Balancing Grace and Truth
About the Guest
Are you parenting from a stance of emotional maturity? Child psychologist Joshua Straub reminds parents that all kids do stupid things, but that their underlying motivation isn't usually to do something stupid. Joshua reminds parents that, just as God loves us with grace and truth, so we must lead with grace when our kids are experiencing anxiety or stress or are acting out.
Joshua Straub reminds parents that, just as God loves us with grace and truth, so we must lead with grace when our kids are acting out.
Balancing Grace and Truth
Bob: When your kids mess up, do they need grace from you or do they need to feel the pain of the consequences of their behavior? Joshua Straub says they need both.
Joshua: I believe our children need to experience the consequences because, if they don’t experience it under our roof, they’re going to run into it somewhere else, where they’re not safe. That’s the critical piece here—it’s balancing that grace and truth now in the context of a safe house, where they’re learning this. That’s what is critical because, otherwise, they’re going to step out into the world—not having grace and truth / not experiencing these consequences—and they’re going to experience it a lot harder.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk about how we find the right spot—to be full of grace and full of truth with our kids on today’s program. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We were just out—Mary Ann and me—visiting with our son and daughter-in-law and our new grandbaby, Ivy. We were talking about parenting because this is a new chapter for my son and for his wife—they’re just beginning their parenting journey. I was reflecting with them about kind of what you do if you could do it over again—you know, from my perspective—saying, “All parents, after 30 years of being at the helm of parenting, look back and go, ‘If we could start over again…’”
Dennis: So what did you say?
Bob: “We’d do some things differently.”
Dennis: I’d like to know what both you and Mary Ann said.
Bob: I said—Mary Ann didn’t say much—I said, “I parented in the moment rather than parenting with intentionality.”
As I look back on how I handled things, I was thinking about how to handle this moment in time for the best outcome, rather than thinking, “What am I aiming for as a longer-term objective?”
I said: “If I could do it over again, and if I was where you are with a brand-new baby, I would say: ‘Okay; I have 18 years. I want to get this child from where they are today to independence, 18 years from now. What do I want that child to think, feel, believe; and then how do I build that in at every stage along the way so that I’m aiming for the right objective?—rather than just saying, “Today’s a sunny day. Let’s go camping.”’” [Laughter]
Dennis: Fun daddy!—fun daddy, Bob! Are you surprised that I’m shocked that that would be the case?
Bob: No, I’m not shocked at all.
Dennis: Well, all of us, I think, looking back over parenting, would have several do-overs. I wish I’d had this book, though, from our guest on today’s broadcast.
It’s called Safe House—about how to create a home that is emotionally safe. I think our emotional side of life is among the least addressed by the community of faith of any dimension of raising children. Joshua Straub joins us again on FamilyLife Today—Josh, welcome back.
Joshua: Thank you.
Dennis: Would you agree about the emotional side of raising kids is, for the most part, neglected?
Joshua: I agree. A number of years ago, Pastor Pete Scazzero wrote a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church. One of the things that I really took away from that was he said that you can only be as spiritually mature as you are emotionally mature. It took me a while to really kind of get a hold of what he was saying there; but the more that you look into Scripture—and you look at the fruit of the Spirit, for instance / the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and gentleness, and faithfulness, and self-control—when you look at the fruit of the Spirit, you realize there’s emotional maturity.
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we become emotionally mature—there’s a deep connection there to that ability. You look throughout Scripture—it’s replete with this: “Be slow to anger, slow to speak, quick to listen,”—our ability to not just jump off the handle. Proverbs says that “He who is slow to anger has deep understanding.” There’s something to be said for the emotional safety of who we are and how it’s connected to our spiritual maturity.
Bob: And that’s really what’s at the heart of the book that you’ve written, Safe House— how to provide the right kind of emotional safety as you raise your children. And you’re saying that emotional safety is the key to those kids being able to live, and to love, and to lead well.
And Dennis, I’m just curious as we dive into this today.
