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.