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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Discovering God’s Plan for Your Parenting (Part 2 of 2)

Discovering God’s Plan for Your Parenting (Part 2 of 2)

Author Gary Thomas explains how parenting can lead to spiritual transformation in a discussion based on his book, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: June 8, 2022


Gary Thomas: One of the real purposes of Sacred Parenting is that it’s not like we’ve arrived spiritually, emotionally and then are pulling your kids up to our level, it’s like we’re all rubbing shoulders, sinning against each other, asking for forgiveness, receiving God’s grace so that our kids see modeled, not just good behavior, which I hope they see and not just a worshipful attitude, which I hope they see, but also how do they deal with their sin? How do they confess it? How do they recognize it instead of run from it and how do they ask for forgiveness? So for me, the joy of parenting was preserved by reminding myself I’m a messenger. I’m not the Messiah.

End of Preview

John Fuller: That’s Gary Thomas describing the very special opportunity that God gives us as parents. Uh, but we have to have the right perspective as we raise our kids. And Gary’s back with us today to help us with that. Your host is Focus on the Family, president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we had such a good discussion last time with Gary about Sacred Parenting. Uh, he wrote this book years ago, but now it’s been updated with wonderful content and terrific themes. Uh, last time we talked about listening, sacrifice, guilt and all the stuff that motivates us as parents, both negatively and positively. Gary challenged us to think differently about how we raise our children, hopefully toward a more Godly orientation. It’s all about launching them. How do we get these kids ready to live their lives in such a way that they honor the Lord, they do well to their fellow neighbor and treat their families right, and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation today.

John: And I am too Jim, it’s gonna be good. Um, we encourage you to get a copy of Gary’s book. It’s called Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. And, uh, we also have an audio copy of our conversation from last time. Details are at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or give us a call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. And we made note of this last time, Jim, uh, we moved from our normal studio set up to a beautiful hunting lodge in Texas. We were hosted by Bill and Kerry and they’re dear friends and we’re so grateful for their hospitality. It’s gonna sound a little bit different. Here’s how Jim started part two of our conversation with Gary Thomas on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Jim: Gary, we wanna get back to the book, Sacred Parenting, which again, you, uh, republished here. The last time we left off and if you missed it, as John said, get a CD, get, call us, get the download for your app phone, whatever it might, uh, require. But you mentioned the listening skills and, uh, learning from your children, I just wanna pull one element out of last, uh, program. You have a story about your son, Graham teaching you something. And I think it’s a beautiful way to start the program today. What did you learn from your son Graham? How old was he?

Gary: He was about four and a half if I remember correctly. And it was a frustrating time in my life. All I wanted to be was a writer. I couldn’t imagine anything else. And so I was in a job that wasn’t bringing a lot of joy. I would get up early, but pretty much my day was defined by the mailbox. I would send out these letters to publishers, to magazines, to agents and it was just frustrating because I wasn’t getting anything back that I wanted to read, (laughs). And so the day started out with that, with Graham, we were just signing him up for soccer. So I took him to soccer field so he could watch the kids. He was gonna play it soon. And then we had a coupon for two, for one Sundays at Baskin-Robbins and money was tight and so we used a coupon. So we went and stopped at Baskin-Robbins, which is right next to what they used to call a video rental store, (laughs), if you remember the days of Blockbuster.

Jim: What’s that? Yeah.

Gary: And so we went in, and he had heard me talk about Speed Racer. And we- we- we saw the Speed Racer video that he could, and he was just hugging that thing, he was so excited. Uh, and I stopped off at the post office, which was a mistake, and it was, the box was empty, which basically means nobody wants to say, we want you to work with us at the time. And that’s what was coloring my day, another day, another dream hasn’t come through. What’s going on? When is this gonna happen? And I had that day throughout with Graham. I also took him to the grocery store; he got a coupon. It was his first box of, um, Cocoa Puffs, which he, that was so excited. And he was hugging that box.

Jim: (laughs) Your nutritional skills are on display, you know?