If your parents had a Camaro, and they let you drive the Camaro—and they told you, “You can drive the Camaro / just don’t let anybody else drive it,”—then later, you were out with your girlfriend. She said to you, “Can I drive the Camaro?” What choice would you make in that moment? I just want to know.
Dennis: Well, you’re talking to a kid who was pretty deceptive as a teenager. [Laughter] I was the one who took the wire pliers out, and when my dad told me that I could drive four miles, I literally went underneath the dashboard and unscrewed the—
Bob: —the odometer?
Dennis: —the odometer.
Bob: —so that your dad couldn’t tell how far you’d driven.
Dennis: I was so proud of myself—I’m sure I put on12 miles.
Bob: So if your girlfriend wanted to drive the Camaro, “Here’s the keys, baby”; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: I mean, I’m sorry—
Bob: Well, there’s a reason why I ask you that specific example. You can ask our guest to explain—he knows.
Dennis: I think I’ve heard this. Go ahead—unpack that story.
Joshua: Yes. So, I was at wrestling practice. We had wrestling practice right after high school. As you said, my rule was—
Bob: “Nobody else drives.”
Joshua: “Nobody else could drive it”; right. Well, it was a day when it was raining. My girlfriend, at the time—she lived a mile down the road. It was raining. Her car was in the shop, and she just asked if she could take my car home, a mile down the road. I said: “Sure. Just come pick me up as soon as I’m done with practice.” I don’t know how moms find out everything that you do—
Bob: But they do.
Joshua: —but they do.
Joshua: Somehow or another, she found out. Boy, was I in trouble. [Laughter]
Dennis: So she didn’t wreck it?
Joshua: No; she didn’t wreck it!
Dennis: Oh; I was waiting for the rest of the story.
Joshua: No, I just got in trouble. I describe the story to say: “I didn’t intend to disobey my parents. My intent was to protect my girlfriend / allow her to be protected.”
Bob: You were being noble.
Joshua: Yes; I wanted her to trust me.
Bob: Yes; of course.
Joshua: But a lot of times, that’s what happens. Our kids do stupid things, but their underlying motivation wasn’t to do something stupid—just—a lot of times, with us as well. So our ability to understand really what’s going on behind that action is important.
Bob: Well, and the reason for the story is because, as we’re talking about what’s involved in creating an emotionally safe house, we’re talking about the walls that have to be up. We’ve already had a conversation about the walls of protection and exploration. On one side of the house is exploration—you want your child to be exploring, learning about his world / her world. On the other side is the wall of protection—you want them to be safe in the process.
Dennis: Yes; and before you ask the rest of the question, Bob, I just have to ask you, Josh: “I get the picture of the wall of protection being a wall, but the wall of exploration—
Bob: —“feels like a window instead of a wall”? [Laughter]
Dennis: —“it feels like it’s a red carpet to the world.”
Joshua: That’s why I describe it as the—picturing that wall as your front door—and how wide open that front door is, depending on age-appropriateness—and age-appropriately: “How do you really define where these walls are?” and “How far do you let your child explore versus how much you protect them?”
Dennis: Yes; sure.
Joshua: Over time, that’s a difficult dynamic to figure out. It comes down to really maturity. You know, you can put two 13-year-olds beside each other, and one is going to be way more mature than another one.
Joshua: Right? One’s parents can allow them to explore a little bit further than another one because there’s trust there. You have to know your kids uniquely, and not all kids are created equal.
Bob: And that can happen in the same house, where one child will get privileges that another child won’t get because you understand who your child is. It doesn’t feel fair to the one who’s not getting the privileges, but that’s where parenting’s not all about fairness.
Dennis: No; and the kid who is mature enough on Monday may not be mature by Friday—[Laughter]
Joshua: That’s right.
Bob: —or Tuesday afternoon!
Dennis: I’m telling you—it’s just not an exact science we’re talking about here; and it’s why these other two walls that you talk about, Josh, are so important.
In fact, Jesus introduced us to these two walls in John, Chapter 1—in fact, it says, “We beheld His glory, full of—”
Joshua: “—grace and truth.”
Dennis: Those are the other two walls.
