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)
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 our 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 Excerpt
John Fuller: That's Gary Thomas describing a very special opportunity that God gives us as parents. But we have to have the right cap on, the right assignment, uh, in mind as we lead them. Uh, Gary's back with us today on "Focus on the Family." And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we had such a good discussion last time with Gary about Sacred Parenting. It's a re-release of a book he's written a few years ago, but it's come out again. Wonderful content, terrific themes. Last time we talked about listening and sacrifice and guilt and, uh, great themes to better understand what motivates you as a parent, uh, both negatively and positively. I think Gary challenged us to think differently about how we parent our children. And that's the key in a more, uh, godly goal orientation.
And, you know, folks what it's all about is launching. 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, certainly treat their families right? That's both for our daughters as well as our sons. And I'm looking forward to today's discussion.
John: And I'll encourage you as the listener to get the download or the CD of the broadcast last time, and to get a copy of Gary's book Sacred Parenting when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or give us a call, and we'd be happy to tell you more - 800-232-6459.
Jim: And, uh, John, folks might hear there's a little different sound to the Focus program today.
John: Yeah, the studio's a little larger today.
Jim: This is a big lodge. We're down in Texas at, uh, Bill Byler's ranch. We're hunting and enjoying that with our kids. I brought both my boys and some other friends of the ministry brought some, uh, teens along. And we're having a good time.
John: It's really a great group of, uh, guys.
Jim: This is such a great environment for boys particularly, but girls too. Man, just raise them in an environment where they can learn some confidence. I had a great chat with one of our guides this morning, just talking about how many young people have come to this ranch. And they come in a little, uh, timid, and they leave with confidence because they've accomplished something.
John: Yeah. There's a certain - certain expectation that you got to do the adult thing here.
Jim: Right. But it's fun, and it is great to be here. So if you're hearing a little difference, you might have some background noise you're going to hear, uh, go with it.
John: Yeah, it's, uh - it's fun to be here today.
Jim: Hey, Gary, wanna we get back to the book, Sacred Parenting, which, again, you republished here. 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 want to pull one element out of the 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 (Laughter) to read. And so the day started out with that. With Graham, we were just signing him up for soccer. So I took him to the soccer field so he could watch the kids. He was gonna play it soon. And then we had a coupon for two-for-one sundaes at Baskin Robbins. And money was tight, and so we used the coupons. And so we went and stopped at Baskin Robbins, which is right next to what they used to call a video rental store. Remember the days of Blockbuster?
Jim: What's that?
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 true. What's going on? When is this gonna happen?
And I had that day, throughout. Graham - I also took to him the grocery store. He got a coupon. It was his first box of, um, Cocoa Puffs, (Laughter) which he thought was so exciting.
Jim: (Laughter) Your nutritional skills are on display, you know.
John: Living high.
Gary: And so we're driving, and I'm just discouraged. I mean, I'd give the day about a C-plus at that time. It was just so frustrating.
Gary: But we were putting Graham down for his nap, and he just looks up at me. He goes, "This was the best day of my whole life!" And I just looked back through his eyes, you know, just watching a soccer game as a young boy thinking he's going to get to play soccer, getting to have a sundae, getting to watch, uh, Speed Racer video and then knowing the next morning he's going to wake up to a bowl of cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or whatever. (Laughter) And I just - I - it just caused me to settle down and say, Gary, this is the miracle of parenting. This is an A-plus day for your son. It should be an A-plus day for you. And again, looking back as 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 waitin' for this truck. We're staying at the Hampton Inn and eating at Cracker Barrel next door with no vehicle. (Laughter) And we swam, we played Scrabble. He was probably 7. And we'd get in the truck - I have an attitude, like, I'm out $2,500... (Laughter)
John: Four days and all that.
Jim: 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. (Laughter) And I'm like, what? What are you talkin' about? So it's all perspective, isn't it? He loved it.
Gary: 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 somethin'. And I saw a young family there, it was a mom and dad. They 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 could 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, started walking along. And there was just somethin' 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.
Gary: 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...
Jim: (Laughter) She's 12.
Gary: ...So I can try to recreate that?
Jim: Dad! (laughter).
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 want to 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.
