“A Significant Purpose”
Thanks for continuing to read my series on Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. I’m really encouraged by the notes I’ve received in my inbox since I began it, including two very sweet ones from Dr. Kimmel’s Family Matters ministry staff. I know from reading the feedback that some of you have been deeply wounded by legalism, and others admit that they have hurt their own children unwittingly with their lack of grace in parenting. I am right there with you. I am learning new truths about grace even after nearly a quarter century of parenting 10 children. Sometimes I feel like I’m starting over at Kindergarten. So let’s all pray for each other, shall we?
If you would like to read my thoughts on the first three chapter, you can find them here:
Chapter 4 of Grace Based Parenting covers the second deep need of children, “A Significant Purpose.” It opens with a gripping story from the movie October Sky. (I’m going to have to watch that soon!) Homer Hickam is growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town when the news of the Soviet satellite Sputnik rocks the world. To the townsfolk, who had been programmed for decades to “think small”, this harbinger of Russian domination brings gloom and defeat. To Homer, hope for his own future. “Homer Hickam had seen what the mine could do to a man”: black lung disease, ruined families, a graceless angry father who refused to see the potential for his son to doing something more. Homer believed “that he was put on the earth for something different, something strategic.” So he and his buddies became obsessed with learning about rocketry and eventually won a national science competition. His father was bitterly disappointed in his quest – at first. Fortunately, he had a change of heart that spurred his son on to getting an advanced education and joining NASA as part of the team that sent astronauts into space.
With this story, Dr. Kimmel reminds us that “There is a deep longing in the heart of every child to ‘make a difference’ … They weren’t born to be common denominators or mere faces in the crowd. That’s why tyrannical governments get so little out of their people. God didn’t create us to ignore our potential or abandon our dreams. He meant for us to be free so that we could pursue our potential with abandon. Despots, and the oppression that often accompanies them, insult God by refusing to create the environment that encourages potential to take root and grow. Tyrannical families blunt potential, too. So do preoccupied families and indifferent families and lazy families. Our children deserve better. God has left us as stewards of our children’s gifts and skills. Just as God has given us a chance to send our children into the future with a secure love, He has also given us the opportunity to send our children into the future with a significant purpose.’”
Another old movie that Dr. Kimmel mentions is Mr. Holland’s Opus, the story of a man who had great dreams of becoming a composer, but takes a job as a high school band director to pay the bills. He fails to realize what an impact he has on his students as he launches them into their own fulfilled potentials – until the dramatic end of the film when “what goes around comes around”!
If our children don’t have a significant purpose, they might end up with an underdeveloped purposed, growing old without any sense of making a difference or measuring up to expectations. Or they might have a revengeful purpose, trying to achieve their dreams as a means of getting back at parents who told them they couldn’t. Or they might have a wasted purpose, never coming close to tapping their own potential or finding their niche.
That’s not what I want for my kids. I want to help them find their purpose at several levels that Dr. Kimmel outlines:
First, they must find a general purpose of revering God, gaining wisdom, working hard, and serving others. This is foundational character for all people, young and old. Some of us are still playing catch-up in these areas, but we need to develop these qualities in our own lives, so it will be natural to pass them on to our children. Next, we help them discover a specific purpose consistent with their skills and abilities. That doesn’t mean that they focus only on one or two key talents. They need to be well-rounded with many abilities while honing their special skills. Children also need a relational purpose by learning “how to love, how to be forthright, how to be transparent with close friends, how to confront, and how to forgive.” Finally, the ultimate relationship we can have is with God, so we cannot neglect spiritual purpose. (See Shiela Catanzarite’s article “Teaching Our Children to Walk with God.”) This is an often neglected priority! Do they know the deep love of God, and does it make a difference to them? Do they realize that they can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Are they faithful to use the gifts that God has entrusted to them?
So how do we build this sense of purpose in our children?
Children feel significant when they are regularly affirmed. A sweet grandmother recently told me how important it is for children to feel esteemed, and it’s true. I think many Christian parents, wanting to teach their children humility, pass on what I call “the worm mentality.” They hammer home the point that we are despicable sinners incapable of anything good, and forget the part about being wondrous creations of a loving Father, equipped for worthy deeds. We can spend so much time trying to fine-tune them through constant correction that we neglect to empower them with sincere and significant encouragement. I’m not talking about flattery or empty compliments. They see through that, and it doesn’t prepare them well for the real world where praise is based on actual effort and achievement. “Affirmation catches your children doing something right. It notices when they do things you know don’t come easy to them. It applauds them when they fix a wrong or dig themselves out of a hole they’ve made (like bringing up a poor grade). It thanks them for living out their moral principles and being willing to stand alone for their convictions.” Yet we so often nullify encouragement with criticism, especially in the challenging teen years.
