My wife and I love to watch old black and white westerns that we have collected over the years on DVD. We have The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, Wells Fargo (the tv show, not the bank), and many others.
One of the things that stands out to me in these western series done in the late 50s’ and early 60s’ was how often in one of the episodes we see the stern, overbearing religiosity of a father towards his son, or his children, or wife. You see this deep-voiced, stern looking man quoting Bible verses as he severely chastises his son, or in a self-righteous, scary tone of voice humiliate and shame the child in the name of doing God’s work.
I found this fascinating and illuminating to the times these writers grew up in and how Christianity must have been portrayed to them as a child, or by some of the fiery-eyed, traveling tent preachers of those days in the 30s’, 40s’, 50s’, and 60s’. It is true, in fact, that many a preacher in those bygone days was a fire and brimstone man, spewing Biblical invectives to scare his listeners from the grasp of the devil into the kingdom of God.
I am reminded of the verse that says, “the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Maybe you have seen the famous painting of Moses coming down from the mountain and seeing the wickedness of the people, he smashes the stone tablets to the ground! I have known many a father who adopted this parenting style. Always trying to strike the fear of God into his little children. Pontificating Bible verses through the stern, fiery gaze fixed upon their little faces!
The kind of home environment and family culture your children grow up in, they will never forget. It leaves a deep, lasting impression on their little hearts, minds, psyche, and memory. It helps to shape them in who they become and significantly impacts the faith they eventually embrace or reject and the God they come to understand.
I was determined to create a culture of grace in our home. I wanted to make sure that my children saw the grace of Jesus Christ in the way Kathy and I parented them, treated them, interacted with them, and lived with them.
The Grace of God and the Gospel of Grace has been the most transformative truth in my life personally. I have been unalterably changed and deeply imprinted with the rich, lavish, undeserved mercy, generosity, and gifts of God given to us, by the grace of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. Grace is, in fact, the most important truth in the New Testament. Our gospel is the Gospel of God’s Grace.
Grace is the opposite of the law in so many ways. The law had all these requirements we had to fill in order to gain God’s favor. Grace is God’s unmerited generosity given to us, as a gift, and not something we ever earn.
I know what some of you may be thinking. “Mark, how in the world do I correct my children, give them basic rules to abide by, train and discipline them, as all children need, and still show them grace?”
Ahh, this is why we need great wisdom and a clear understanding of God’s grace in our own lives. Only then can we demonstrate that grace to our children. For me, these were not mutually exclusive truths. On the one hand grace, on the other hand, rules, training, and correction of my children.
I sought to create a warm, grace-filled, generous, loving culture in the home that was the incubator and the womb, so to speak, in which they also received loving correction, training, discipline, and important guidelines for living.
Let me list some of the ways I created a grace environment in our home.
1. Sometime we would eat dessert before dinner!
2. Little kids often want something to eat before they go to bed. Our kids tended to love cereal. I simply let them have as much cereal as they wanted before bed. I didn’t make a stern, rigid rule about it.
3. We didn’t have the “eat all the food on your plate” rule in our house, “or you can’t have dessert”. I always thought that was silly. I was not going to always eat everything on my plate and I was not going to insist that my kids eat everything on theirs either.
4. I said YES, as much as possible. One of my daughters asked Kathy if she could begin to shave her legs when she was 11. Kathy asked me, “Mark, what do you think?” I said, “YES, sure she can”. One of my daughters loved makeup and hair. She wanted to wear some makeup at a young age, I said YES! One of my sons loved comic books, he wanted to start collecting X-Men comic books at a young age with some of the money he earned. I said YES! One of my sons loved to climb. He really wanted to climb the chimney in our backyard on the outside of the house when he was very, very young. I said, “YES, as long as I am there to spot you.”
Most kids grow up hearing far more no’s than they ever hear YES! I wanted to say YES as much as I possibly could.
My kids all saw the original movie “The Karate Kid”. They all wanted to take karate. I was a Pastor and they went to my church. What would people think if my kids were in karate with all that eastern religion stuff??! I SAID YES and they and Kathy found a karate school that did not teach with the eastern religion stuff but instead taught karate with an emphasis on characteristics like discipline, humility, respect, hard work, perseverance, etc.
5. Generosity, generosity, generosity. It is the very essence of Grace. I loved being generous with my kids, my wife, and still do so to this day. The generous man will prosper. I believe it, I have experienced it. I was not, and still, am not a wealthy man. However, I found ways to be generous to my kids and my wife.
When it came time to teach the kids to ride bikes, I bought each of them a brand new, cool bike for there very own. I was so excited to bring them home each time to the kids. Their eyes lit up and they were in heaven.
I did not even own a second car to drive until 17 years into our marriage and then I bought myself a used 1983 yellow, Honda Civic 5 speed hatchback for $650 bucks! But I bought the kids new Specialized bikes!
I surprised them just for fun with a Nintendo set and Mario brothers game when they were all really little. If I took them to the grocery store with me shopping for mom, I always got them a special treat for helping me. Usually a donut or skittles.
When my young sons both wanted to draw, I bought professional sketch pads and really cool drawing pencils at the art store. They used them for hours and hours. When my daughter wanted to learn to play the piano, when she was very sick, I went and bought a very cool electric piano and stand at Guitar Center. When my two daughters got to their early teens, they each asked for a pair of Dr. Martin boots. I got them each a pair. No, I never bought them a $150 dollar pair of True Religion jeans!
I couldn’t wait to surprise each of them, at the right age, with their first leather jacket and I did! I love weathered leather jackets! I couldn’t wait to get them their own faded denim jacket and I did! Never, ever underestimate the power of generosity and its impact on your precious family.
Again, I was not wealthy, but I found ways to surprise them and made generosity a vital part of our families culture. When my son wanted the Harry Potter book series and other Christians were talking about how evil Harry Potter was, we bought the series anyway and he read them all!!
6. The way we speak to each other is one of the greatest ways you will create a grace-filled environment in your home. My wife Kathy is the kindest, sweetest person I have ever known. The teaching of kindness was on her tongue. I was deeply touched by the way my wife spoke to our children and the kindness you could hear and feel in her voice as she taught them.
The way we speak to each other in our day to day family life, the tone, the words we use, the smile on our face when we speak, is a powerful tool for creating an environment of grace in your home. I must also say that it was for me one of the hardest things I ever worked to grow in, especially towards my dear wife. Oh, my dear friends, how I have prayed over my mouth, my emotions and my words. Even now as I write this to you, I am so humbled by the mistakes I have made, especially in my relationship with Kathy. Yet also deeply moved as God showed me tremendous grace and He helped me through the years to tame my tongue, and speak more gracious words. My wife stood out as a shining example of this in our family life.
7. Lots of warmth, enthusiastic affection, hugs, and smiles! I do not remember letting a day go by that I did not show warm, vigorous affection to my kids. I embraced them, squeezed them, hugged them, snuggled up next to them on the couch, or the bed, I kissed them on the check and told them I loved them every single day. Warm, enthusiastic affection, creates such a wonderful environment in your home for children and your spouse. It sends an unmistakable message that you are wanted, valued, and very important to me. Men, for those of you uncomfortable with this, start practicing today! Do not put it off.
I want to urge you to start today to build a grace-filled environment in your home. One of the steps you can take is to begin yourself, to freshly understand the Grace of God to you personally. I am going to include below some tremendous messages that will help you grasp God’s grace to you. Please, please give these a listen.
Also, please take time to use the things I shared above, to evaluate ways you could show more grace in your home until it is an environment and culture of Grace in your home.