How Grace-full Is Your Family

Grace plays a huge role in a healthy, loving family. In fact, how a family responds to grace and shares grace will ultimately shape their family. Grace balances the two ends of the see-saw: relationship and rules, love and limits. Unfortunately, not all families practice a healthy expression of grace. Not all families share grace with one another or treat one another from a foundation of grace. As a result, not all families balance relationships and structure in a way that promotes healthy families. Let me briefly describe four ways families respond to grace.
     ·         Some families reject grace. Instead of giving one another unconditional acceptance, they base acceptance on performance and achievement. They react to misbehavior with embarrassment and harsh words, believing that misbehavior ruins the family image. As a result, grace rejecting families become critical and sarcastic. They withhold love until a person meets the standard of achievement and proper behavior that “keeps us looking good.” In this family, people start to think of themselves as failures if they do not meet the expected standard of performance. Family members can begin to feel isolated and alone if they fall short of that standard and find themselves criticized and ignored for missing the mark.

·         Other families crush grace. They believe that a good set of rules to live by will make everything turn out right…and they use a hammer to enforce those rules. Relationships are neglected and made secondary to rules. Personal image becomes defined by my ability to obey the rules. Family members become arrogant as they comply with the rules or overwhelmed with shame when they fall short. The whole family may adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude as they present the perfect family, structure in place, and outward behavior complying with that structure. When someone breaks a rule, shame-based, guilt inducing discipline helps bring them back into line. Fear-based discipline motivates them to avoid punishment. Unfortunately, family members often become resentful of this, feel inadequate, and may eventually rebel against those rules.

·         Today we see many families who manipulate grace. They believe that simple love and acceptance will produce self-control and character. They also hate to see people suffer. So, relationships remain strong but very few, if any, rules are put in place. This family has strong relationships with little to no structure. They give no consequence for misbehavior. Many times, family members will even bail the misbehaving person out of the consequence. Some family members will even suffer for the lazy or misbehaving person. For instance, the parent who stays up late to complete their child’s project while the child watches TV or goes to bed. In grace-manipulating families, people learn that anger is stronger than love and comfort more important than character. Unfortunately, the family becomes enslaved to the one who is most willing to manipulate grace.

·         Healthy families strive to become grace receivers. Grace receiving families nurture healthy, loving relationships while providing a clear, consistent structure to promote positive behavior. They see misbehavior as an opportunity to grow more mature. Discipline provides the opportunity to learn more appropriate behavior and, in the long run, promote deeper intimacy within the family. Family members find acceptance even when they miss the mark and suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior. With unconditional acceptance and loving relationships supporting a consistent structure, family members learn from their mistakes, gain wisdom, and grow more self-controlled.
These families differ in how they balance loving relationships with consistent structure. Ironically, grace provides the perfect balance between relationship and expectation, love and structure. Where does your family fall into the descriptions above? Are you most often a grace-rejecter, grace-crusher, grace-manipulator, or grace-receiver? How does that impact your family? If you are not a grace-receiver, what will you do this week to become more of a grace receiver? After all, the health of your family is at stake.

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