Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaching Our Children the Gift of Grace: Part I

In my summer book club reading for this week, we are discussing the first of the 5 gifts we can give our children: grace. Honestly, I am a bit stingy when it comes to extending grace. I am more likely to show grace to strangers than to those closest to me, which, I know, is sad. I suppose I have high expectations of those I know and love, and when they fail to live up to them, I tend to be pretty hard when I should be loving, forgiving, and merciful.

So, this first part of a three-part post on teaching our children grace is as much for me as for anyone else. I would love your thoughts, opinions, and insights as I am "growing" in this area of grace.
Giving the gift of grace to our children is actually a two-part process. First, we need to help our children receive grace. We do this both by extending grace to them and by teaching them about God's grace through salvation. After that, by our teaching and example, we must train our children to give grace to others in turn. (28)
-Sally Clarkson

Part 1: Helping Our Children Receive Grace

A. By Extending Grace to Them

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
In order for me to accomplish the first part of the grace-giving process with my children, I must first extend grace to them. That means being intentional in finding ways to show them grace and being empathetic to their needs and struggles.

As a perfectionist with a type-A personality, I really struggle with giving myself grace much less giving it to those around me. So, I have really had to work hard these last few years to calm down, let things slide that normally would incite a breakdown, and be content with myself in my present circumstances. I cannot do everything; and, I cannot do everything perfectly.

Because of my personality, I tend to expect more from our children than I reasonably should. In fact, my husband has had to remind me on numerous occasions that our oldest is only 2 and to give her break. So, it is extremely important that I begin extending grace to my children so that they will not be unduly burdened with adult responsibilities and problems so young and feel pressured to perform to please Mommy.

Some examples of ways I can show grace to my children in my day-to-day life include the following:

(1) Not yelling at my daughter for spilling her water all over the floor and instead encouraging her to be more careful in the future. I have to remember that she is still learning how to drink out of a cup without a lid and that learning takes time.

(2) Remaining calm when the baby squeals for more food instead of screaming back at her. I have to remember that she is hungry and does not yet have the capacity to tell me what she wants.

(3) Not getting visibly upset when my daughter has a potty accident even though it means washing more clothes and cleaning up a big mess. Again, she is learning, and in learning you will make mistakes.

(4) Sitting on the couch and reading to my kids when the house is filthy and dinner needs to be started. It's about giving them attention and meeting their needs on their time and not mine every now and then. By doing this I show my girls that they are loved and special to me.

(5) Loving and forgiving my daughter when she says or does something unkind even though my human side may not want me to.

(6) Saying "I'm sorry" and asking for forgiveness when I make a mistake and hurt my child's feelings.

By being an example of grace and extending grace to my children, I give them a much-needed break and teach them how to show grace to others.

B. By Teaching Them about God's Grace through Salvation

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.

-Ephesians 2:8-9

God's grace is something we do not deserve. We cannot earn it by our good deeds or buy it with any amount of money. It is free, just as our salvation is free. However, we must be willing to humble ourselves and submit our flesh and all its desires to God if we will be saved. God's gift of salvation is a testimony of His perfect love and grace for us.

In order for my children to be saved, I must teach them about God's grace. So, how do you explain a complex concept like grace to young children?

Here are my thoughts...

My daughter is two and a half, young but still cognizant of when she has disobeyed mommy and daddy. She will become visibly upset at times when she knows she has been disobedient and that there are consequences for her actions. When children come to recognize their sinful nature and know and expect to be disciplined for their disobedience, then, I believe, you can extend grace to them. Of course, children still need to be disciplined and learn that there are consequences for their actions, but when we model God's grace to them, we provide the perfect opportunity to teach them about God's saving grace.

An Object Lesson for Teaching Grace

When a teaching opportunity arises, give your child a box or gift bag wrapped up like a present with a small toy or piece of candy inside. Your child may be a little shocked that you are giving him a present when he expects a punishment.

Let the child open the gift.

Then explain:

"You know you disobeyed Mommy and that you deserve to be disciplined. You don't deserve this gift, but Mommy is giving you the gift of grace because I love you and forgive you. Did you know that is exactly what God did for us when He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins? We didn't deserve God's gift, but He loves us so much that He gave it to us anyway."

For a small child, grace is a very difficult concept to grasp, but as he gets older and you continue to find opportunities to extend grace and to relate that grace to God's saving grace, it will eventually click.

Another excellent object lesson on grace for older children can be found here.

How do you teach your children about God's grace? I would love your thoughts and ideas!