Joshua: Those are the other two walls. I describe them as grace and truth. A lot of parenting experts will say “love and limits” or that kind of thing. I use grace and truth because I think they go beyond just “love and limits” and the description of that.
Let me start by describing and going back and just re-defining that one phrase that I think is important—is the core of emotional safety—and that’s the ability to understand. We’ll go back to that Camaro illustration and the ability to understand what’s really going on behind our child’s actions / our teenager’s actions. It’s that Golden Rule, with the word, “understand.” In order to be understood, we must first understand.
Peter writes that we are stewards of God’s good grace. The way that I describe this is: “Grace is loving your child for who they are; truth is loving them enough to not leave them that way.”
You know, Jesus came full of grace and truth. I described that we lead with grace and then follow up with truth—that’s the heart behind emotional safety.
Dennis: Okay; let me take issue with that for a second.
Dennis: If we lead with grace and not truth, how are our children going to know where those boundaries are that they are going to encounter in life?—and what the Bible is full of. I mean, the Bible’s full of both / Jesus exemplified both—and I’m not saying it’s all truth and no grace / I know the argument around that—but it seems to me that grace gets defined in the midst of truth—because God is a God of both grace and truth—but He has given us a book that is truth.
Joshua: And that’s the way that I describe this: “That over time, those walls—as we talked about the walls of exploration and protection—need to be equal heights over time versus being a parent who just allows your kids to explore and never protects them. That’s an out-of-balance house; right? The key behind this is making sure your walls are balanced over time.”
It’s the same thing with grace and truth as well—that over time, our walls of grace and truth are balanced because you’re right—even at three-and-a-half, my son is learning, for instance, Proverbs 6:6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider his ways and be wise.” [Laughter] He understands that ants represent hard work. I’m teaching him the truths about hard work / teaching him the truths about speaking kind words, even at this age, because it’s critically important.
But when our kids are experiencing anxiety, or stress, or they’re throwing temper tantrums, where they’re acting out—those are critical moments, where we lead with grace, and lovingly approach them, rather than just immediately coming out with truth in very strong ways / without showing them that we’re there for them.
I love how John Townsend describes it—he says, “Truth without grace is received as condemnation.” I think our kids receive it that way as well when we lead with all truth. Depending on who we are, as a parent, we either lead out of all grace or all truth. “What is our tendency on this equilibrium of these two walls?”—
—having that knowledge is critical.
Bob: So let’s go back to high school and the Camaro because the truth was: “Don’t let anybody but you drive the Camaro.” You knew that.
Bob: You plead, “Innocent.” I mean, as you tell the story, you say: “I wasn’t even really thinking about it. I mean, my girlfriend just needed to get home in the rain. I was just thinking about her safety.” I’m going, “So it never entered your mind that ‘If I give her the keys, I might get in trouble’?” You never thought of that?
Joshua: Yes; going back to that moment, I don’t think I—I mean, I can’t remember specifically; but I don’t remember thinking about that as much as I did wanting to make sure she was taken care of.
Bob: Your mom found out that you had lent the car to your girlfriend.
Bob: Did you get grace or truth at that moment?
Joshua: I got truth.
Bob: What did you get?
Joshua: I got grounded.
Bob: You remember coming home and—
Joshua: I think my keys were taken from me.
Bob: Your ignorance didn’t—I mean, when you said: “It was raining. I just wanted her to—I’d forgotten completely,” there was no grace given?
Joshua: It was about following the rules.
Joshua: It was that truth. I mean, my parents pointed me back to the truth of the rules, and I got the grounding.
Bob: Now, I want to put you in your mom’s kitchen. She’s aware that you have broken the rules. You’re now the parent—your child’s done this. Would you handle it differently than your parents handled it with you?
Joshua: That’s a great question.
Bob: Mr. Softie—lean-toward-grace parent. [Laughter]
Joshua: That’s a great question. Yes; compared to my mom—yes. My mom and I joke about this. My mom was definitely that truth parent as well.
