by Jeff Van Vonderan
Part of our family Bible reading during the past week found us in the book of Jonah. It is such a familiar story that, like other famous Bible stories, we sometimes tend to not pay attention to the important messages that the Lord wants us to hear and put into practice.
This time as we read, I was struck by the humanity of Jonah and felt myself nearly blushing. In many ways, this man is every man and woman. Running away from God, as far and as fast as he could imagine, God intervenes and saves him in the midst of his disobedience and rebellion. Yet, in spite of God’s demonstration of His amazing mercy and grace toward Jonah, when God chooses to show that same mercy and grace toward the repentant citizens of Ninevah, Jonah is angry at God for not pouring out his wrath and judgment. Jonah had received mercy but he wanted justice for others.
As I read Jeff VanVonderen’s wonderful book, Families Where Grace is in Place, I repeatedly had the sense of my own inner Jonah. How many times have I rejoiced and rested in God’s mercy toward me as a sinner, only to not be happy at his mercy toward others? How often have I wanted, no, demanded, mercy and grace from family members toward me but have not been willing to extend that same grace to them? And, like Jonah, how often have I questioned the work God is doing in the lives of others, including my own family, and have sought to control and manipulate rather than to rest in His sovereign works of grace?
What first stood out to me as I read VanVonderan’s book is that it does not assume that relationships between parents and children or husbands and wives has to be adversarial. In fact, he establishes the norm…families who extend grace rather than shame toward one another. Here is what he has to say about the difference between families who are grace-based and those who are curse-based:
“The goal of curse-full parents is to control the behavior of their children. You will remember that the main dynamic of the Curse is the desire to control, which occurs when one person places him/herself over another. These parents view themselves as being responsible for their children’s choices, but not always responsible for their own. In a controlling environment, the end justifies the meas. Therefore, it’s all right if the parent rages, manipulates, or otherwise acts inappropriately in order to get the desired resulting behavior. They can hit their children to get them to stop hitting each other. The can yell at their children to get them to be quiet. They can call names so that the children will stop name calling. And curse-full parents are tired!
When we as parents are over-responsible for the behavior of our children and under responsible for our own behavior as parents, we dis-empower children. We prevent them from becoming capable, we enable them to not be responsible for their behavior, and we provoke them to seething hostility. This kind of parenting causes the little ones to stumble because it creates an environment in which the children learn to perform in order to be loved and accepted. Love and acceptance is a gift because of Jesus; it cannot be earned.
The goal of the grace-full parent is to create an environment in which children are empowered. Jesus told the disciples, You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. (Acts 1:8) The greatest source of power to help people face life’s issues is to allow themselves to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Hence, grace-full parents are constantly looking for opportunities to draw life and fulfillment from Jesus alone. On a flesh and blood level, there are other words that communicate the concept of empowering: serving, equipping, building, preparing, unleashing, training, providing opportunities…all of these are elements of the kind of parenting that empowers children.”
Families Where Grace is in Place is one of those books I find myself turning to again and again for inspiration and clarification. Inward Jonah that I am, I need it! And if you are interested in hearing more thoughts from Jeff VanVonderan on grace-based family life, I would encourage you to listen to this podcast that addresses the importance of rejecting legalistic and manipulative methods of family life.