New Identity Parenting

When we have been captured by the message of our supernatural identity in Christ, it will have a dramatic effect on our parenting.  What we bring to the parenting equation in our natural man is a volatile mixture of sin (a self focus), nurture (possible negative influences in how we were raised), and nature (our personalities, natural bent, etc).  These influences generally steer us toward extremes of legalism or license in our parenting.  Extremes of discipline or permissiveness.  When the gospel of Jesus Christ comes into our lives, rather than adding something good to our volatile combination, Christ redeems the mixture and creates something brand new.

What this something new looks like in your family is called grace.  It is grace based living.  It is grace based parenting.  Parenting with grace is not another to-do list.  It is a mindset.  A renewed mindset.  It is a thought process where we approach parenting with a godly, thought-through plan.  By thinking ahead as a couple, we are prepared for challenges and respond with grace rather than our knee-jerk natural reaction.  Parenting with grace is unnatural (it’s supernatural, really) so it must be deliberate.  It is out of step with our culture so we must be prepared to go against the flow.  It is following Christ as a couple and having the natural consequences of that discipleship spill over into our parenting.  It is bringing our children along in the adventure of faith.

Being There

You have probably heard it said, “You can accomplish a lot in life by just showing up.”  Now this isn’t an excuse for mediocrity once you arrive, but it does contain an element of truth.  Especially when it comes to parenting.

The number one rule for creating the home that you have always wanted is “being there.”  It starts right here and is just that simple.  When that first bundle of joy arrived, you couldn’t think of ever not being there.  But life changes.  A temporary busy stretch at work becomes semi-permanent.  Your child’s strong will, a natural bent he was born with, feels like a reflection of your parenting quality and you lose confidence.  Selfish ambition begins to compete with your at home responsibilities.  Soon your lofty parenting goals are being swallowed up by fatigue and time pressure.  What are Mom and Dad to do?

Checking out, which unfortunately is not that uncommon of a reaction, is not an option.  Did you hear me?  Not an option.  So if we are going to see this parenting task through to completion, where do we begin?  First, if the downward path described above is your current experience, start by sticking your foot out and slow down the merry-go-round.  Remember that rotating playground apparatus we pushed each other around on as kids; hoping to go fast enough that our compatriots lost their grip while we held on for dear life?  If you picture your life spinning out of control, as ours has been from time to time, then you can see the need to put your foot in the dirt and slow it down just like we did on the playground.

Don’t know if you have what it takes to slow it down?  I know you do.  Because you are a parent.  You are in charge.  You are driving the bus and I am confident that you have what it takes to throw it into a lower gear if you are serious about the task at hand.  Always beware of allowing what started as a temporary time of busyness or stress to become a permanent situation.

If you have somehow let the “being there” in your kid’s lives get away from you, it is never too late to get it back.  Commit as a couple to a child focus in your home while the children are young.  Other things may have to just wait for another stage of life.  I did not say “child-centered.”  There is an important difference.  But “child-focused” is altogether appropriate while your kids are still at home.  My friend, Greg Despres, likes to remind parents, “Children of all ages spell love:  T-I-M-E.”  I wholeheartedly agree.  Being there.  It’s step one.  You can’t parent from the bottom of the stairs.

The Happy Dinosaur

Several years ago, while attending the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Annual Meeting, I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend I had worked with in Alaska.  We hadn’t made a connection in quite some time, but Dean is the kind of friend you can easily pick up the conversation with no matter how long it’s been between visits.  This salt-of-the-earth fellow shocked me when he announced that he was divorced and remarried since we talked last.  As we compared notes about other co-workers from our Alaska days, Dean observed, “I think you are the only one who is still married to his first wife.  How does it feel to be a dinosaur?”  I wasn’t sure what to say.  I didn’t want to make light of his situation and the pain involved, but all I could say was the first honest thought that came to my mind, “It feels good.”

Yes, it feels good.  It feels good to keep your promise.  Again, not to ignore or minimize the circumstances and pain of divorce, but it feels good to be a dinosaur, if that is what keeping your promise is called.  I am also probably the happiest dinosaur you know.  But the happy part is a long story for another time.

