Straining out gnats…

11 Dec

Recently I had to reflect on a few of my favourite books particularly when it comes to being a Christian mother and  being a Christian wife. And although I love reading, I couldn’t really come up with one. I’ve read a few books on those topics and at times they are useful but I ‘m often left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a pinch in my heart. Although the authors’ intentions are to equip us, mothers and wives, on how to be godly, I find that some of these books misuse the Bible and can be on the legalistic side.

I have three children, one of whom is a very difficult little boy. The more I read these books, the more annoyed/upset/despondent/hopeless I tend to become. How often did I read “If you do ABC, then XYZ will happen” or “I did ABC and my son never did XYZ ever again” or even “If you don’t do ABC then obedience will never happen” and my favourite “The Bible says ABC” … Really? What if XYZ doesn’t work? What if my child needs something more, something else, something different!! Legalism leads to despair (I can’t do it no matter how hard I try) or self-righteousness (look at me, I’m so good). Legalism creates more loopholes than it leads to godliness because the God given principles show our heart while it’s easier to hide behind a set of rules. Legalism is a poison in the Christian community and an obstacle to unbelievers. A friend of mine recently told me that she’d scared to become a ‘proper’ Christian for fear of having to be a mum at home. She doesn’t even have kids yet… Where did we – Christians – go wrong that the unbeliever thinks that being a stay-at-home mum of 3 breastfed and homeschooled kids is the sine qua non of the good-Christian-woman?

By chance (mmmh, I don’t believe in chance though…), I came across an old article on the Briefing which was dealing with parenting. To be more exact,  it was feedback on Ellen Hrebeniuk’s review article “There’s no place like home: the marvelous land of Christian parenting books” (Briefing #295). Quite a few people responded in a negative way complaining that her review of certain well-known books was harsh and unfair.  The article gave the final say to the original author. I’ll just quote it because it sums up my overwhelming feelings towards these parenting books.

The handful of commands in the Scriptures that address parents do so at the level of principle: teaching our children about God, disciplining them, not embittering them and so on. Therefore, Christians are left with a tremendous freedom in the methods they can use to raise their children. However, going by our parenting books, that freedom brings us no joy, only a lack of confidence in our ability to choose the right methods! We are then prone to retreat uncritically into somebody else’s safe, published list of do’s and don’ts – and become Pharisees.

Let us instead take the choice to be wise and free – to examine Scripture, ourselves and our children, look at methods that other parents have used, and from there prayerfully determine what is our best course of action. If it doesn’t work out, we can try something else. Let us also refrain from usurping God’s role. We can live godly lives and faithfully present the gospel to our children, but no method can save; only the Lord.

God gave me the incredible challenge of raising my middle son – I think He made a mistake but I’m only the pottery and He is the Potter… What a relief to know that He gave me principles to help me raise Him so that one day, God willing, he will know Him. I’m so grateful that I have so much freedom in Christ, even when it comes to how to discipline, educate and love my children. It certainly makes the job harder than following a set of rules but it leaves plenty of room for grace.

2 Timothy 16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. If everything that we need to be godly is written in Scriptures, then what is not clearly stated in Scriptures is not a matter of godliness. Therefore, spanking is not necessary to be a godly mum, being a mum at home doesn’t make you godly and sending your kids to a Christian school or home schooling them is not the Christian choice.

The same is true for Christian living in general.  It’s very possible to spend all your time at home and yet fail to love them. It’s very possible to cook, wash and tidy and yet fail to love your husband the way he really needs to. It’s very easy to follow the 5 steps of the spanking method and yet fail to discipline your child in the fear of the Lord.

Legalism has never dealt with the issues of the heart. In fact, the legalists of the time, the Pharisees, crucified Jesus.

Of course,there is a lot of wisdom in reading books and in looking at what has worked best for the older generations. There are 3 older women in my church that I enjoy talking to when it comes to parenting because they had their children and they all turned out beautiful godly young people. Surely they have wisdom to share, but because it is wisdom, I am free to follow the advice or not if if it doesn’t fit my family circumstances, culture or just personality, as long as it doesn’t go against God’s Word. There is also wisdom – and definitely huge support – in talking to other mums in the same boat as us to get ideas, to exchange tips, to sometimes even laugh at the silly responses we get from our oh-so-sinful kids.

It is a challenge for each individual couple to work out prayerfully how these principles, given by God, would apply in their lives, with their unique set of circumstances. For our family, we decided that it would be best for me to stay home with the kids and even to homeschool them (I’m only starting properly next year so we might reach the opposite conclusion a few months down the line). My choices in this area cannot become a measure of my godliness. What I decided to do cannot become The rule, it can’t even become The wisdom.

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2 Responses to “Straining out gnats…”

  1. Phillip December 15, 2008 at 9:51 am #

    Jesus said of the Pharisees that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces”. How sad that your friend does not say “I don’t want to be a Christian because I am not ready to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus in my life” but that she gets “tripped” by having to be a “staying-at-home mom”, something which Jesus does not command! Also ironic because I doubt that she would be offended when she hears that Jesus will expect of her to love her future children as she loves herself…

    May God help us to remember that the good we do is only acceptable to him because we have been given his righteousness in Jesus.

  2. Taryn December 11, 2008 at 11:18 pm #

    I LOVE this post, Ingrid. You have done an excellent job of explaining the legalism vs grace difficulty that we all struggle with from time to time. You are right – many Christian parenting books have fallen into the trap of recipe-like instruction that supposedly results in flop-free kids! Ha!

    I love too that you are my balance when it comes to these issues.

    By this I mean that our concerns for Christian women and family come down to the same thing: biblical godliness, although we focus on different aspects. Your focus, I think, is for Christian women not to be modern-day pharisees (and I’ve learnt a lot from you on this issue – that is, learning to spot the legalism in the books we read!) My focus is for Christian women not to “hide” behind grace: using it as an excuse to throw up one’s hands and say, “oh but I tried my best” when actually they mean, “so I did’t really bother seeking biblical wisdom in XYZ area and the results aren’t great… oh well, *shrug*”.

    It’ll be interesting to chat one day about what motivates our different focuses. For me, I think that because I’ve grown up as a “flabby” Christian and struggled with the sin of sloth in my walk with the Lord, I’ve grown to appreciate those parenting and other Christian living books that give me clear guidelines to follow, as they’ve helped me to (try) be disciplined in my walk with the Lord. Knowing that ultimately He is in control is enormously freeing – making it easier to utilise great wisdom and advice from authors, without being bogged down by the legalism they sometimes (often) imply. I guess we must remember that these authors are fallen too.

    Thanks for this post, Ingrid. I think that you are an encouragement to many Christian women, especially those who particularly struggle with differentiating biblical command from biblical wisdom.

    Love Taryn

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