One of the issues we struggle with the most as parents, and as a Christian school, is the interplay of grace, mercy, and consequences within the context of training up our children. We are called upon by Christ to exemplify these three traits in the lives of our children, both through our words and our actions. The trick arises in knowing when and how much to emphasize each trait in any given situation.
Sometimes, in the interest of loving and supporting our children, we even forget the true definitions of those traits. For example, we forget that “grace” does not mean “freedom from consequences”. In Romans 3, Paul reminds us that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through redemption by Christ’s blood. There was a consequence to our sin; it was death. The grace of God is that Christ bore that consequence for us. It was, and is, unmerited favor: favor of God, and others, that we have done nothing to deserve. Grace, therefore, can not be demanded. It can only be freely given.
“Mercy”, conversely, is compassion shown to an offender. It is an act of kindness. Interestingly, it is in the giving of mercy and meting out of consequences where the real challenge arises. Often, the greatest kindness we can give a child is to allow him to suffer the real consequences of bad decisions. Consequences are often painful; but most of the time only temporarily so. If we grant a reprieve from those consequences when doing so will actually hinder the child’s growth, we give him a short-term benefit to his long-term detriment. In those circumstances, we are actually only making ourselves feel better, and are not being kind.
I have seen acts of mercy and grace everyday at our school. When a teacher stays after hours to assist a struggling student, rather than going home to be with family. When an English teacher spends hours correcting rough drafts to help a student’s writing before a grade is at stake. But, it is also mercy and kindness for parents and teachers to require a student to deal with consequences. For a teacher to assess a late penalty because a student does not turn in a paper on time. To give a failing grade or a zero when a student fails to give their best effort or to follow instructions. To tell a child he’s staying home from that big party or dance because he didn’t come in on time the night before. In many cases, the imposition of consequences will garner criticism or frustration from the affected student, child, parent, or others. At the end of the day, however, the child learns, grows, and becomes the wise and resilient human beings that God calls them to be. For a parent or teacher to face criticism and discomfort for the sake of the child’s ultimate well-being is a great act of mercy, an act to be celebrated and supported.
As Marvin Olasky has said, we should all “teach children to resist superficial happiness, the kind that comes too easy…a lack of self-esteem can hurt, but unearned self-esteem can hurt even more.”
Only through prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance can we demonstrate the right mix of grace, mercy, and consequences in our children’s lives. Only by partnering with, praying for and supporting each other in that worthy effort can we truly be effective in bringing about spiritual fruit in those same lives.