Wednesday, May 09, 2007

LEGALISM HURT OUR KIDS

This is probably the conclusion to my testimony about legalism in our family. I'm going to talk about how legalism affected ( and is still affecting) our relationship with our children. A large part of how legalism influenced our lives involves how we parented our children in a way that lacked grace, love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, and encouragement.

In our understanding of what 'good' or Biblical parenting, discipline was central. We were taught that proper Biblical discipline involves discipline every time a child does not obey promptly and joyfully. To not discipline (spank) every time immediately was considered sin. ( Let me say that the method of spanking was very specific and not wrong in and of itself. It emphasized discipline is out of love and never anger.) This understanding of how to discipline our children became law to us. We felt guilty any time we didn't strictly adhere to the teaching, even if we felt led by God to deal with our children in a way other than the prescribed method. I also want to say that certain people were helpful to us by challenging these ideas (even pastors) but in a sense it seemed they were undermining the main principles being taught on a large scale. A little confusing...

Our children developed a strong sense that we were never happy with them. And often we weren't happy with them. After all, they weren't upholding the law we laid out for them which made our job of upholding the law far more difficult. When they failed, we failed more. This was another heavy weight added to our legalistic load. We wanted our little children to bear the heavy yoke with us but they weren't strong enough. Our oldest, our daughter, suffered the most, both because she understood more and is more sensitive.

We were focused on our children's sin. This is only natural when you are focused on your own sin all the time. Our home was not a sanctuary where God's kingdom presence was manifest, but a place where the sin of law and death emanated it sickening odors. We were all suffocating for lack of God's grace. We were trying to dominate and control our children instead of showing them the liberating freedom that Christ has for them. If we continued down this path I can see only two possible outcomes for our children (apart from God's divine intervention): depressed crushed spirits or outright rebellion against God. I believe legalism is the most common cause of children growing up and falling away from the church completely. I can't say I blame them and my heart breaks to see them encounter the Living God who brings true freedom, not another yoke of slavery.

Under law, we have nothing to offer our children with true power to help them change. Our loudest message to them becomes "try harder!!!" and we all get more and more frustrated as they fail again and again. The 'gospel' is just a band aid that covers a perpetual wound. It offers forgiveness and nothing more. It leaves us suffering and sinning, the same old people we were before except now we are even more miserable because we want to be different. It leaves us in the end of Romans 7 and forgets Romans 8 altogether, leaving us crying " who will set me free from this body of death?" but never hearing the answer to our cry.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Eva (6) to clean up and she started complaining and whining. I lost my temper and she went running up the stairs crying and angry at me. I followed her and began a self-righteous lecture but strangely she didn't want anything to do with me. I had noticed a cold hard-hearted attitude from her for quite a while, she had been rejecting any attempts to hug her etc... Within 5 minutes I began to humble myself as the Holy Spirit entered into the situation to help us. She kept saying she just wanted to be left alone but I persisted in asking questions. Almost before I knew what I was saying I said "do you feel like we have a lot of rules and we're always angry at you for breaking the rules?" and the flood gates opened. She started sobbing saying "yes" and was immediately in my arms. It was a clarifying moment for us both. By this time my son Ben (5) was peeking his head in the door and I told him to come in. I began to talk about God who is never angry with his children. I was preaching to myself most of all and as I spoke the simple truths about God's love and the true gospel we all received revelation. Jesus followed every single rule perfectly and set us FREE from the law. Now we have the Holy Spirit who is our friend and helps us. Our Father is happy with us all the time, he loves us and is patient with us. He doesn't see us as failures but as his precious children. I confessed my sinful anger to them and explained that my poor understanding of God's grace had kept me bound up in sinful anger but now that God was showing me his love I was being changed by the Holy Spirit. I asked for their prayer and their patience, explaining that I knew God would change me and I wouldn't always be an angry mom. They graciously forgave me and showed that they had real faith to believe God would come through for us all.

As we journey more and more into God's amazing grace, we are becoming a more joyful family. The process is somewhat slow, but encouraging. We didn't name our youngest son for about a week, we couldn't agree on anything. He finally ended up with the name Isaac, and it seems now almost prophetic of what God was doing in our family from the time he was born. In Scripture Isaac is the son of the free woman and heir to Abraham's promise, and the name means laughter. Our Isaac is a free spirited wild child and a reminder to us that we are called by God to experience the glorious joy of his FREEDOM through his only Son's death and resurrection on our behalf.

12 comments:

lydia joy said...

I can't believe no one commented on this.....
I have to say I experienced so many similar anxieties
..and my kids did too...the thing is if you didn't do this method of parenting perfectly, it didn't work, and who could keep it up??
I experienced the confusing advice as well....double talk....
anyway, your testimony of awakening to grace and sharing it all with your kids is such a blessing to hear...I am sure over time you will see much fruit....can't wait myself for our kids to see God as a loving and Awesome God.....we too are on a slow journey towards being more joyful...and being together as a family is wonderful....I hope to post soon about our experience with legalistic parenting....

onelittlemustardseed said...

