My eleven-year-old son, Jed, has a habit of burning his toast. It’ll pop up, beautifully brown all over, and he’ll put it down again because it’s not dark enough. And then inevitably he’ll forget to pop it up after half a minute and it will burn. He makes the whole house stink! It’s terrible. We have to open the kitchen door and all the windows and it takes over an hour for it to clear. It drives me crazy!
The other day, I burned my own toast... badly. So I opened up the windows and the kitchen door, and I went out and was scraping the black charcoal off of my toast and into a pot plant. Just then, Jed came out. When he spotted what I was doing, he grinned. “No offense, Mom, but it makes me kind-of glad that you burnt your toast...” I looked up at him and he started to retreat, suddenly thinking that perhaps he had been a bit cheeky.
“Do you know why that makes you kind-of glad, boy?” I asked. His grin was replaced with a mumble as he retreated further.
Daily, we get countless opportunities to decide whether our parenting will be sprinkled with grace or immersed in it. We can teach what we like, but it’s the actions that children assimilate and learn from. A child’s ability to pick up large quantities of information without even trying to, and to process all the variations and similarities of that information in order to understand their environment and predict future experiences is phenomenal. It’s what makes it possible for them to learn the complexities of languages at such a tender age. When it comes to helping our children to understand correctly the grace of God and what that means for their identities, we need to make sure they are immersed in grace, not just sprinkled with it. As Jed hung his head, hoping he hadn’t done anything wrong, I reassured him and helped him to understand his reaction to my burnt toast. “You’re not in trouble, Jed.” He lifted his eyes. “You’re not glad I burnt my toast because you’re mean, my boy. You’re glad because you don’t yet understand that nothing you do can make you less special. When you see me fail it makes you feel better, because you think that when you fail it changes who you are. But nothing you can do, good or bad, can change how special you are, and nothing can make me love you any less.” It’s a subtle message, and it needs to be constantly reinforced by word and action. When Richard and my children succeed or excel, we commend them, and when they fail, we correct them. But those are not the big moments in our home. We don’t gush and we don’t fuss. Our reason is that what we celebrate the most, our children will believe to have the most value. So we celebrate who they are, outside of what they do, the most. For example, they will hear from me all the time: “Do you know why I love you? Because you’re mine!” God’s grace has literally changed everything. Everything I do is from the solid position of knowing who I am, knowing what I’m worth, and knowing that I’m loved. I’m allowed to risk; I’m allowed to try things; I’m allowed to mess up and fall short, and get straight back up and try again. It makes me able to spend my life and resources doing great things, because I don’t have to waste my life and resources trying to be something great. I don’t want my kids to ever try to earn my love. Or, maybe worse, give up trying to earn it. I don’t want them, like Jed in that moment, to have their own self-esteem affected by another’s success or failure. And so, while we will always congratulate them on outstanding achievements, and cheer them on to greater exploits, we will be intentional around immersing them in the knowledge and experience that their value is far greater than any of their achievements or even their character, and that their position in our hearts unaffectable. Richard and my hope for our children is that, through experiencing our grace in their lives, they will one day be able to accept God’s.