Gary: And so we’re driving, and I’m just discouraged. I mean, I’d give the day about a C+ at that time, it was just so frustrating, but we’re putting Graham down for his nap and he just looks up and he goes, “This was the best day of my whole life.” And I just look back through his eyes, you know, just watching a soccer game as a young boy thinking he’s gonna get to play soccer. Getting to have a Sunday, getting to watch, uh, Speed Racer video, and then knowing the next morning, he’s gonna wake up to a bowl of cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or whatever, (laughs). And- and I just, I, it just caused me to- to settle down and say, Gary, this is the miracle of parenting. This is an A+ day for your son, it should be an a plus day for you. And again, looking back is an empty nester that even hits me more.

Jim: Yeah, that’s something, I love that. Troy and I had a similar experience. We went to get a fifth wheel, took the truck out, had to go cross country to get it on the way back the truck breaks down. So we’re stuck Memorial Day weekend for four days, waiting for this truck. We’re staying at a Hampton Inn and eating a cracker barrel next door with no vehicle. And we swam, we played Scrabble. He was probably seven. And we get in the truck. I have an attitude like I’m out 2,500 bucks plus the hotel, plus four days of Memorial Day weekend. And we’re driving down the road and he goes, dad, “This has been the best vacation ever.” (laughs) And I’m like, “What? What are you talking about?” So it’s all perspective, isn’t it? He loved it.

Gary: It- it is. And you know, I, we really miss that even more looking back. I had some intimations when my youngest daughter was just 12 years old, I had forgotten something on a speaking trip and had to go to a mall to pick it up or something and I saw a young family there. It was a mom and a dad. They had three or four kids with them. One of the kids was very small, this tight curled toddler. She ran up in front of her dad and jumped in front of him and stopped and said, “Daddy, you gotta carry me, my legs are too tired.” And you can tell he didn’t want to, but he looked like a good dad. So he moved all of the bags to his right hand and scooped her up with his left and started walking along.

And there’s just something about that scene that hit me, Gary, when is the last time you carried one of your kids through the mall because their little legs were too tired? And it was the first time I realized that season was over. It’s so subtle. You know, it’s happening every day. All of a sudden years have gone by and it’s not gonna happen again. And I so wish somebody had said to me that last time, Gary, this is the last time you carry one of your kids through the mall, take a mental snapshot, be in the present. Think about this moment, relish this moment I was missing it so much. I went home to my daughter who then was 12 years old. And I said, “Kelsey, can I carry you through the mall one last time?” So I- I- I could try to recreate that.

Jim: Daaaad, (laughs).

Gary: Exactly, you even have the attitude down. So it didn’t happen. And I, we’ll just have to wait for grandkids, I guess.

Jim: Well, that’s good. Hey, today I wanna move into another kind of difficult subject, that’s anger. Uh, parenting and anger they just seem to go together and maybe you’re listening and you’re saying, well, I’ve never had that problem. God bless you, that’s a wonderful thing that you got the joy of the Lord, but many parents, we do struggle with that anger. First of all, how did you address that in the book? Uh, you said it’s natural but dangerous. Uh, how do we avoid compounding that anger in that moment? And how do we just pull back and not express it inappropriately?

Gary: Anger is certainly one of the key occupational hazards of parenting. A pastor of a church, about two to 300, which is a good-sized church, but it was enough to where he knew most of the people in his church. He decided to preach a sermon on anger. And at the end of their sermon, they would have people come forward who wanted prayer for that particular topic? 19 people came forward that morning and he looked at ’em and he started laughing. Everyone was a mother of toddlers. John: (laughs).

Gary: And so he realized, you know, part of it is this station of life. It’s because we care so much. And we think if you- you- you could have hurt yourself or we think of what- what could have happened, we think of what it means for their future it’s the sense of betrayal. I’ve- I’ve given everything to you. I try to love you and I’ve made myself so vulnerable to you. I, it just seems like anger becomes, uh, such a big part of parenting, but for me, it also helped me understand God’s anger in a way I never could before. There- there can’t be love without anger.