Wow, thank you for having the courage to write this! You are so brave because so many christians believe that rules and discipline such as spankings or strict boundaries is biblical.

I personally do not believe in spanking...I always tried to imagine Jesus spanking my child and I could not do it. This was before ever reading the Bible or attending church...but I did believe.

So many Christians turned me off because of their rules and spanking. I also homeschool so I tend to meet a lot of legalistic Christians...

Parenting is hard work and filled with fears and anxiety...but, I can honestly say, I have no regrets on not spanking or being overly rigid. I am a strict mother, but I get to be that way mainly through communicating with my kids and with consequences that are usually appropriate. Because we discuss things, they better understand why I say no when I say no...though, it isn't always perfect!

However, I have blown it many times over the years...and like you, I have humbled myself and apologized, explained my error, hugged, cried and moved on...kids have an amazing capacity to forgive us our mistakes...it takes time, but kids are worth it!

DebraBaker said...

I am so glad to read other Christian parents' journies from fear-based legalism into grace.

If we adults, forgiven sinners that we are, can bask in the warmth of His grace, how much more do innocent children belong to grace?

And not worrying about your child being the spawn of satan? Priceless! Relying on the strength of the Cross? Priceless.

Now, I have adult children. Yes, I've made mistakes, I have had to go to my older children to ask forgiveness, but it's really wonderful having adult children as friends. I'm having breakfast with my firstborn this morning. She's a beautiful person on the inside and outside, too. Adult children as friends, Priceless!

Anonymous said...

Julie - I am a fairly recent former 'sovereign gracer' and your post on how legalism has hurt your kids has come back to my mind many times since the first time I read it several months ago. I am struggling with the exact stuff you communicated in this post. Is there really freedom from legalism after being steeped in it for many years? I long to love my children differently! The affects of the deep-rooted legalism are beginning to show themselves and the fear is creaping in. I have read some books about true grace and what it means - so different than anything I ever heard or witnessed at our SGC. But the legalism seems to be running through my veins!

I tried to connect via email with you but the link didn't work (or I'm not doing it right), and I know this is not a 'Dear Julie' column! Are you truly different with your children now? How has this changed them? Any direction - any hope - would be appreciated.

Misled

jul said...

Misled, I left a really long comment for you but it didn't get posted for some reason! So I'm going to leave you my e-mail address and you can feel very free to e-mail me...

julnbde at hotmail dot com

Look forward to hearing from you.

Free Spirit said...

Good words, Julie.
I too am a recovering Law-focused mommy. I Do see a direct correlation between my receiving His grace and my ability to express that in my daily actions with my kids.

Aaron said...

Truly thankful for your courage to share ... I pray more will receive His Grace ... as Jesus said "he who is forgiven much love much" the more we receive His Grace the more we have the His Grace towards our children.

We can only love in proportion to the Love we received from Him - we love because He First Love us.

Was touch and bless by your sharing - having gone through similar experience.

Aaron Ong

Tashie said...

onelittlemustardseed - I can't come at spanking either and I think it is Old Testament. I thought I was the only Christian who thought this way! this is not to judge other parents - just speaking for myself.
I'm not saying no parent should ever give their kids a smack, and I'm no expert - but I do think it's generally a cheat's way out. It gets quick results and to use another alternative takes more effort, creativity and time. But I think maybe it might be more worth it in the long run.

Danny Silk explains things well in "Loving our kids on purpose". How the important thing as a Christian is our relationship with God, and how it's the same with our kids - the most important thing is our relationship with them, not how well they obey us. Often "obedience" is seen as the goal.
There's a lot of pride tied up in this - we want the world to see that we have good kids, not ratbags like so-and-so's down the street. We want people to think our family is in order. I also suffer from this problem of pride. And let's face it - society is judgemental - if your kids misbehave you get a few fingers pointing at you! so a lot of parenting is out of FEAR, and perfect love casts it out.

Locky said...

Well done for posting this. I totally agree with you. More and more Christians need to become vocal about this. It always comes back to our view of God and comparing what we hear from well meaning teachers to the person of Jesus. If it doesn't remind us of him, it probably isn't right. I've made so many mistakes. I really wish I had never been pressured to spank my children; I feel it made me into an angry mum. Very important to work through our own childhood hurts in order to receive a revelation of God as Dad. Only then will we experience being a dearly beloved child. Only then will we be able to pass on father's love to our kids.

radicalgraceiskey said...

Wow. As I was reading your post, tears welled up in my eyes. I too, was raised in a strict christian home with so much focus on keeping God's laws. Yes, I learned the bible, but not through the eyes of Grace or as a love letter to me. Thank you for having the courage to be honest. Bravo for sharing the Grace Revelation that is sweeping America. It's about time.
Blessings!

DENNIS said...

i beat my kids with a tree trunk and then explain we're an old covenant family.if they still misbehave i staple them to the wall

DENNIS said...

i beat my kids with a tree trunk and then explain we're an old covenant family.if they still misbehave i staple them to the wall