By Sabrina Schlesinger
Flashback to 2006…Matthew and I had only two children. Sophie–who in typical firstborn fashion–made parenting appear easy. She was the “perfect” baby who slept through the night, hardly ever fussed, and was stinking adorable. To be honest, we thought we were pretty amazing parents. Then Mattie came along.
We can all laugh about it now because she is the most mild-mannered child of ours. She is a teenager now and a complete joy. She is sweet, peaceful, gifted, loves Jesus, and hardly ever gets in trouble. But this relationship started off rough. She came out crying and didn’t stop for three years. If it wasn’t colic, it was tantrums…the kind of tantrums that caused parents to look at us with extreme judgment or relief that it wasn’t their child throwing a fit on the floor of the grocery store. (Yep, that was us!) It was exhausting and embarrassing. My husband and I were desperate for help.
We were visiting family in Seattle, WA and had the chance to get together with my high school best friend, and fellow Mom Mentor, Lisa Hamel and her husband. She recommended the book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp. And it was a game changer, to say the least. It is not an exaggeration to say the principles we put into practice from this book revolutionized our parenting. Within three months, as we adjusted and altered our approach to parenting, we saw a complete 180 degree turn around in our second born.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from the book was the principle of the circle of blessing. What I love the most is that it teaches our children how to relate to God, lifelong.
When my kids were little–I am talking age two and three–we began this conversation. I started out with two pieces of paper. On one page we drew a happy child that looked like them. Their hair was in place, clothes were straight, and a smile was drawn on their face! Then I drew a big circle around this happy version of them and explained that when we are obedient and respectful to God, mommy, and daddy, God places a big circle of blessing around them. That circle is there to so God can bless and protect us. He really loves us and desires to give us blessings! And He is free to do so when we CHOOSE to remain inside of that circle.
Then I begin drawing an identical child that represents them on the second page. But this picture their hair is crazy, they have cuts and bruises, torn clothes, and a sad face. In this picture there is no circle, instead there are sharp arrows that are hitting the child all over! While I am drawing these arrows, I explain that when we CHOOSE to disobey and disrespect God, mommy, and daddy, we are stepping outside of the circle of blessing where God can’t protect and bless us.
Then I talk about God’s enemy, Satan. How he loves to trick us and tempt us to get outside of the circle of blessing, because it’s the only place he can hurt us. When we CHOOSE to lie, angry yell, disobey, cheat, steal, bite, hit, etc. those choices separate us from God’s protection and blessing. I explain we have a real enemy who hates us. I tell them what the Bible says, that our enemy actually wants to kill, steal, and destroy us. But he can’t do that if we remain in the circle.
All of us have stepped outside of God’s circle, and when we do, there are consequences. Consequences are meant to hurt (and this can be done in a variety of ways). The objective is to lovingly shepherd their little hearts, leading them back into God’s circle of blessing, while still letting them feel the pain of their choices. When THAT is our motivation, fueled by love and reconciling them to God, the results are amazing. When our motivation is punishment, fueled by anger and frustration, the results are disappointing. We will ultimately reap what we sow into the hearts of our kids. We HAVE to get our hearts right on this. If you are angry and offended they disobeyed you, then take a break, get your heart right before God and get His heart for your children. Only then can you shepherd their hearts effectively.
I have walked my kids through this process countless times. And it ends with me reminding them that although they may be outside of the circle of blessing, they don’t have to remain there. I ask if they would like to return to God’s circle. And of course, 99 out of 100 times, they say yes. I have them always get right with me or their daddy first, having them be specific for what they are sorry for and then ending with, “Will you forgive me.” And of course, every time, we say, “Absolutely!” Then I have them get right with God.
When they were little, I had them repeat a prayer after. I would say, “God, I am so sorry I disobeyed my mommy today when I (fill in the blank). I know that when I disobey my mommy, I am actually disobeying you. I want to be back in your circle of blessing because I know how much you love me and want to bless and protect me. Please forgive me. Amen.” When I am done, I tell them, “If you really meant that in your heart, and didn’t just say the words in your head (and Jesus is the only one besides you who knows if you really meant it) then He forgives you…every time!”
And although there may be consequences to talk about afterwards, I don’t withhold love and affection from them. They don’t have to earn my approval or affection because they feel guilt or shame. Because we certainly don’t have to do that with our heavenly Father!
This is deliberate parenting. This kind of communication teaches our children how to properly relate to Father God, forever. It teaches them forgiveness, that they have choices to make, and with each choice comes good or bad consequences.
I know there will be horrible things in life that happen to us which we cannot control and that we did not bring on ourselves, and I teach that to my kids as well. But if we are really honest with ourselves, that is the exception to the rule. I feel like the majority of our struggles and heartache in this world are ultimately a response to whether or not we are in obedience or disobedience to the word of God. We have a choice as to whether we will remain inside of the circle of blessing or choose to do what is right in our own eyes.
Today, before you implement change in your parenting, it would be wise of you to ask God if there is any area in your life that is outside of His circle. And if He says yes, get right with Him and return to that place of blessing and protection. It will make all of the difference.
Sabrina is a mother to three biological girls and one adopted boy. She is also a pastor’s wife, freelance graphic designer and mom coach! She resides in beautiful San Diego where the sun shines every day. She prefers chai lattes over coffee, mac-n-cheese over vegetables, and staying in over going out. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!