Jim: What’s that appropriate anger though, di- distinguish for me-

John: Yeah.

Jim: … between appropriate anger as a parent and inappropriate, ’cause I think some parents it’s blurry.

Gary: Yeah. Inappropriate anger for me was anger when I was inconvenienced, anger when I was put out by what they did, or embarrassed or frustrated and appropriate anger is when I’m angry for what it might mean for them. So I’m trying to maintain my focus on you can’t do this. This is what’s going to hurt you. So they’re not seeing my displeasure or anger as a result of how could you do this to me? How could you embarrass me in this place or whatnot, they see that my dad really loves me. And what I’ve done has caused an emotion I don’t see in him very often and I know it’s because he’s worried what this means for my present and my future.

Jim: What would be some examples? I really just to get the- the f- feel of this. I wanna make sure people are hearing your heart. So when it comes to what behaviors in your children do you think a parent is rightful to say, whoa, come on.

Gary: One of the classic missteps for us in parents with anger is when we’re so terrified when our kid misses a curfew and comes home late and what’s the first thing we say, I’m gonna kill you, (laughs), you know, they say, wait a minute, you were worried about my safety, and now you’re gonna take me on. But- but that’s where at that point, our anger becomes, I can’t believe you did this to me, I didn’t get any sleep. I didn’t do that. Instead of taking a step back and having those conversations. You know, you realize the longer you stay out, the more tired you get, the more tired you get, the worse the decisions tend to be. Nothing good happens for a teenager outside the house at 2:00 AM.

Jim: Right.

Gary: It- it just doesn’t. So you’re trying to express it. We want this for you. We don’t want that for you. And when you’re making these choices, you’re setting yourself up. And even if you got away with it this time, when this becomes a pattern of life, inevitably when you buck wisdom, you pay the price. There’s always going to be consequences. And so it’s not, we didn’t get any sleep, we’ve gotta get up in the morning. It’s really what this means for them and their future.

John: Mm, that’s a good way to put it. You’re- you’re really child centered at that point. Not me and I’ve been inconvenienced and such.

Gary: Yes.

John: But what about, uh, I mean, I appreciate that example, but what about something as simple as they left their dishes in the sink again?

Gary: Oh, that’s a good one.

John: They didn’t put ’em in the dishwasher.

Gary: Didn’t rinse them of.

John: What’s that about? I mean, is- is there room for anger on that, Gary?

Gary: Boy that’s [inaudible].

Jim: Is this a friend of yours John?

John: It could be (laughs).

Gary: Well, for me it wasn’t, it, for me, it wasn’t dishes in the sink so much as we were so tight financially when the kids were young and my dad just ingrained in me, if you leave a room, you turn off the lights.

John: Turn off the lights, yeah.

Gary: And my kids couldn’t get it. And I always knew what house I had in when I came home, because every light in the house was on. And one time I came home, and I just went around I, and Lisa said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m- I’m trying to find the one light that isn’t on. I don’t want it to feel left out.”

John: (laughs).

Gary: I was trying to make a point with my kids-

Jim: Did that it work.

Gary: No.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: I mean, they’re just like, oh dad, what’s the problem.

Jim: Whatever.

John: See, where the difficulty is that’s about me, not about my child.

Gary: But- but here’s what happened to cure me of that. I came home one night after work and the house was completely dark. And I thought, what’s up with this? Well, they had left in the afternoon, they had hit some traffic. We lived in the Northern Virginia area that time and it could be terrible. So I unusually got home before them, and it was so dark. I- I, it made me miss ’em so much, I turned on the lights on [inaudible] from home because it- it- it just made me realize, you know what, the fact that there are dishes in the sink means there’s a kid to get the dishes dirty. The fact that there’s a light left on means there was a kid that was in the room to leave the light on. And so I would say to parents, just- just take a little step back and- and be grateful, um, that the people are there and yeah, you can’t live with somebody without them occasionally inconveniencing you. Uh, and I do think we, you know, you need to teach ’em responsibility with consequences and whatnot. You guys have done so many shows where with parenting experts that can- can help ’em do that and- and face the consequences. But it’s just keeping that heart of what really matters most here.

