I recently received an email that said, in part:
I am writing in hope you can help me understand how you reconcile the fact that we are born sinners in need of a Savior with gentle parenting. I find it hard to understand how children who are sinners can be “trusted to make the right decision”. I know as a sinner myself I can often not be trusted to make the right decision. I also find biblical examples where sin has consequences. The entire Gospel message is based on the truth that sin needs to be punished. Can you help me understand how you and your husband reconcile those things? Thank you so much for your time.
It’s actually a question I’ve gotten fairly frequently, in various forms. I’ve never fully answered it, but it wasn’t until this email that I realized why. I can’t answer it. And I don’t mean to be contrary or disrespectful when I say that. It’s just that I am viewing this, and living it, from an entirely different paradigm. I believe in gentle parenting largely BECAUSE of my faith, not in spite of it. So for me, there is nothing to reconcile.
First, this sentence: “I find it hard to understand how children who are sinners can be “trusted to make the right decision”” is built on the (common) misconception that someone who does not punish does not discipline, and that someone who believes in gentle parenting must just leave kids to their own devices, hoping and trusting that they’ll do the right thing. But it doesn’t work that way. Truly leaving your kids to make all their decisions on their own with no parental guidance is permissive parenting…. which is very much the opposite of what I write about. Gentle parenting is based on relationship. It’s based on communication and connection and gentle guidance and partnership. Do my kids make bad choices sometimes? Sure! We all do. That’s why we have parents, and other loved ones, and God, and a conscience, and a moral compass… to guide us, to help keep us accountable as we navigate the world, and yes, to offer us grace and forgiveness when we screw up.
Second, “The entire Gospel message is based on the truth that sin needs to be punished” is just not something that I subscribe to or believe. I believe that the entire Gospel message is based on love, and grace, and forgiveness. It’s about “God so loving the world that he sent his only begotten son….” It’s about the fact that it’s because of “grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.…” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I have been given FAR more grace and forgiveness than I deserve. I screw up daily. I screw up hourly. There’s a better than average chance that I’ll make a poor decision before I finish writing this blog post.
But here’s the thing: God hasn’t given up on me. I am cherished exactly as I am. I am loved. Unconditionally. I am forgiven. Again and again. God believes in me and trusts me, and knows that because of those things I want to do better. I want to be the person He created me to be.
That’s the kind of parent I want to be for my own kids. If I can offer even a fraction of the love and grace that God extends to me, it’ll be a step in the right direction. My guide (in all things, but particularly as a parent) is Jesus. Jesus was, of course, never a parent, but you know how he treated kids? With kindness. With gentleness. And with more patience than I could ever hope to muster.
And finally, as to sin having consequences: Yes, bad decisions have consequences. I’ve made enough of them myself to know this much is true. But life deals out those consequences all by itself. And God? God gives second chances.
I figure that’s the least I can offer my own kids.