Jim: 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 200 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. Nineteen people came forward that morning, and he looked at 'em and he started laughing. Every one was a mother of toddlers. (LAUGHTER) And so he realized, you know, a part of it is this station of life. It's because we care so much. And we think, if you - you could have hurt yourself. 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 given everything to you. I try to love you, and I've made myself so vulnerable to you. It just seems like anger becomes 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? Distinguish for me...
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.
John: Mmm...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. But what about - I appreciate that example - but what about something as simple as they left their dishes in the sink again.
Jim: Ooh, that's a good one.
John: They didn't put 'em in the dishwasher. What is that about? I mean, is - is there room for anger on that, Gary?
Gary: Boy, that's...
Jim: That - is this a friend of yours, John?
John: It could be. (Laughter).
Gary: For me, it wasn't - 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: 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. One time I came home and I just went around, and Lisa said, what are you doing? And I said, well, I'm trying to find the one light that isn't on. I don't want it to feel left out. (Laughter) I was just trying to make a point with my kids.
Jim: Did it work? No.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Gary: I mean, they're just like, oh, Dad.
John: See, but 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 at that time, and it could be terrible. So I, unusually, got home before them, and it was so dark. I - it made me miss them so much, I turned all the lights on to greet them from home (Laughter) because 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.
Gary: 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 take a little step back and be grateful, um, that the people are there. And, yeah, you can't live with somebody without them occasionally inconveniencing you.
Gary: I do think we - you know, you need to teach them responsibility with consequences and whatnot. And you guys have done so many shows where - with parenting experts that can - can help them do that and face the consequences. But it's just keeping that heart of what really matters most here.
John: Well, this is "Focus on the Family." Gary Thomas is our guest today. And we're covering some great content from his book Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. And we've got that and a CD of this conversation, or a download, at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And if you're just tuning in, earlier, we shared that Jim and I are on location at a ranch in Texas. And it's a really great experience. And we're grateful, Gary, for you making the drive over here.
Jim: Gary, moving this to a godly perspective, this idea of joy. You know, you want to instill in your kids godly character. Certainly joy is one of them. And you had this line in your book Sacred Parenting - which was so good - don't be stupidly serious. (Laughter) I love that. Stupidly serious.
Gary: Yeah, 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? (laughter)
Gary: Yeah, so with our kids, 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…
Gary: …I mean, acts of immorality, 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…
Gary: …Where you can't - you know, you're looking at a screen and the...
Jim: That's called the little kids table.
Gary: Yeah, I mean, it's just - I didn't want to 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.
Gary: And so I'm all frustrated. I'm in the van. I'm waiting, got two the kids and I'm waiting for my wife and - and little Kelsey - at the time, she was just a toddler and the door opens up. And it's an adventure to her. She knows she's running late. So she's like laughing with the excitement because it's thrilling. You know, we've got to run. We've got to run. She - she couldn't find her shoes that morning. She could only find one. And so she's trying to suggest that somebody stole it.
Jim: Yeah (laughter).
Gary: So, you know, I move into the van. And I'm waiting and just watching them come out the door. And I see my wife, and I see my daughter. They're in their Easter dresses. And they're running and laughing toward the car. And I just realize how beautiful they were. And it was, "Gary, this is - this isn't it time to yell on Easter morning. This is time to say thank you, God, for this beautiful family."
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 a hold 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 a hold of us.
Gary, you talk also about leaving - this idea that 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 you didn't accomplish the job. So you're hanging on even tighter, 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 one of the hardest things. And I would just say the - one of the most valuable parenting tips I can give to parents whose kids are going to go away to college, you bring along a pair of sunglasses (laughter) because 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, you don't want them to see the tears. That would be showing - showing weakness.
Gary: It was so - 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 at his school.
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 into 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. It's a tough thing to face.
Jim: That's going to be hard for me to go through. And I'm only a couple of years away from that. So it's going to be tough. I can feel it coming.
Gary: 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...
Jim: (Laughter) But it's a good thing. That shows the relationship is strong.
Let's end on reward. We look in the culture today. Man, I wish I had more kids. I mean, Jean and I just didn't. Um, speak to that 20, 30-something, young man and woman. There's been a - you know, some of 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 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 going to lay it at your feet. 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, you know, doing well?
