Fostering Grace in the Home
Not long into marriage my husband broke one of our kitchen glasses and I flipped a lid over it. Reflecting on the incident, I couldn't help but wonder why I cared so much about that glass - so much that I would railroad Joe and try to shame him for his mistake. That was a turning point for my journey on fostering grace in the home. I'd have to say that the journey has come full-circle as just yesterday, Scooby who is almost five was instructing Wookie (2.5) that he shouldn't hit Scooby back but should show him grace and forgive him. You know something has been taught well when the student goes and teaches it to another.
I realize that much of our view of the Father is shaped by our own parents, so must our understanding of grace be shaped by how we confess and forgive each other in the home. If my kids are ever to understand that God's grace comes through Jesus, they must see God's desire to be reconciled to them, and that is modeled by my and Joe's pursuit of their hearts and striving to have relationship built on love, grace and trust - not fear, shame and manipulation.
Over the past year, Scooby has even changed his response to his own mistakes. It used to be that he would clearly be guilty over something but deny it over and over or cry in anger and be unwilling to say what he had done. Now, if he accidentally breaks something, he comes to me saying how sorry he is and tells me what he did. That transformation took a lot of encouragement that he could tell me things, and I promised I wouldn't be angry and he wouldn't get in trouble for accidents. He will then ask the heart-breaking questions, "Are you angry at me? Do you forgive me? Do you still love me? Am I the right one for you?" Time and time again, I have to affirm that though I am disappointed, I am not angry, I forgive him, I will always love him, and he is most certainly the right one for me. These questions reveal the own concerns in my heart over God's love and acceptance of me.
So how do we foster grace? There are several areas I have to actively work on because they go against my own nature.
Apologize often, ask for forgiveness often. The whole reconciliation bit can be downright messy. Sometimes after a fight with my boys, I am both forgiving them and asking for their forgiveness at the same time. Often, I am apologizing for overreacting and yelling but also instructing them that they need to respond the first time I ask them to do something - not the fifth and not only when I start yelling. I have to apologize for blowing them off, for spending too much time working, for accidentally stepping on their little feet or knocking them over while I'm cooking or cleaning and they are running in circles around the house. It's as important for them to get to extend grace as it is for them to receive it.
Leave room for confession. There is simply no room for the blame game in grace. When we are flying off the wall when our kids misbehave, it is no longer safe for them to approach us. They are already put on the defensive and probably will go into hiding - emotionally or sometimes even physically. There are many times I've found Wookie crying and Scooby will tell me he doesn't know why. Usually it turns out that Scooby has hurt him somehow, intentionally or not, and I can totally tell if he is telling the truth. I try my best to give him multiple chances to confess, and usually he does, and he is then required to apologize and kiss his brother or head to time-out until he's ready to reconcile with Wookie.
Talk about feelings, disappointment and guilt. Kids experience their emotions in a very large way. Understanding that we still love each other in the mist of being bummed about our sin is huge. It's part of being still broken and yet fully adopted by God. It's part of sanctification. We have to help them understand what guilt and conviction are. After one talk with Scooby about a truly rotten attitude on the way to school, while still expressing my love and acceptance of him, Scooby expressed that I had hurt his feelings, I suppose by pointing out how he had treated me hatefully. I had to explain to him that what he was feeling was guilt. I had done nothing wrong or hurtful, and I had in fact shown him love again and again.
Value people over possessions. I'm not sure this needs much more explaining, except to say that if you break a glass, you can buy a new one, but if you crush your kid, it can affect them for a lifetime.
Move forward in love, leave the past behind. I've definitely made the mistake of forgiving and then bringing up the indiscretions later. Scooby will do the same thing. So we have to talk about letting go once we forgive and not telling on each other if we've already dealt with it. Similarly, my tendency when I'm really upset is to keep a surly expression on my face and act indifferent towards the aggressor. It is as if I am trying to make them understand just how badly they messed up or how much they hurt me. I just can't do that with my kids because it hurts them so much. I see it in their eyes and in their body language. Wookie cracked my ipad screen the other day, and he's only 2.5, but he felt the weight of being separated from me even after the "saweee" and "I forgive you", and he just melted in my arms when I asked him if he needed a hug and kiss.
I know without a doubt that I will end up crushing my kids and that try as hard as I might, I will fail them. So my last point is ACCEPT GOD'S GRACE FOR YOURSELF. That's probably the hardest one of all, and it should probably be very first on the list, because without it, all the rest are a desperate attempt coming from your own strength to not damage your kids rather than living out the transforming work of Jesus in your heart.