Monday, November 7, 2011

Innocence, grace, and real life

A couple nights ago I finished my book, "Grace Based Parenting". The last chapter really wrapped up the foundational philosophy in the book. In fact, I wish he had put it, or a similar chapter, in the beginning.

What really stood out to me in the last chapter was the comment that (paraphrased) grace based parents know their kids are sinners. Consequently, they are not shocked or even 'bothered' when their kids show a tendency toward sin. Instead, they have an attitude of coming along side their kids to help them learn to lean on Jesus to overcome their natural sinful inclinations.

To me, this makes a lot of sense. Most, if not all, Christian parents will pay lip service to the fact that their children are born little sinners. We all agree that a one-year old can pretty willfully decide to do exactly the opposite of what she knows she's supposed to and then get angry when not allowed! (Side note, my sweet and happy little kiddo expresses her frustration in such circumstances by yelling and then biting the nearest thing. Couch, floor, chair, me...where on earth did she learn that?) However, many of these parents are still shocked when their children show desires or tendencies toward more 'shocking' sins. How many try to keep them away from sin to keep them 'pure' while knowing that they are not born 'pure'?

Kimmel says that grace based parents do not believe that kids need to be protected from sin that is on the outside as much as they need to learn to conquer the sin that is already on the inside. Then they can handle pretty much anything they come across in life. If they are born sinners, the sin is there already. This means that these parents have less concern about creating a 'safe' environment and more concern about maintaining an open, honest, helpful, and supportive relationship with their kids. This would mean that these kids are not afraid their parents will be shocked that they are curious to know something about say, sex, or that they go through a moment or day when they wonder if they're homosexual (Kimmel's example is of a teen boy who is worried because none of the girls at school seem interested in him).

Now, this sounds pretty shocking, I know. After all, what normal, healthy kid would think all this stuff if he were surrounded by a safe environment? Well, in my experience and observation, a surprising number of them! Don't tell them, but I learned a lot that my parents never knew about because I was curious and discovered that one can learn a lot from a World Book Encyclopedia and random marriage books on the living room bookshelf! (There was a time that I would never admit this to anyone much less post it on the internet. However, I happen to know of a few other people my age who admit to reading their parents' marriage books or 'learning' from the encyclopedia so I decided I'm not as weird as I thought I was.) Of course, this was before the days of internet-at your-fingertips, so how much more does this apply today!

Now, are we saying that parents should let their 10 year old hang out with drug addicts and watch R rated movies? Of course not.However, I think it is more a matter of attitude than it is of specific rules. In my opinion, parents need to protect their kids from things they are not mature enough to understand, and, of course, to keep them from being more influenced by the thinking of 'unredeemed' minds than by the Bible. They need to give them a steady diet of 'whatsoever things are pure, good, and lovely', but they need to make sure they don't believe that this will save their child's soul, redeem them from their sinful nature, or give them a relationship with Jesus by default.

Kimmel says that if a child grows up with parents who carefully train him in morality and self-discipline, BUT who also raise him with an undercurrent of understanding that rules and laws are not going to keep him from sin will have the freedom to make mistakes and to grapple with his most embarrassing and 'shocking' sinful tendencies out in the open and with his parents' help rather than alone and wondering either why his parents are so blind or what is wrong with him for being a sinner.

Now, here's the rub. I have know many a child raised in a 'safe' environment who really exudes a sense of innocence. Safe environments can and do protect a child from a lot of unnecessary exposure and I am not willing to say that this is such a bad thing.

In my reflections on Kimmels book, I am grappling most with this balance between keeping a child away from unnecessary sin and temptation (i.e. 'keeping them innocent') and yet having a grace-based, open relationship that not only helps them develop an authentic and victorious relationship with Jesus but that also teaches them to be compassionate and humble toward the lost, confused, and hurting in practice and not just in theory.

Perhaps the answer lies in the age of the children and their personalities. Perhaps as a child grows, there is a way of keeping them 'innocent' while still helping them know that there are awful sins hidden in the heart of man, including their own, but that God redeems and helps to conquer them. I think that maybe the secret for the parent lies in a genuine and growing relationship with God, a grace filled approach to his children, and the work of really knowing, studying, and accepting those children for who they are.

However, I am still reflecting...

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