A promise is a powerful thing.  I hate to break a promise.  I have and it hurts.  Why is breaking a promise so painful?  As Michael Card observes in his book Immanuel:  Reflections on the Life of Christ, when you make a promise you give away a part of yourself.  Something as simple as “I’ll be there at 3 o’clock to pick you up” gives a part of yourself to another person.  And something as serious as “I promise to love you for the rest of our lives” gives yourself completely to another person.  That is why divorce is so painful.  In marriage, you are giving yourself to another person.  In divorce, you have lost something you will never get back.  You have lost a part of yourself.  God’s intention in marriage is to give yourselves away to each other and to never get it back.  May I encourage you?  Keep your promise.

Destroying Walls

The sequence in the following paragraph is meant to be read slowly.  Think about each step and ask yourself, “Has this been my experience?  Have I contributed to taking our marriage in this direction?”

Poor communication in marriage leads to a downward spiral of misunderstanding (hurts or offenses left unsettled), which lead to assumptions (private thoughts that are repeated in our minds), which leads to walls (practice in keeping each other at a distance in those tough subjects), which leads to quietness (no longer a desire to find joy in each other’s company), which leads to emotional separation (“I don’t really need you after all”).

How do we break this chain?  By going through the hard conversations that improve our understanding of each other.  Only then will we arrive at the beautiful place of oneness that we desire in our marriage.  Demanding my point of view builds walls.  Looking out for the benefit of my wife melts conflict.  We don’t always have to win.

Are you a wall builder or wall destroyer in your marriage?  A wall builder starts with a foundation of selfishness and adds bricks of complaining, nagging, lack of communication, a 2% focus, exhaustion, lack of physical touch, outside interests, boredom, and laziness.  When the wall has been built, where will we go for love, romance, respect, sex, etc.?  We will not look for it in each other and who can blame us?  Wall destroyers, on the other hand, use the weapons of humility, respect, forgiveness, open communication, listening, service, physical love, affection, and romance to tear down Satan’s strongholds, destroy the walls that separate us, and energize our marriage.  Are you a wall builder or a wall destroyer?

“That’s Not What I Heard”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.”  I mentioned last post that my number one goal in communication as a couple is understanding my wife, not proving my point.  Assumptions and having a predisposed opinion of what our spouse is thinking or going to say is a destroyer of good communication.  Sometimes we need to dig for the speaker’s intended meaning.

Let me tap into an illustration from our short story, The Artist and the Minstrel (also available in Amazon’s Kindle store for your smart phone or reading device), to highlight the need to understand as the speaker intended.

“It’s Friday evening.  Rhonda and I agree that we should spend our Saturday working on the landscaping.  The flower beds need to be weeded, raked out, and have a general good clean up.  Saturday morning arrives.  The artist sees the finished project in her mind and knows the diligence it will take to get there, so she is early out in the garage gathering the tools.  The minstrel decides to sleep a little later.  After all, he has been going against his nature all week rising early for the drive to work and enjoys the little extra sleep.  When he does get up, the minstrel decides to make pancakes for breakfast, something he thinks everyone will enjoy on a Saturday morning.  He can’t understand the artist’s frustration when he tries to deliver her some pancakes in the back yard.  He thought he was doing her a favor.”

“Before going out to join his wife, the minstrel gets a call that one of the kids who was at an overnighter needs to be picked up.  He runs the errand and on the way home remembers he was going to get a haircut today.  So he drops junior off and goes back to the barber shop.  After looking for some lunch, playing a game with one of the kids, and checking the college football scores, the minstrel emerges from the house ready to join the artist in her work.  For some reason the artist blows up and the afternoon’s work is done in silence.  Why is the artist never happy?”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.  When Rhonda suggested we work in the yard tomorrow, she was saying, ‘Let’s focus on the landscaping tomorrow.  That means we rise early, work diligently, and make it the number one goal above all others until the job is complete.’  What I heard her say was, ‘Tomorrow, when we have some free time, when we are not doing anything else, let’s go outside and work on the landscaping.’  The listener did not understand the words of the speaker as they were intended to be understood.”

Now granted, the listener may have been motivated by stubbornness or laziness and just didn’t want to hear, or allowed his personality bent to interfere with hearing, but that discussion is for another time.  As you seek to improve your marriage communication, remember this, “Good communication only happens when the listener understands the speaker in the way the speaker intended to be understood.”  Communicate for understanding.  Ask clarifying questions for understanding, not to prove your knowledge.  Then your conversation will contribute to your oneness instead of being a wedge that drives you apart.