Joshua: I tend to lean more towards the grace side. I still would have come down with some consequences to what happened, and I believe this. I believe our children need to experience the consequences because, if they don’t experience it under our roof, they’re going to run into it somewhere else, where they’re not safe—
Bob: That’s right.
Joshua: —that’s the critical piece—is it’s balancing that grace and truth now, in the context of a safe house, where they’re learning this, and their brains are being wired that way.
That’s what’s critical because, otherwise, they’re going to step out into the world—not having grace and truth / not experiencing these consequences—and they’re going to experience it a lot harder.
Bob: See, here’s part of how I calibrate that in my own thinking with my kids. There may be consequences for it, but there should not be anything that threatens or inhibits our relationship—my son and me / my daughter and me. I may have to allow consequences or even bring consequences to bear in a circumstance like this; but I’m not going to withdraw, relationally, and get cold and say, “Well, if that’s the kind of kid you’re going to be, I’m just not going to talk to you,” or “I’m going to be angry with you.”
When I think about how God parents us, there are consequences when we mess up; but He still loves us, in the midst of the consequences / even when He is the One handing them out.
Joshua: In Psalm 103—that’s what I love—it says: “He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
“He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” His consequences don’t match our offenses, nor is He going to come back and punish us after we’ve repented of our sins. He’s not going to keep doing that—that’s not who He is as our Father.
Bob: And the same God in Hebrews is the God who disciplines the ones He loves.
Bob: So, there is grace and truth in the relationship with the Father who forgives but disciplines and works all of that out, according to the counsel of His own will.
Joshua: And this is what’s important too—I think this is critical. In Philippians,
Chapter 4—I believe Paul was the first neuroscientist, by the way / Paul was—
Dennis: The first what?
Bob: Neuroscientist; okay.
Joshua: He got this right. Of course, he did—right?—he’s the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 4 he says, “Let your reasonableness be made known to everybody.” That word, “reasonableness,” right there is a disposition for maintaining community. It’s seeking the best of another individual. I apply this to parenting:
“Let your reasonableness be made known to your kids. The Lord is near, the Lord is at hand, therefore be anxious for nothing.”
So when we get anxious—and the brain chemistry of this is fascinating—the way God has designed us because that “fight or flight response” is that bottom part of the brain. Our brain grows from the bottom to the top. Back behind the brain stem, at the bottom part of the brain, is the “fight or flight response.” When we experience fear or we experience stress or duress, that’s that fight, flight, or freeze.
What Paul is saying here is: “Be anxious for nothing; but in prayer and supplication, make your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What he’s saying is: “When you’re anxious, when you’re fearful, when you’re scared, when you’re overwhelmed, when you’re feeling rejected, when you’re feeling bullied —whatever that is that’s going on within you—go to the Father / give that to the Father, and He will calm your heart and your mind with a peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Then, in the very next verse, he says, “Finally, think upon things that are pure, and true, and holy, and praiseworthy, and excellent.” I think what Paul realized there is that—when we’re overwhelmed with anxiety, we have an inability to truly think straight / we have an inability to truly think well.
In a finite way, we, as parents—when our kids are stressed or anxious, when we lead in grace, we can become, in a finite way, a peace that can calm that fear and anxiety / calm their brain. Because if you ever try lecturing a child or a teenager when they’re in a temper tantrum or they’re just overwhelmed with anxiety, it’s like it goes in one ear and out the other. They don’t receive it because they’re overwhelmed. This is why, in Crisis Response, we tell people who’ve experienced a major crisis to not make any major big decisions: “Don’t go sell your home,” “Don’t go leave your spouse,” “Don’t quit your job.” Why?—because you’re not thinking straight.
Our ability to be that calming safe house / that safe presence for our kids calms their brains in such a way that we can then point them back to the truths—that we’ve already been teaching them over time and that they are already aware of—to think upon things that are pure, and true, and holy, and excellent, praiseworthy, and those types of things, so that we can then follow up in a way that they behave according to the truths of Scripture.
