Gracie and I–7 years ago
One of the speakers at the homeschool conference had a session titled ‘The Education of a Child–the Wisdom of Fenelon. I was intrigued–so I ordered the book on Amazon before the trip and read it on the way. Francois Fenelon was an archbishop in the Catholic church in France in the late 17th century, along with being a writer and poet. One of his books, called ’The Education of a Daughter’ is fascinating if you can lay aside your feminist sensibilities long enough to get past lines like this, ”…they need not be learned, per se…it is sufficient if they (girls) know how to govern their families and obey their husbands without reason”. I am not easily offended, so I read on, and am certainly glad I did. His overarching message for parents: grace and unconditional love, exercised with humility, reaches a child’s heart, and not just his behavior.
The speaker, Mark Hamby, from Lamplighter publishing, used Fenelon’s points to drive home the idea that parenting is about seeking relationship and not merely behavior from our children. Far too often, I find myself so determined to achieve a certain level of obedience and respect from them, that I’m oblivious to what is really at the heart of their ‘discord’. And admittedly, the desire for prompt obedience is often self-centered. We want our children to make us look good; to prove to the world that we are indeed good parents. We’re so afraid of letting them make mistakes. We parent them more like drill sargents than we do loving mothers and fathers. Have we not been given the unconditional love of our heavenly Father? Do we not defy and disobey and display profound ingratitude to Him daily? And what does He do? He welcomes us with open arms…..the arms of One who poured out His life for us on the cross to ransom us. He forgives and forgets. His mercies are new to us every morning. God gives us grace, pressed down, shaken together, running over and yet we measure out to our children tiny doses of mercy laced with hosts of rules and scoldings and “I told ya so’s”.
Our authority should be exercised with humility. Christ is our supreme example: His humility cost him His very life. We often associate authority with power and might, but as C.S. Lewis once said,
“Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live.”
We must surrender our need to always be right and humble ourselves in service to our children. As foreign as that may sound, that is exactly what our Father has done for us. He could have come in power, seized upon our frailties and weaknesses and demanded right behavior. But instead, He took on human flesh and died that we might have life.
Does this grace and humility mean that we have no rules, no boundaries. On the contrary. Those whom the Lord loves He chastens. It is our primary job to ‘discipline’ our children, but that word means ‘teach’. I think we often jump right to ‘punish’—which should be reserved for extreme cases of direct defiance. Likewise, God has given us rules, that if followed, will lead to happiness and unity. His standards are incredibly high, as should ours be for our children. But the final answer does not lie in following the rules. He has not been content to see our behavior realigned. He went to every length to reach our hearts: His grace and mercy cannot be exhausted.
You might think that I am providing the solution to our parenting conundrum as a simple ‘Show more grace to your children’. I am not.
The solution is always Christ. I will always fail to bestow enough grace. I will always, even in my best attempts, fail to love them unconditionally. The real answer for us all is the forgiveness and mercy of the One perfect parent, whose love has no limits and whose grace knows no bounds.
He alone can restore the years.