“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philem. 1:3, NKJV).
As soon as I was old enough, I began working at a local summer camp. It was my first real experience with child care. Immediately I saw that there were two predominant approaches to getting the kids to behave. You could gently correct them, or you could yell at them.
Unfortunately, the second one tended to be the preferred approach, especially at bedtime.
After a long day of watching kids, every camp counselor wanted the little ones to stop talking and go to sleep so the counselor could have a few minutes to talk with his friends in the center room of the cabin. But getting the kids to stop talking and go to bed was easier said than done. Well past lights out, the campers would be talking and laughing (and making a wide assortment of unmentionable sounds) and would continue to do so unless the counselor put a stop to it.
As a new counselor learning the ropes, I would watch in quiet horror as some counselors stormed out of the center room, screamed at their campers to go to sleep, and then returned to pick up the conversation as if nothing had ever happened. Yet regardless of the intensity of their anger, the end result was always the same—the kids would simply start talking again shortly after the counselor left the room. This scene would repeat itself over and over until exhaustion finally won out.
Later, however, after I became a veteran counselor, I discovered the real secret to bedtime. Instead of yelling at the kids, what you needed to do was stay with them until they fell asleep. With this approach, you could walk over and gently remind them that it was time to stop talking. In fact, sometimes you didn't even have to say anything at all, for just standing by their beds would often quiet them down. And soon the children would drift off to sleep and begin getting the rest they all so desperately needed.
This approach was much harder, for it required both sacrifice and patience, but in the end it got the genuine results.
Bedtimes at camp are a kind of parable for raising children. The easy approach is to do a lot of yelling. However, in the long run all this style accomplishes is burning out parents and exasperating children. But what does work is relationship, for what undergirds relationship is love, and love always works.
This little book is about parenting and love. Or, more accurately, this book is about parenting and a synonym of love called grace.
Theologically speaking, most of us understand grace to mean God's unmerited favor. In other words, grace is when God gives us the salvation we don't deserve. And this is true, but grace is also much more.
I believe the key to understanding grace lies in using an alternative definition. Grace does mean unmerited favor, but grace also means loving-kindness. Think about this for a moment. No one truly deserves love and kindness. In other words, they are unmerited, which is precisely what the traditional definition of grace is saying. However, when you think about grace as loving-kindness, you begin to see a much wider range of applications, which is precisely what God intended all along.
In my book Practical Grace, I offer a detailed explanation of what grace is, how it contrasts with something called the law, and how God wants grace to impact our daily lives. In this book, I want to apply those same ideas to parenting. And the place to begin is by discussing the two approaches to parenthood. For just as at my summer camp, it all comes down to just two ways to parent—the easy way or the hard way.
The Easy Way Is the Hard Way
If this sounds like a strange paradox, it is—but that doesn't make it any less true. The easy way to parent is to snip and snap and cajole and threaten. It is the easy way because it doesn't require anything of us. It is the easy way because it comes naturally. And it is the easy way because it appears to get instantaneous results.