Children feel significant when they know they have our attention. Jesus noticed kids – and encouraged his followers to welcome them. As parents, “we need to have a working knowledge of our children’s likes and dislikes, their friends and their detractors, and the big things and little things that matter most in their lives.”
Children feel significant when they are gracefully admonished. Yes, we need rules, moral guidelines, and consequences as we raise children. And yes, our children will still succumb to sin in many ways in the process of learning to appropriately guard their hearts. When they do sin, they need our gracious response instead of our harsh or fearful reaction. The result of careful, firm, loving discipline is found in Hebrews 12:11 – “yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Dr. Kimmel closes this chapter by reminding parents: “It’s almost mystifying but it’s true. We matter more to our kids than we realize. They were born with a need to make a difference. For good or for ill, we play the biggest role in determining what kind of difference they will ultimately make.”
I have shared with you some of the thoughts from the book, and now, as I did for the last chapter, I’d like to extend that with some reflections of my own.
Over the past few years, one of my themes for research and writing has been abuse of authority in churches and homes, especially as related to the home schooling movement. Tragically, there is no shortage of blogs written by young people who have been deeply hurt by the control and legalism they were raised with. One of the best is by a group of people who had been raised in Bill Gothard’s ATI and IBLP programs. They write at www.recoveringgrace.org, which is an excellent resource. (Other blogs are written by mothers like Karen Campbell at www.thatmom.com who are waking up to the damage they have caused in their own homes and want to spare other moms from hitting the same potholes.) Some of the young people have broken ties with their families. Others have left the Christian faith entirely. My counselor, whose own five children were home schooled when they were younger, tells me that based on his observations, more young people rebel against faith and family because of legalism than from secular influences. That is one reason that I am starting to speak out more boldly as an insider who has “been there, done that and lived to tell the story.” You can read many of my thoughts on this topic at one of my other blogs, www.watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com.
It also reminds me of the lyrics of “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay. First verse:
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
Pride goes before a fall. Despots will meet their due, whether in government or parenting. And true leaders empower those who are in their care. They equip them to succeed rather than intimidate them with fear just to remain in control. This also reminds me of one of my favorite children’s picture books, The Rebellious Alphabet by Chilean exile Jorge Diaz. The tyrannical but illiterate Little General meets his match in book-and-liberty-loving Placido and his unusually talented canaries.
It has actually been really fun to see my older children blossom, to launch them into amazing adventures where fear could have prevented us from sending them. You might like to read some posts about mission trips my daughters Mary, Julia, Rachel and Joanna took as teens and young adults:
- And They Are Strong and Bold... (Girls and the Grand Adventure)
- A Ship in Harbour is Safe...
- To Bolivia with Love (poem)
- A is for Angela
- B is for Bolivia
- Come With Me Here
- Abbondanza de Vita
- To Italy with Love
As I type these words, I am sitting in an auditorium waiting for a Broadway Night production at my fifth daughter’s high school. Lydia is singing “A New Life” from the musical Jekyll and Hyde. As I’ve been listening to her rehearse the lyrics, I’ve been struck with how well they mesh with the theme of much of this Grace Based Parenting book: the need for love, purpose, hope. (Later note: It was a terrific performance – but unfortunately her accompaniment track stopped short and after several more lines of beautifully sung fluster, she did too. I am so proud of how she handled this disappointment – with good humor! I’ll try to post video later, but here is a verse from the lyrics that speaks about purpose:
A new start -
That's the thing I need,
To give me new heart -
Half a chance in life
To find a new part,
Just a simple role
That I can play.
There is much more I could write about raising kids with purpose, but I’ll have to pass right now because this post is getting long and my time is getting short! But you are more than welcome to browse around on my blogs, www.VirginiaKnowles.blogspot.com, www.comewearymoms.blogspot.com, www.startwellhomeschool.blogspot.com, www.continuewellhomeschool.blogspot.com, www.finishwellhomeschool.blogspot.com and www.watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com.