John: Such great thoughts from Gary Thomas, our guest on Focus on the Family. Uh, your host is Focus, President Jim Daly, I’m John Fuller, and we’ve been covering some of the content in Gary’s excellent book, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. Contact us today about donating and getting a copy of that book, as well as a copy of this two-day conversation with Gary. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And here now is the conclusion of our conversation with Gary Thomas on Focus on the Family.

Jim: Gary, uh, moving this to a Godly perspective, this idea of joy, you know, you want to, uh, instill into your kid’s godly character. Certainly joy is one of ’em. And- and you had this line in your book, Sacred Parenting, which was so good, don’t be stupidly serious, (laughs). I love that, stupidly serious.

Gary: Yeah. It, it’s a quote from G. K. Chesterton who talked about how Christians can really put off non-Christians when we become what he called stupidly serious when-

Jim: Or your kids.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: (laughs).

Gary: Certainly our kids, we- we- we don’t embrace the joy of life. And when I look at scriptures, what really impacted me and the attitude I wanted to have with my kids and want to have with my kids today, Paul worked with some of the most frustrating churches imaginable, with some of the worst sins you could imagine. I mean, acts of immorality-

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: … um, going off into heresy, financial problems. Sometimes they were taking pride in it, turning one against the other, but listen to some of the things that Paul said to these very troublesome communities. To the Romans, I am full of joy over you. To the Corinthians, I have great confidence in you. I take great pride in you. I’m greatly encouraged in all our troubles. My joy knows no bounds. To the Philippians, I thank my God every time I remember you in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. To the Thessalonians, indeed you are our glory and joy. To Philemon, your love has given me great joy. The one thing that people knew who were loved by Paul is that he had great joy in loving them. And I think one of the goals for us as parents should be one of the greatest joys in my life is that I get to be your parent. You’re not a project to me. I delight in you. You give me great joy. And sometimes it’s just settling down. I remember one Easter, we were at a church where the seats filled up very quickly and particularly on Easter morning, you know? And so they had to have overflow. And I thought, who wants to spend Easter in an overflow room where you can’t, you know, you’re looking at a screen and then-

Jim: That’s called the little kids table, (laughs).

Gary: Yeah. I mean, it’s just, I- I didn’t wanna do that. And so I was trying to get my- my family to understand the emergency of leaving on time this one Sunday, I’d given up all other Sundays.

John: (laughs).

Gary: One out of 52 Sundays I wanted to leave on time. And yet, you know, my- my wife and one of our daughters have their own special relationship with time. As long as they intended to leave on time, God will make every light turn green and- and everything will happen and we’ll, and so I’m all frustrated. I’m in the van, I’m waiting, we’ve got two of the kids. I’m waiting for my wife and- and little Kelsey at the time, she was just a toddler. And- and they’re running and laughing toward the car. And I just realized how beautiful they were. And it was Gary, this is, this isn’t a time to yell on Easter morning. This is a time to say, thank you God, for this beautiful family. And it’s just taking that step back to not let the joy be squeezed out of an incredible experience.

Jim: Well, and a reminder where we started this was with those moms of toddlers. I think they can stress out the most. If you’re stressing out, get ahold of us, there’s lots of resources and tools, we have counselors to help you. It’s a tough season of life when you’re stressing about everything. So get ahold of us. Uh, Gary, you talk also about leaving, uh, this idea that, uh, control and influence can be out of whack at that point. This is, I guess, nearing the empty nest area where you’re- you’re starting to feel like maybe I didn’t accomplish a job so you’re hanging on even tighter.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Maybe trying to control even more. Discuss that for us, what’s that like, I haven’t been through it yet, you have. John you’ve, you’re partway there.

