace said...

If you don't have "The Jesus Storybook Bible - Every story whispers his name" by Sally Lloyd-Jones, run don't walk to to get it! It is the best children's bible EVER! I have enjoyed it so much myself, and it speaks to exactly what you're talking about. It directly addresses how some people make the bible a book of rules or moral lessons, but shows how it is really a love story, an adventurous love story that is TRUE.
We have also loved Tim Kimmel's Graced Based Parenting.
Thank you for bringing up this topic, I think it's important and something I need to focus on as well.

Perri said...

I'm emailing you something - too long to put in comments, but I think you will find it useful.

Amanda said...

I'm in the same boat--only my daughter is younger than your 3. I want so much to lay a firm firm foundation for her. I'm going to be mulling over the metamessages idea for awhile. And I think the title of your post says it best--it's all about being INTENTIONAL. To rip off another phrase--being purpose driven in your parenting. It's hard! Thanks for opening up the conversation!

Mayhem And Miracles said...

As a mom of children now 10,7, and 5, I agree whole-heartedly with all that "A Place For Minstry Wives" said. Only now as we approach puberty with my oldest am I seeing how important my FAILURES in parenting have been in teaching the grace of Christ. The younger years are so jam-packed with learning on their little minds, they can scarcely make sense of such nuances. They have alphabets and potty training and family names and house rules and school rules and church rules and friends' house rules to learn! That's A LOT! But NOW, I'm messing up even more - and my oldest is far more aware of it when I do. But it's also given me far more opportunity to pray with him "Lord, please forgive me where I fail in parenting..." and my son, when he sees my humility, learns from that example. That is something he can truly emulate and has. Plus, it reminds me that it's also God's grace, much more than my human parenting, that will make sure they turn out O.K. Someone once told me "Good parenting does not ensure good kids. It helps. But God is the absolute PERFECT parent and look at all the wayward kids He has!" God will honor your HEART - your desire to raise those sweet three up for Him!

Heather said...

We enjoyed Sheparding a childs heart by tedd tripp and also Raising great Kids by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. the book talks about raising kids of character and has realy helped us in our parenting!