I learned of this book while listening to the author on a podcast interview and almost immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. The words I keep using to describe it are practical and inspiring. I’m sure you can relate, as parents we’re always down for inspiration as we journey on, but we also crave the practical ideas and tools and strategies to make a meaningful difference in our days. Justin Earley did a GREAT job combining gospel truth, helpful resources and relatable stories in this book. It is both encouraging and challenging. He repeats an idea throughout the book: our habits are forming us into certain kind of parents and our parenting forms our kids into certain kinds of kids; we are all, together, forming each other into a certain kind of family.
Below are a few meaningful passages:
And that is the power of a good parenting habit: by changing our knee-jerk reactions to ordinary situations, we uncover different ways of letting God’s grace guide our hearts—and our children’s hearts—into new patterns of life together. This may be counterintuitive at first. It was for me. We don’t often think about habits and the heart being so interconnected. But they are. To steward the habits of your family is to steward the hearts of your family.
You can’t think yourself out of a pattern you didn’t think yourself into. You practiced yourself into it, so you have to practice your way out.
The most Christian way to think about our households is that they are little “schools of love,” places where we have one vocation, one calling: to form all who live here into lovers of God and neighbor. This is not a works-based legalistic endeavor, it’s a grace-based beautiful one.
There is no escaping habits and formation in the family. We become our habits, and our kids become us. The family, for better or worse, is a formation machine.
The Christian posture toward habits of the household is not about carrying our families on our backs and hiking up the steep mountain of life. It is much more childlike than that. It is simply about taking hold of the outstretched hand of our heavenly Father and following him, one baby step at a time. Our best parenting comes when we think less about being parents of children and more about being children of God. So don’t worry. Rethinking the habits of your household isn’t a heavy burden. What’s heavy is continuing to do nothing. What’s burdensome is continuing to follow default cultural habits. But taking the hand of God and being willing to follow him wherever he leads—that’s light. It’s the posture of a child. Someone who is stronger than you and who loves you is in charge. And that’s good news for parents and children.
Parenting is really hard, mostly messy, and none of us shines at it. At best, I am a tired, confused, impatient, guilt-ridden, and regret-prone father whose only hope is that Jesus actually did live, die, and rise again. My only hope is that grace means that that divine reality will somehow break into my reality. Because my reality is that I don’t feel like I’m good at my job as a parent.
Parenting your children is not just about what you are doing in their lives. It is first about the work God is doing in your life. This means the starting point of parenting habits is thinking about how our household habits are forming us as parents. We can’t make disciples without being disciples. We can’t teach the grace of God outside of experiencing the grace of God.
So we must wake up to how we wake up. We must see that the first role of a parent is not to get everyone up on time but to root our household habits of waking in the truth of the gospel. For in the story of God, our call is not simply to wake up our bodies each day but to awaken our hearts to God’s love.
The best way to understand the spiritual disciplines as morning routines of the household is to imagine them as ways to let the light in.
None of the spiritual disciplines promise to make our life simple or give us eternal patience with our children. None of them will banish our worries and exhaustions forever at the snap of a finger. But what they can do is open our hearts to see that God has been there all along, waiting patiently to meet us right in the midst of our complexities and anxieties. And in the light of God’s presence with us, we are reminded that the monsters we feared never existed after all.
So it is that the small things are the big things, and the tiny routines run the deepest. But above all of that, we are unlocking something else with our gaze. By turning our face to the Scriptures, we look and find a God who is looking back. We find the parent we want to imitate. Above all, we go to Scripture because we want to become more like him, and in turn, our children, who are by default becoming more like us, become more like him too.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the stories of our homes are constantly shaped by moments of discipline. If we love our children, then we will find ourselves faced over and over with the task of discipling our children through discipline, not as a means of controlling their behavior for our convenience but rather as a means of stewarding their hearts toward loving God. This is why discipline is both the highest call and the hardest thing we do as parents.
We can’t talk about the practical habits of setting screentime limits without addressing how difficult that is. But before you resign and say, “This just won’t work for me and our family,” gently remind yourself of the sobering yet beautiful call of the parent: as Jesus took the pain so that we don’t have to, so we take the pain so our children don’t have to. The story of the gospel is not just our greatest hope in life and death, it is also the best paradigm for parenting. We don’t sacrifice our kids’ formation so that we can have an easier life. We sacrifice the ease of our life so our kids can have biblical formation.
Teaching our kids to pray is a work done mostly on the fly. Less in the pews and at Sunday school tables and more in the back seats of cars and the ends of grocery lines. Over skinned knees and missed catches. If we want our children to grow up and want God instead of the things he gives, we might start by teaching them that he’s an approachable God; he’s a warm, smiling father who won’t send them away for immaturity. God himself is worth wanting to be with.