Gary: It’s- it’s one of the hardest things. And I would just say that one of the most valuable parenting tips I can give to parents whose kids are gonna go away to college, you bring along a pair of sunglasses, (laughs), ’cause when you see that kid that has been living with you for 18 years go away, it rips a part out of you that you can never imagine.

John: Yeah, but you don’t want them to see the tears that would be showing we- showing weakness.

Gary: It- it was so, uh, it was so hard with my oldest daughter she went about 45 minutes away, but it was still painful. She went to a school in Canada. We were right beneath the Canadian border, but it was still, you know, I’d walk by her room, and it was like this black hole. I mean, it was just, it was difficult for me to even go in there and then I’ll never forget dropping my son off, uh, at his school. And it’d been a furious three days ’cause you’re buying all the toiletries. You’re- you’re buying the- the, you go to a hardware store, you go to the Target. I mean all the stores that parents Bed Bath and Beyond, you know, you just, that’s where you go when you’re dropping your kids off at college. So it’s just furious three days of getting the dorm room set up and everything’s set, and you see the campus and I’ll never forget dropping him off at the turnaround. And he gets out of that, and he’s lived with me his whole life and I’m watching him walking in the crowd and I couldn’t leave until I couldn’t see him anymore. And he was just enveloped in that sea of bodies, and it was amazing, uh, just, I can’t believe that time of him living with me every day is over. Uh, it’s a tough thing to face.

Jim: It’s gonna be hard for me to go through. I, and I’m only a couple years away from that. So it’s gonna be tough. I can feel it coming.

Gary: But the bad news is it doesn’t get any easier because then you’re together on vacation and when they leave to go back to school, it feels just as painful.

Jim: (laughs) But it’s a good thing, that shows the relationship is strong. Let’s end on reward. Uh, we look at culture today, man I wish I had more kids. I mean Jean and I just didn’t um, speak to that 20, 30 something, uh, young man and woman, there’s been a, you know, some of the- the ranch folks here and those helping out on- on the time here at the ranch we’ve been at, they they’re just starting their family. One young man has a- a son who’s five months old. We sat in the blind and talked about what it means to be a father. What mistakes to try to avoid. I’m gonna lay it at your feet, um, in the next few minutes here, just what do moms and dads need to avoid in order to have, you know, the best chance at healthy children who love the Lord and are following him and- and uh, you know, doing well?

Gary: First, I would say just embrace the gift of children, which for some of the younger listeners is, uh, you know, the first time I’m hearing as a pastor, people saying, actually, I don’t know that we want any children. Sometimes they’ll say we feel like we’re too selfish or self-absorbed. And I say, that’s probably true, but having children is one of the cures for that.

Jim: Right. They were, they were good with not wanting ’em, (laughs).

Gary: God helps us grow out of that. And then I’ll just say very practically. And I would say this to younger couples that are thinking about that now, is it worth it? I’ve never heard a parents say, I wish we wouldn’t have had this child. I’ve heard a lot of parents say, I wish we would’ve had more-

