But the easy way is the hard way because it doesn't bring about the real results.
What are the real results? The real results are a genuine obedience from our children, which stem from the overflow of a loving heart. Second John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love” (NIV). As these words indicate, God's definition of obedience is inseparable from love. And isn't this what we want from our children, that they would grow to be people who do the right thing for the right reason?
Yet the easy way only aims for half of the goal. The easy way wants obedience without concern for the motive, which is a horrible mistake. In other words, the easy way is easy in the short-term but hard in the long.
Since I'm the one writing these words, it is obvious that I know this. But, sadly, more times than not, I repeatedly find myself relying on the easy way. Now, I'm not generally a yeller, but I can be stern and unkind. “How many times have I told you to ... ?” “Didn't I say to stop that?” “If I tell you to do something, I expect that you get it done!” Even as the words exit my mouth, I know that the point I'm making is true, yet the way I'm making it is ... graceless. In other words, my approach lacks loving-kindness.
Something needs to change in the way I parent, for my children are too important. And what needs to change is that I need to raise them the hard way, because the hard way is only hard in the short-term but easy in the long.
So, does choosing to parent by grace mean I must work harder at it, make fewer mistakes and generally “shape up”? Remarkably, the answer is no, for these ideas imply a fundamental misunderstanding of just how the grace system works.
There Are Only Two Systems
The first point I make in my book Practical Grace is that there are only two approaches to life, and these are the same two approaches we can take to salvation.
If you have been a Christian for a while, you know the two approaches to salvation—grace or the law. Grace is the “you can't do it yourself” method. The law is the “I'll earn it” method. And if you spend just a little bit of time thinking about this, you'll see that the law method is hopeless. Generally the law method bases itself upon the idea of a cosmic scale, and if we do more good than bad, God will let us into heaven. At first, this sounds all right, until you realize God is all good. In other words, the only way to be good enough to get into heaven is to be all good too, just like God. Good luck with that!
Instead, our only real hope of heaven is by God's grace—which, thankfully, has been made available through Jesus' death on the cross. All of the bad things we have done have been paid for. We don't have to work to overcome them; we just need to accept God's free gift. So Jesus makes us holy, and we can enter heaven when we die without any striving on our part. But you probably already knew that.
However, did you know that while most Christians choose the grace approach to salvation, they choose the law approach to life? The law approach to life—what is that?
It is the “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” approach to living. It is an “I can do it myself, thank you,” attitude to the everyday. Put simply, it is the law.
The law approach to living means striving. I will earn the approval of God, others, and myself. I will solve my career problems. I will do what it takes to fix my issues. I will make my relationships work. And I will do what it takes to be the ideal parent.
The law says, “I will do all of these things or die trying.” (Which, ironically, is precisely what happens.)
Grace for salvation. Law for life. In other words, I'll admit that I don't have what it takes for the afterlife, but I'll refuse to admit that I don't have what it takes for this one. (For a complete discussion of these two systems, see Practical Grace.) And it is this futile law approach, this “do it by my own strength” philosophy, that we bring into parenting and which is precisely what keeps us from becoming the parents we've always dreamed of being.