Giving Grace is Hard

I had just returned from a weekend retreat with my son, who has recently entered middle school. That means I’m not only his father, I’m also his youth pastor. It’s weird. But cool. But still weird. 

Within the hour after getting home I was yelling at him, he was yelling at me, and we were living in opposite corners of the house for the moment. Seething in anger, feeling hurt and disrespected, I stared out the window, thinking about our weekend retreat together. Then my wife spoke the words that were so painfully true I needed to hear them, “Mike, if you don’t go in there and apologize, you’re going to contradict anything good he heard you say this weekend.” 

After we all took some time to calm down, apologies were made, forgiveness was given, and conversations have continued about that blow-up. We were both overtired after a busy weekend with little sleep. And what came out of my heart was the opposite of the graciousness I had preached throughout the weekend. 

Whether you’re literally your kids’ youth pastor or not… you are. When they hear us talk about grace, but don’t actually receive it at home, then we are teaching our kids, “Grace is a good idea, but nothing more than that.” Friends, we need to put grace on display at home. To do that, we are the ones who will model Christ’s sacrificial, grace-giving love towards sinners. 

If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you want the gospel to shape the way you raise your teens. You want grace to be one of the primary ways your kids would describe your home. 

This is still a somewhat fresh incident, and I’m honestly quite embarrassed to be writing about this. But I’m trusting I’m not alone, and you aren’t either. Giving grace to our kids is a great idea, but it’s hard to do when we’ve been disrespected, hurt, or ignored. 

When you blow it, there are a few important things to remember. 

  1. You’re not alone. If gospel-centered parenting was easy, we’d have already figured this out. This isn’t some cliche, and it’s not permission to continue being harsh and demanding with your kids. Since you aren’t alone, prayerfully discern a few other Christan parents who you can get together with for the sake of mutual encouragement and prayer (and be sure to avoid turning your time into gripe-sessions about your kids). 
  2. Grace is more than a good idea. You have received grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That means your anger and wrath has been forgiven, so the shame and embarrassment you feel has been removed (which is why I’m able to write this article in the first place). It also means that you don’t need to defend yourself against your teenager when they attack. Yes, they might be sinning against you. But the grace of God gives us power to respond with the compassion and the patience that we have received from our Heavenly Father. Rest in his grace towards you and towards your rebellious child. 
  3. Model confession and repentance. I know this is a tough one, but I learned early on in parenting that my kids already know I’m a sinner. So when I sin against them, I’m not going to surprise them by admitting it! The way I confess my sin, repent, and walk in grace is a very real example of the Christian life for my kids to see. 

Grace is hard. Everything in my flesh loves to be right and loves to get my own way. You’re the same way, and so are your kids. Remember that… and remember the part of you the loves grace is the result of God’s work in your life. Freely you have received. Freely give. 


Mike McGarry is the Director of Youth Pastor Theologian, has served as a Youth Pastor for 18 years in Massachusetts, and has two youth group aged kids at home. He earned his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has published three books – most recently, “Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith.” Mike is committed to training youth workers to think biblically about what youth ministry is and to training them to teach theologically with confidence. You can connect with him on social media @youththeologian.

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