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: … when they get older, because kids are so much work early on, we think they’re so expensive. We can’t handle it and- and do we want more? I- I really haven’t seen people regret the decision to receive, uh, the gift of those children. The second thing I would remember is that when you look at biblical priorities, there’s a very boring chapter of the Bible that changed my life forever. And it’s Genesis chapter five. Genesis is rolling along, action, excitement, all of this going on, God’s creating the earth and you have Adam and Eve and then you have the fall and all of that. And then you get to chapter five and it’s just this long genealogy, these long lists of names. So and so got married, had so many kids, lived so many years and died. And then so and so, and then he had a son and that son got married and had so many kids and died. We don’t know anything about these people. We don’t know what jobs they had. We don’t know if they were tradesmen or farmers. We don’t know if they were athletes or- or business type of people. And basically what they did get swallowed up in history. And what most of what we live for will be swallowed up in history. Uh, I, we even think of the famous people and I, when people talk about how the famous people we can remember, I always just go back to, well, it’s my Chester Arthur philosophy of life. And they say, “Who’s Chester Arthur?” I say, “Well, he was a president of United States.” And only those people who actually remembered the list, the presidents, will remember because presidents are so big, they’re in the newspaper every day. But if I were to ask you who won the world series in 1967, now somebody will know most won’t, but who was governor of California in 1920? Who was CEO of Shell in 1981? All of these things eventually they evaporate and they’re into nothing, but kids are forever. Kids start an eternal relationship that we can have and that’s the biblical priority. In the end almost everything I do on this earth will be forgotten, but not my kids. That relationship will remain. And so I think when you make the choice to put that relationship as a priority, uh, I’ll never forget what challenged me as a young husband. So when I was on a speaking trip and I was starting to travel a whole lot for my job and I was picked up by a guy who worked then for IBM, which at the time was one of the most successful companies ever in the history of the US and they had a policy at that time. Once you got a job with IBM, you didn’t get laid off, you didn’t get fired later economic force to change in that. But he worked with a co-worker who was in his late ’40s and one day the co-worker didn’t show up and they thought, what happened? Well, his wife called later that morning, he’d had a heart attack and died eating breakfast. And what so shocked the man who I was talking with who had picked me up for the speaking engagement was he said, “We gave our life to the company. If they asked us to come in on the weekends, we came in on the weekends because if you didn’t, you’d be put in this vocational edit, you would never get a promotion. Uh, we stayed late. We did everything they did.” But when he died, they had his replacement within 24 hours, they had him trained and he was moving on. He goes, it was almost as if he never existed. He said, in some ways the company was less inconvenienced by his death than if he had taken a vacation, because they had somebody waiting the rings, they just plugged him. And he goes, “I thought I’ve sacrificed so much for this company but to them, I’m really just something that could be filled.” So I went home from that trip our kids were all young and I walk in the door, I have three arms wrapping themselves around my legs. And daddy’s home and now the whole families together and we go for a walk. And I realized if I died the ministry I worked at the time, they would find a replacement who might do a better job than I was doing. Very likely would do a better job than I was doing.

Jim: Right.

Gary: But my kids would never say it was as if he never existed. I talk to people all the time. They don’t forget their dad when the dad was involved. And so at that point on, I said, who do I wanna disappoint with my no’s? Somebody that can replace me and not really miss me or somebody for whom it will be a huge loss. And so it’s that priority saying it- it led to a change in my vocation. I said, this isn’t the right job for me right now with kids this age. Uh, it changed the course of my life. And I look back and say, it was the right choice.

Jim: All right, Gary, I’m feeling guilty now. I gotta get out with my boys and do some hunting, (laughs). So, uh.

Gary: You’ve been with your boys all week; you’re doing the right thing.

Jim: That’s it, but it’s been great to have your- your book, Sacred Parenting, uh, what wonderful stories, what a great resource for parents to have. Thanks so much for being with us.

Gary: Thank you for having me.

Jim: John, that was such a great conversation with Gary Thomas. Uh, he has such a wonderful heart and good perspectives on family and life. And we had a lot of fun at that Texas ranch as well. Uh, that’s one trip my boys and I will cherish for a very long time. And if you’ve enjoyed Gary’s insights, I wanna encourage you to get a copy of Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. Uh, we’ve only covered the highlights of the book. And I know you’ll find a lot more encouragement for your family in this wonderful resource. And you may wanna get a copy for a friend or a family member. Uh, we can send a copy of Sacred Parenting you when you make a gift to the ministry here at Focus on the Family of any amount. And that’s our way of saying thank you for joining us in helping other families.

John: Yeah, uh, donate monthly if you can, uh, or a onetime gift is deeply appreciated. Either way, uh, call and make your donation. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And when you’re online with us, we have a free parenting assessment that takes just a few minutes for you to fill out. Uh, it’s gonna offer you some great insights about what’s working well in your, uh, relationship with your kids and maybe, uh, one or two items to improve as you interact with your kids. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we, once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls

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