Guarding Your Heart Against Legalistic Parenting & Fostering a Grace-Filled Home

Avoid legalistic parenting and instead point your kids to Jesus first and foremost. Without a relationship with Him, it’s meaningless.

“And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’” Mark 2:27 (ESV)

It was Sunday morning crunch time. As a single mom after my husband died, I was still adapting to getting my kids up, dressed, fed, and out the door for any activity, much less Sunday morning services.

Six kids were in the minivan as we waited on my oldest, a college sophomore home for the weekend from college.

I tapped the horn to hurry him as he emerged from the house, Bible in hand. One glance at his clothes and I wasn’t happy.

We attended a large, downtown church where people dressed up and there he was in a flannel shirt (it was July in Florida), worn jeans, and flip flops. Flip flops! I didn’t expect a suit and tie, but would khakis and clean sneakers have been so hard?

Backing down the driveway, I started my lecture. “Ben, you know good and well you should dress for church. You can wear those clothes any day of the week but on Sundays, you need to show respect for the Lord.”

His clothing choice felt like a direct hit to my parenting authority.

I was already on high alert navigating the changes of solo parenting, juggling every decision, our finances, our home and more. I felt the weight of responsibility to shepherd our family through this loss and raise them well.

To my son’s credit, he listened without any pushback. But God had a lesson coming for me.

Pulling out of the church parking lot that afternoon, a man on crutches crossed the street with slow, careful steps. His face was weathered, his hair disheveled, his clothes worn and dirty, and his feet were bare.

Ben hopped out of the car to approach him.

I watched as Ben talked with him, gave him a bag of food, and then took off his shirt and flip flops and handed them to him.

Climbing back into his seat, he relayed their conversation. Yes, the man was homeless but he also had a chronic, painful condition affecting his feet. They were too swollen and tender to tolerate closed-toed shoes, which is why he was barefoot.

Ben’s flip flops were the perfect provision.

The shoes that broke my Sunday dress code rules were the very shoes God had intended for this man we’d encounter that day.

I instantly understood God’s correction. My mama rules were like the manmade regulations the Jewish authorities kept, turning the Sabbath from a blessing into a burden.

God created the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest, not rules. In trying to control the people and ensure God was honored the way they thought he should be, the Pharisees added hundreds of requirements. The Sabbath became a stressful, graceless, rule-filled day.

They got so tied up in rules that they missed pointing people to Jesus.

We mamas can do the same thing.

In our desire to point our children to Jesus, we can begin substituting rules for relationship.

Legalism is sneaky. Though it’s clear now, I honestly didn’t think I was legalistic in parenting. As a single mom dealing with massive changes in loss, my Sunday dress code offered control but missed teaching my children how to honor God with their hearts.

God showed me my Sunday morning dress code—and any other self-imposed rule—wasn’t about him or for him. They were for my reputation and appearance.

My younger children saw far more about honoring God as they watched their brother give away his flannel shirt and flip flops than they could from a hundred Sunday mornings of dressing up.

I’m learning to keep legalistic parenting out of mama rules as I authentically point my children to Jesus.

In His Word

Galatians 1:10: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (ESV)

In Your Life

Is this rule motivated by reputation or appearance?

Is this rule a preference and are there other ways to align with God’s command?

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