Gary: First, I would say just embrace the gift of children, which for some of the younger listeners is - 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. I said that's probably true. But having children is one of the cures for that. That's how...
Jim: Right, they were - they were good with not wanting them (laughter).
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 parent say, I wish we wouldn't have had this child. I've heard a lot of parents say, I wish we would have had more...
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 really haven't seen people regret the decision to receive the gift of those children.
The second thing I would remember is that when you look at biblical priorities, there is a very boring chapter of the Bible that changed my life forever. And it's Genesis Chapter 5. 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 5. And it's just this long genealogy, these long list 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 gets swallowed up in history. And what most of what we live for will be swallowed up in history. 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? (Laughter) I say well, he was a president of the United States. And only those people who actually remembered the list of presidents will have remembered - I mean, 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 a biblical priority. In the end, almost everything I do on this earth will be forgotten. But not my kids - that relationship will remain…
Gary: … And so I think when you make the choice to put that relationship as a priority.
I'll never forget — what challenge me as a young husband was when I was on a speaking trip. And I was started 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 U.S. 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 economics forced a change in that. But he worked with a coworker who was in his late 40s. And one day, the coworker 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 eddy. You would never get a promotion. 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 in the wings. They just plug them in. He goes, I thought, I've sacrificed so much for this company. But to them, I'm really just something that can 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. Daddy's home - and now the whole family's 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 (Laughter) — very likely would do a better job than I was doing.
Gary: But my kids would never say it was as if you 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 want to 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 led to a change in my vocation. I said, this isn't the right job for me right now with kids this age. 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've got to get out with my boys and do some hunting. So, uh... (Laughter).
Gary: You've been with your boys all week!
Jim: That it, man.
Gary: You're doing the right thing!
Jim: But it's been great to have you here. Your book, Sacred Parenting - what wonderful stories. What a great resource for parents to have. Thanks so much for being with us.
Gary: Thank you for having me.
John: And that’s how we concluded our 2-day conversation with Gary Thomas on Focus on the Family. And we'll encourage you to contact us to get a download or CD copy of the broadcast for yourself or for a friend. And, of course you can order a copy of Gary’s book, as well. Our number is 800-232-6459. Online, order resources and make a donation at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Folks, I gotta say that it was so much fun being at Bill and Carey Byler's ranch with the boys, hunting. That was so wonderful. And to top it off, to record there with Gary Thomas. What a privilege!
John: It really was a terrific time together at the ranch and with Gary, and I hope you sensed that as you listened.
Call us and get a copy of the 2-day conversation with Gary Thomas. It's available as a download or on CD. And we, of course, also have Gary's book available for you. And the number is 800-A-FAMILY. Or, you can find those resources and donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And please let your family and friends know about our broadcast. We’re here every week with programs like this one, equipping parents, strengthening marriages, and helping people grow in their faith. Let me encourage you to join the support team that makes this broadcast, and so many other resources, possible so that we can continue bringing God’s hope and practical help to hurting families around the world. If you can send us a financial gift of any amount today, we’ll say “thanks” by sending you a complimentary copy of Gary’s book, Sacred Parenting. This book is a “must have” for every family, and we’d love to send that to you! So, join the team and support the ministry and so many thousands more families in this endeavor.
John: And thanks to the generosity of friends like you, our research shows that in the past 12 months alone, nearly 1 million moms and dads say we’ve helped them build stronger, healthier, and more God-honoring families. So, thank you for making that possible and please donate when you get in touch. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. Or online you can contribute at focusonthefamily.com/radio.27:01
At the website we’ve also got our free parenting assessment which takes only a few moments to fill out. It'll offer you some great information about what’s working well and how you might improve the interactions with your kids.
Well, have a great weekend with your family, and please join on Monday, as we explore some of the unique challenges that solo-parents face . . .
Robert Beeson: This is not normal. This is not the way God intended it. So I thought I want to re-brand this. I don't want to call them single parents. I want to call them solo parents. Single is a status. Solo is a condition.
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Gary ThomasView Bio
Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children. You can learn more about Gary by visiting his website, www.garythomas.com.