For months, I’d been dreading this. For weeks, I’d been trying to put it off. But now it was time. Forty weeks and three days and a walk in the warm July sunshine brought contractions fast, coming one on top of another.
I was learning to breathe as I’d never breathed, and my breathing became a moaning song. There was no room for fear, no other goal but passing through these five hours of promised pain. In seven relieving pushes, one beautiful squirming dream emerged into my world with a tiny cry of surprise and I held life in my arms.
I passed into motherhood knowing I would fail sometimes, but I was unprepared for the challenges I would face. Piper found more personality than most babies her age. Too soon, she grasped her own identity and became more than I thought she was, more than I was ready for her to be.
I was advised to set boundaries, to let her cry it out, to force her to concede my authority over her. But Piper wouldn’t be controlled. She completely panicked if we tried to make her cry it out. Spankings were irrelevant and counterproductive.
Something was wrong: exerting more force didn’t produce results, but I couldn’t release what little control I did have for a more passive approach. If we were going to have a stubbornness contest, I was going to win it.
Gone was my wonder over this miracle I had clasped to my chest that early July evening in 2007. I began to push Piper away, taking a responsible, need-meeting approach that kept her happy enough and left me living my life around her issues. Instead of lavishing my new mother’s heart on her, I withheld my love, waiting for her to conform to my wishes.
Postpartum depression, stress, and relocation shook our foundations; Piper and I knocked hard against each other as we both tried to manage our vulnerability and maintain control of our relationship.
In the upheaval, I grappled with God, challenging His authority in my own life, and found that not once had God treated me, His beloved daughter, the way I was treating my own little girl. Always He had waited for me to respond to Him. Never had He demanded my submission to His will. In His fearless love, He had never breached my freedom to choose or reject Him. And not once did He withhold His love from me.
My hours of physical labor to bring Piper life had been only the beginning of the exquisite pain promised to me in child-bearing. If I was to love her as I knew God loved me, my life was now to be poured out as God had poured His out for me at the Cross.
I didn’t know how to “breathe” through this new labor. Very few people I had known approached their parenting in the way God seemed to want me to approach my own. It was through this search that I found Danny Silk, an author, speaker, and parent whose book, Loving Our Kids on Purpose, helped me gather my chagrined realizations into a more coherent, Spirit-led approach to loving my children as God loves me.
Loving Our Kids on Purpose uses Scripture and real-life stories to present a non-controlling approach to parenting based entirely in grace. The book is written from the premise that God intended us to be free. Every human being has a strong sense of his or her own freedom, and will do almost anything to protect that freedom. God doesn’t want to strip us of that freedom through a new system of control. He wants instead to teach us to use our freedom wisely.
After salvation, Danny explains, “God relates to the believer in a new way, through writing His ‘law on our hearts and minds.’ When the law is written on our hearts and minds and when God Himself dwells in us, we no longer need to be controlled from the outside.”
Danny explains, “As long as our sin had not been punished and our hearts remained spiritually dead, we were separated from God. But on the cross, Jesus dealt with the condition that required God to relate to us from the outside. As a result, punishment, wrath, and intimidation have all disappeared from His attitude toward us. God is a safe place.”
Parenting, Danny holds, must revolve around relationship, not domination. “The following statement is the revelation that we need to get if we are going to align our relational paradigms with the truth: You can’t control other people, and nobody can control you but you.”
Loving Our Kids on Purpose points out that using intimidation to mitigate a need to control others is submission to a spirit of fear, when we Christian parents have really been given a spirit of power and love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Danny Silk’s book is the first I have found that moves beyond the enforcing authority of God to His desire to make His children free to choose relationship with Him. He challenges parents to ask God for the pure, peaceable wisdom we lack as we learn to parent our children to freedom in Him.
But Danny is also realistic about the risk we take in giving our hearts for these little ones, however we raise them: there are no guarantees. They might not choose God. They might not choose relationship with us. They will be responsible for their own choices, just as we are responsible for ours. It is the same risk God took in creating us, a risk that sent Jesus to the Cross to secure our ultimate redemption.
As a parent, I have an opportunity to cultivate a safe place for my children to learn how to handle their freedom wisely, following God’s lead in fostering relationship with us. My loving Father is not waiting with punishment or intimidation when I do not choose wisely; His reproof is always meant to restore relationship with me. It is through that relationship that my heart is changed. I feared God’s control of my life, but He wasn’t afraid of my response to Him. He wasn’t worried about the failure of His work in my life. He simply loved me.
Loving Our Kids on Purpose encouraged me to keep the door to relationship open with my children. As I have intentionally fostered my love for Piper, I have found a vibrant little girl whose sensitive, very tender heart makes her willing to respond even to my needs and desires.
I have put it off for months and years, and I am not ready as it comes to me. Fear is not my option as I labor in my own stumbling love to free this little miracle into the wonder of life that flows from God’s heart. I hold my children to my own heart, and I pray they will know His. And I am changed entrusting them to Him.