Bob: And, I’m just sitting here, looking at you—you are clearly a Millennial—you are of that generation. As you look at your generation of parents, you said earlier, some 9,000 Millennials are becoming parents every day. We have tons of Millennials who listen to FamilyLife Today. Would you say that the Millennial generation tends to err on the side of grace, as they parent kids, or on the side of truth?
Joshua: Well, a recent survey found that 54 per cent of Millennials consider themselves to be the parent as a BFF to their kids—
—that’s a “best friend forever.” The way that I describe BFF is a parent who has a tendency to lead more towards exploration and more towards grace—over grace more so than the truth.
Bob: So, if a Millennial parent is going to make an adjustment, it’s probably going to need to be more in the truth direction; you think?
Joshua: In today’s generation; absolutely.
Dennis: I’ll tell you why I think you’re right. If you look at where they’re getting their advice, for the most part—this is not true across the board—they’re not looking to an older generation of older mothers and older fathers to process the Book, the Bible, and to coach them as they raise their kids. Instead, they’re using social media—crowd-sourcing parenting.
Joshua: Mommy blogs.
Dennis: And I have to tell you—“Time out! Time out!” I don’t want to throw any stones at that, but that can be and often is the blind leading the blind.
It’s people who are—well, I’m thinking of a young person, who came up to me, and this person said, “I’d like to write a book about parenting.” I said, “That’s great; do you have any kids?” “Yes; a couple.” “How old are they?” This person said, “One and two-and-a-half.” I said, “So what’s your authority on this?” And this is the key—the person said, “I have a great relationship with my father-in-law, and he’s been discipling me about raising kids.” I said: “You know what? Maybe that’s the book you should co-author with your father-in-law.”
My encouragement to Millennials, who are listening to us—who are raising kids today—you really have to have some older people in your life to coach you, to temper you, to take you back to the Book, and to challenge your assumptions.” What I would say is: “Josh is one of these older guys. He’s not an old Millennial, but he’s been around the block because you’ve counseled a number of juvenile delinquents. I think that certainly warrants some advice, Bob—that Millennials need to heed.”
Joshua: And I appreciate that. I’m sandwiched right between that Millennial and Gen-X generations. As you said, I’m an old Millennial and I’m a young Gen-Xer. Our kids are young as well. Here I am—writing on parenting, you know—to call out that elephant in the room.
The reason we’re doing that is because I’ve seen—through the experience that I’ve had counseling families / troubled families, and the experience through my doctoral research, and looking at what the science is showing about how we can raise kids and get kids who live, love, and lead well, and when I filter that through the lenses of Scripture—all it’s doing is proving Scripture to be true in how we relate to our kids.
That’s what’s awesome about this. My wife and I are just saying: “Hey, listen. We care about our kids’ generation. Here’s what we learned about this—here’s what we’ve learned through science, here’s what we’re learning through Scripture, here’s how our relationship with Christ is impacting our home. We want to invite you to be a part of that journey. There are 9,000 Millennials, a day, becoming parents.
“Let’s coalesce together, as a generation of parents; and let’s journey together and do this thing well.”
Bob: Maybe we can—we should plan to sell about 9,000 copies a day, I would think, of your book. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: Great baby gift!
Bob: That’s right! Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book, Safe House, by Dr. Joshua Straub. Again, our website: FamilyLifeToday.com; and you can order from us online. Or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we want to say, “Happy anniversary!” to Jeff and Nicole Barnett today. Jeff and Nicole live in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. They listen to FamilyLife Today on WAVA. They are not just listeners—they’re Legacy Partners.
They’ve been to the Weekend to Remember®—I think this is right—I think it’s six times! They attended I Still Do® when we were there a couple years ago. I mean, these guys—they’re with us! We just want to say, “Happy anniversary!” as they celebrate today.
Anniversaries are a big deal—they matter. The years together / the years invested in building a strong, healthy marriage makes a difference—not just in your family / not just between the two of you—but in every aspect of our culture and our society. So “Congratulations!” to Jeff and Nicole. Hope your celebration is great today. Thanks for your support of this ministry—we couldn’t do what we do without you.
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And I hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to have Joni and Ken Tada joining us tomorrow. We’re going to hear a great love story. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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