Like most parents, I presume, we employ positive reinforcements to encourage our kids to meet goals. For instance, if one of our children stayed in his room through the night for three days straight, I would take him to Chic-FilA. We eventually changed it to two. For another child, I will offer the opportunity to watch a football game with me based upon a good attitude that day. They are 6 and 4. We really want them to understand that trusting Mom and Dad, or not trusting Mom or Dad, comes with consequences and blessings.
But if all we ever do is reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, then we run the risk of teaching simple moralism or karma. You be good and then good things happen. You be good and we’ll love you more. You be good and you’ll be rewarded and if not, you’ll be punished.
Joel Osteen’s tweet of the day:
“If you will make somebody else’s day, God will always make your day.
Jared Wilson’s response: You misspelled “karma”
That’s simple moralistic obedience. That is not applying the gospel. Without throwing out consequences, here are a few ways in which we’ve tried to bring the gospel to our feeble and fallible parenting.
The other day our youngest son’s behavior was pretty, well, we’ll just say “sub-par,” and the reward for whatever goal we had him working for was Chic-Fil A time with just Daddy. Obviously he didn’t follow through. But we went anyway! I made sure that he knew that I loved him, and that this was not a special reward trip, but simply because I loved him and wanted to spend time with him. So just to make sure he knew why he was getting this special trip, I said, “Do you know why you are getting this special trip?” His answer blessed my soul: “Just because you love me.” Experiencing grace from me will ideally point him toward understanding how gracious God really is.
Even 4 year old’s can get an age appropriate glimpse of grace. Our normal mode of thinking is that if we are good, then we can get a special trip with our Heavenly Father. Face it, that’s our default mode. And the problem with that, well, is everything. I’ve noticed that through special grace-based time with dad that his behavior seems to improve. And that shouldn’t surprise us, since this is the way God wired us and the only way in which our behavior really changes. And when we receive grace even when our behavior doesn’t change very much, simply recognizing that, makes kids (and adults) love their fathers and Heavenly Father even more.
Another instance happened when my 6 year old had something in his hand that my 4 year old really wanted. And my 4 yr old wasn’t exactly endearing himself to my 6yr old either. So I said, “Can you just give it to him so we can end this?” His response was vintage gospel: “Well, I’ll just show him grace and give it to him.”
My 6 yr old clearly thought this out. He knew his brother didn’t have a right to claim the object and his brother’s behavior wasn’t bolstering his case. There was no way he should or must give it to him. Yet he knew that he could give simply out of grace.
Where did he learn that? From his earthly father/mother and his spiritual father/mothers in church pointing him to His Heavenly Father who lavishly pours out grace to selfish people. Those who experience that grace, eventually extend that grace to others.
So we’ve learned, slowly and by mistakes aplenty, that we can’t simply reward, punish, and deal only in consequences. Parents have the opportunity to grace to their kids which images the grace of a much cherished Heavenly Father. Who knows what will become of such grace, and when? This kind of approach-showing grace, not just consequences-“works” for kids, and adults of all ages too, by the way.