We Can’t Give What We Don’t Have

We Can’t Give What We Don’t Have

One afternoon, as I drove to pick up my kids from school, I was listening to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio program. Her shock-jock manner felt caustic, though her counsel was often spot on.

I tuned in out of curiosity.

That particular day, a frantic mom called in because her 13-year-old son faked being sick so he could stay home from school and surf porn sites. Horrified, the parents “grounded him for life” and made him memorize countless Bible verses.

I winced. Here it comes…I thought.

Dr. Laura, known for haranguing parents, spoke in a surprisingly calm but solemn voice. Essentially she said…“This could’ve been a perfect dad moment. The dad should’ve put his arm around his son and said, ‘Let’s go talk.’ He could have said, ‘It’s normal to be curious about the female body, but God has a plan for that.’ He could have taught him about what it really means to be a man.”

Instead, the parents freaked. They reacted punitively out of fear, and the result was damaging. Finding the balance between setting healthy boundaries and giving appropriate freedoms is only one aspect of parenting. The other is the manner or approach we use to communicate God’s ways.

But what happens when parents are too restrictive? When the “law” becomes more important than the “spirit of the law”?

Young lonely woman sitting in glass jarC.S. Lewis aptly put it this way:

The danger, he says, occurs when the law is taken so seriously that more law is added to protect us from breaking God’s law. “The list of things forbidden will increase, till to get through a single day without supposed sin becomes like an elaborate step-dance, and this horrible network breeds self-righteousness in some and haunting anxiety in others. Meanwhile, the ‘weightier matters of the Law,’ righteousness itself (justice, mercy, love, kindness), shrink into insignificance under this vast overgrowth, so that the legalists strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Thus the law…can take on a cancerous life of its own and work against the thing for whose sake it existed. The point is this: a dog on a short rope produces a very different creature than one given some measure of latitude.”

—C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms 

We all know the preacher-kid syndrome. Keeping a kid on a tight rope produces a situation ripe for rebellion.

But what about the inward prodigal, the elder-brother syndrome of the parable Jesus told. The youth who holds it all together for the sake of outward appearance, while inside, his heart is far from God.

Down and up signMy daughter attended a Christian university and found herself caught in between two types of kids: the “good” Christian kids and the “bad” Christian kids. The good ones kept strict morals but were highly judgmental of other kids. They’d turn you in to the “authorities” if you had chewing tobacco hidden inside your lip. Their upbringing bred the self-righteousness that Lewis mentioned.

On the other hand, the “bad” Christian kids almost had something to prove. They were irreverent and edgy, making reckless choices far greater than your average “unsaved” kid. The “haunting anxiety of legalism” Lewis wrote about must have reached a tipping point. They were acting out.

Overall, a number of these college kids lived at one extreme or the other. My daughter made friends on both sides, but was drawn to the “bad” kids because they seemed more authentic and less toxic.

Legalism is parenting out of fear. It’s also a failure to teach our kids to live by the Holy Spirit. Without Him, the Christian life easily boils down to a stiff set of rules and practices.

Left to myself, I was and can be a fear-driven parent! But when I pause and take a moment to consider what God is saying in each situation, I am more likely to respond in the right spirit. There’s no tone of condemnation here. Parenting is a tough job. After all, we’re living in a culture that would like to swallow our kids whole. The point I want to make is this…

We can’t impart to our kids what is underdeveloped in our lives.

The extent to which we are growing in our understanding of a Spirit-led life will invariably affect others—especially our children.

All the more reason to hear God’s voice.


Check out this article about 16 signs that show if your parenting style is too strict.


  1. This was outstanding! So so true!!!! Thank you for writing and for faithfully being God’s ambassador. 😊