The day we had been dreading had finally arrived. Our oldest child, Alex, was moving out on her own. I had always expected to be relieved to see our kids spread their wings and fly away from the nest. After all, raising healthy, well-adjusted kids who can thrive on their own is nearly every parent’s goal, right? Recently though, as my faith continued to evolve, I realized we had not done a good job of representing spiritual and emotional health to our kids. As our views of God shifted, so did our parenting techniques. But for our oldest (and her two slightly younger siblings), I was afraid that our spiritual evolution happened too late.
Who’s Lost? Us or Them?
Brandi and I were both raised in Evangelical homes steeped in end times prophetic warnings and purity culture. We were both raised with an unhealthy fear of God. The trauma of the cross was so ingrained in my psyche that I couldn’t even look at a picture of Jesus on the cross without being overwhelmed by guilt and shame. As a child, I used to have recurring nightmares about a hand reaching out from under my bed and dragging me into hellfire. My evangelical upbringing told me that’s what I deserved so I interpreted the dreams as a warning of things to come.
As an adult, I “answered the call” to ministry to spread the evangelical gospel because I was convinced that’s what God wanted me to do. I saw God as a loving but firm taskmaster who was waiting to lower the boom on us when we stepped outside of his prescribed moral lifestyle.
Have a flat tire? You probably weren’t tithing.
Sick? You must not have enough faith.
Depressed? You just need the joy of the Lord!
Lonely? You should go to church more!
Reading those ridiculous oversimplifications today makes my stomach turn, but I was a master at using the “sword of the Spirit” as my own personal bludgeoning instrument. During my shockingly loud sermons, I would rail against one sin after another for most of an hour until everyone in the church was overwhelmed by a sense of guilt that had them running to the altar to “repent” and “get right with God.”
That was my life’s work for years —guilt tripping people into the Kingdom of God. Of course, that kind of repentance rarely takes root, and folks didn’t stick around the churches that I pastored for very long. Today, I’m grateful for that. Back then, however, it was a source of great frustration and heartbreak to me. Within just a few years, I was completely burned out.
As the stress worsened my miserable first marriage collapsed along with my ministry. At rock bottom, I looked up and began to experience and appreciate the grace and compassion of God. I could sense that God still loved me and still had some purpose for my life, but I still struggled with legalism and a deeply embedded sin consciousness.
This muddled stream of love and legalism corrupted all my relationships. Even after marrying the love of my life, Brandi, and raising four kids together, I still found myself operating out of both compassion and guilt which led to a rather two-faced existence.
“God loves you. Now act right.”
“No, you can’t use that app because bad things happen on that app.”
“No, you can’t date. Boys only want one thing from girls.”
“I don’t care that you don’t want to go to church today. That’s what we do on Sundays!”
As you can imagine, this wasn’t a fun existence for anyone involved. Brandi was further along in her spiritual evolution than I was and often pushed back against my heavy-handed rules. That caused friction between us. Unfortunately for our oldest three kids, most of their childhood was lived in that tension.
The Ice Begins to Thaw
More than a decade later, I was walking around the track one day at my local gym listening to author Jonathan Martin interview his fellow author, Brad Jersak. As they spoke about the love of God, I experienced something incredible. I can only describe what happened that day as waves of liquid love crashing over me. All my guilt, shame, and fear were washed away that day. I saw—for the first time—a God who loves us all as we are. I encountered a Jesus whose table was big enough for every member of the human family with no exceptions. In the years since, I have come to know a God who has no desire to control me in any way. That’s a big turnaround from believing in a God who cared whether I wore the striped socks or the plain!
I knew that my relationships with my family needed to change in light of this liberating understanding of God, but how? We had raised our kids with strict rules because that’s how we thought God dealt with us. Now that we understand that God isn’t like that what does it mean for how we relate to our kids?
Sitting in my recliner that day, across from our oldest with tears streaming down my face, I told her how sorry I was for not being a better parent. We told her that she always had a home with us and would never be without a place to go if she needed one. But I knew the chances of her ever coming back to live with us for more than a couple of weeks between college semesters were nearly non-existent. She is a smart, beautiful girl with an independent spirit, and we had clipped her wings long enough.
We wanted to do better by our other kids. But how?
I searched everywhere for a book on the subject. I finally came across “Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness” by Cindy Wang Brandt and found it helpful, but I needed more. I kept looking for resources and coming up empty.
That’s how our new book, Parenting Deconstructed, came to be. We reached out to writers, teachers, and counselors that we know and trust and invited them to submit their thoughts on parenting post-deconstruction. Our co-authors in this book come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and beliefs, but they have at least one thing in common: They want to see you love your kids well and give them the best possible start in life. You’ll notice some common themes—most of us wrestled with the idea that if we’d just “train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow older they won’t depart from it,” but what does that really mean and does it even matter in 2022?
I love the different perspectives and understandings represented in this book, and I hope you will too. Some of us are still actively seeking to follow Jesus. Others are not. Some of us can’t even describe where we are spiritually right now—and that’s ok. Every contributor brings hard-fought wisdom and fresh insights that will help you be the best parent that you can be.
This isn’t a book about how to be a perfect parent. That book doesn’t exist. If that’s what you’re looking for you should just go ahead and take this book back to wherever you bought/borrowed it.
This book represents a journey toward understanding our kids and our relationships with them better in light of our shifting spiritual beliefs.
And that’s a very good place to start.
This article is excerpted from “Parenting Deconstructed: Navigating Your Spiritual Evolution Without Leaving Your Family Behind” which releases today from Quoir Publishing. The book includes chapters by Keith Giles, Matthew J. Distefano, Jonathan Puddle, Desimber Rose Wattleton, Laura Forehand, Christopher and Elizabeth Eaker, Karl Forehand, Derrick Day, Ben DeLong, Jon Turney, Joshua Lawson, and Phil Drysdale. The book has been endorsed by Thomas Jay Oord, April Ajoy, Laci Bean, Glenn Siepert, Seth Price, Dallas Verity, and even Cindy Wang Brandt herself!
100% of author royalties from this book will go to helping traumatized children get the counseling they need so please order your copy today!