In the process of writing a memoir, I have been reflecting on the families of two sisters.  The first, Joyce, ruled with the iron hand of legalism.  Her five kids obeyed a lengthy set of strict rules—“Because I say so, that’s why!”  Now grown, they tell me they acquiesced mainly out of fear of punishment.

Joyce’s family devotions often centered on the Old Testament: Honor your parents, Fear the Lord, Stop grumbling.  The word grace rarely came up.  When her children got married, Joyce told them, “If your marriage fails, don’t bother coming back here.  You made a vow to God, so keep it.”

All of Joyce’s children have struggled with self-image problems.  They admit it has taken many years for them to think of God as loving, and even now that concept seems more intellectual than experiential.  Joyce and her husband have softened into grandparents, but affection still does not come easily to anyone in the family.

Yet here is a striking fact: defying an overwhelming national trend, all five of those children remain married to their original partners.  They’ve chosen jobs in the helping professions.  All but one are raising their own children in the faith.  At some level, strictness and legalism in this family produced results.

In contrast to Joyce, her sister Annette determined to break out of the rigidity of their own upbringing.  She vowed not to punish her children, rather to love them, comfort them, and calmly explain when they did something wrong.  Her family devotions skipped right past the Old Testament and focused on Jesus’ astonishing parables of grace and forgiveness.

Annette especially loved the story of the Prodigal Son.  “We are those parents,” she would tell her children.  “No matter what you do, no matter what happens, we’ll be here waiting to welcome you back.”

Unfortunately, Annette and her husband would have many opportunities to role-play the parents of the prodigal.  One daughter contracted AIDS through sexual promiscuity.  Another is on her fourth marriage.  A son alternates between prison and a drug rehab center.

Annette has kept her promise, though, always welcoming her children home.  She looks after the grandchildren, posts bail, covers mortgage payments—whatever it takes to live out her commitment of long-suffering love.  I marvel at her spirit of grace and acceptance.  “What do you expect?” she shrugs.  “They’re my children.  You don’t stop loving your own children.”


I grew up in a home and church more like Joyce’s.  After a period of rejection and rebellion, I discovered a God of love and forgiveness.  (More accurately, God found me).  I ended up as a Christian writer, piping the tune of grace.  My brother, raised in the same environment, tossed faith aside.  He now attends what he calls an “atheist church”—a Sunday gathering of humanists who spend much time talking about and opposing a God they don’t believe in—and stocks his bookshelf with works by noted atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

“No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun,” concluded the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.  “Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning.  Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”

A friend of mine, a wise counselor, says that human behavior can be explained by three things: nature (or heredity), nurture (including family upbringing), and free will.  Which, he quickly admits, explains very little, for those ingredients combine in different ways in all of us.  Loving, supportive families sometimes produce wounded and rebellious children; harsh or dysfunctional families sometimes produce the opposite.  In between lies mystery—and God’s grace.

(I welcome hearing your stories of how family did, or didn’t, provide a nurturing balance in cultivating the life of faith.)

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83 responses to “A Tale of Two Families”

  1. Laura says:

    I already posted and don’t really expect to have anyone to read it. I am further down the road now; intellectually and experientially I cannot honestly deny God’s existence. Even as a reprobate, I am aware of grace. I think I was just brought to a place where that knowledge had to result in repentance and salvation or rejection…and I can only say I chose sin. If I claimed “atheism” it would only be to kill the pain of having lost, traded away, the better things for selfish pride. I have a loving husband and good kids, but he is committed to the Lord and our paths are becoming more and more divergent- intellectual honesty requires that I don’t think the grass is greener- I am old enough to know better. I get wistful at moments…thinking of how I have failed my upbringing…how my siblings and stepsiblings have all chosen to follow Christ. How at the end of the day, they say “Thy will” and I say “My will.” Again, I know everybody goes astray- some return, some don’t. Free will. It’s hard knowing there is better…it’s not even about that. It’s about humility, and Jesus Christ as Lord. There are some brass tacks to Christianity. Grace is always there, but it doesn’t negate truth, and Jesus says He is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. Not a good suggestion or self help program. I cannot serve two masters…

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Reading this makes me sad. May you somehow encounter the truth that you are wholly loved by God, who only desires the best for you. –Philip

  2. denice says:

    The Law is the tutor to Christ. When children are young we teach them to obey, knowing that ultimately they won’t (from the heart) until they are made alive in Christ. It is only when they are taught young that they are sinners, that they will even think they have a need for Jesus’ grace! Who needs grace if they are not aware of their sin. Also, I think you present a false dichotomy here inadvertently. My parents were strict with sin but loving and affectionate and fun. They loved each other and showed grace to one another….genuinely repentant sinners. Have you heard of Tedd Tripp? Shepherding a child’s heart? The bottom line though from scripture is that all of us no matter the home we come from are utterly dependent on God’s grace…His spirit must open our eyes and convict us of sin; our need of a savior, grant us repentance and faith. It is indeed like the wind…we can’t see it coming or understand it, but we know where it has blown! God’s word is to be taken as a whole…he is the same God in Deuteronomy as He is in Galatians. We can teach our kids the whole bible so we see his whole character. He is loving, but he is to be feared. another great book….Brendan Beale “grace that taught my heart to fear” is excellent on this!

  3. Amanda says:

    I am late to the conversation, but I am reading “What’s So Amazing About Grace” and searched out your page. It is only the second Philip Yancey book I have read.

    I grew up without much grace. I am the youngest of 6 kids and I think my parents thought I was the last chance to get it right. We attended church regularly but during the week there was no talking about God, my mom would give me a lot of books about God to read, but it was habit to only be a Christian on Sunday’s. My mom took a legalistic stance and was strict. It didn’t work well for me, I thought my parents (and God) just didn’t want me to have any fun. However, when I came home from college for the weekend at 19, 6 weeks pregnant, and I knew I had to fess up to my parents, I was met with grace. I didn’t expect grace, but much like the prodigal child it was OK.

    I have been met with grace abundantly in my job, I work in a church and I have made a lot of mistakes, and I have gone to our pastor with my “tail between my legs” to confess something, only to find out there is no rebuke — all is forgiven, now get back to work.

    As a parent, I try to meet my kids with grace and compassion abundantly. I hope that it shapes their image of God into what He really is, jovial, compassionate, merciful, graceful, loving, instead of a Calvinistic God that I knew as a child. I can not control what choices they make once they are out of my home, but I will do my best to remember the grace that has been given freely to me, and pass it along.

    I do not dismiss the power of prayer. I pray often for them, their future, and I have peace. Thank you for your book, it is doing a good work on my heart and in my ministry.

  4. anonymous says:

    My upbringing about faith was confusing to say the least. My mother’s mother is very legalistic. According to her the only Bible that has the truth is the King James Bible and the only people going to heaven are Baptists. She has made up her own doctrines based on her own interpretations and is what I would call a rogue Christian. She has a complaint against every church and every fellow believer. She is also a doom and gloom prophetess. She’s alienated and frightened everyone with her views on God’s plans for us. As a child, she pushed her views on me with the turn or burn philosophy. My mother and father were quite laxed about church and religion and told us kids to do what we wanted. Although, I respect the freedom they gave me, I yearned for their time and attention. Both of them worked and drank beer when they weren’t. I dated a preacher’s son in high school which resulted in a pregnancy when I was 15. The preacher family was angry with me and said it would be best if I did not attend their church for a few weeks. My own parents drank over their sorrows yet they welcomed me and my unborn baby. I remember telling my pastor that I felt more love and acceptance from alcoholics than I ever experienced with church goers. My son was born a quadriplegic which I learned when he was 13 months old. My parents divorced that same month. I remember telling God that I was done with him. I also remember thinking that was odd for me to do since I never thought God cared about me or was involved in my life anyway. After 14 years passed, much of which was lonely, fearful, and exhausting from meeting the daily demands of caring for my son, something began to stir in me. I found myself thinking about Jesus all the time. After about a year of this he revealed himself to me. Since then I have been obsessed with learning about him and devoting time to knowing him personally. Sometimes I go to church regularly and sometimes I don’t. I am constantly surprised about how many times I have encountered him. When I became preganant with my second child ( 15 years after my first) I said, Lord what should we name this baby? I was completely shocked that he answered me audible. He said “how about Grace?” It was so casual. I think about that often. Grace was born 9 months later. I could go on but I don’t have the time. My upbringing was 2 opposite extremes of legalism and libertarianism yet Jesus showed up. He has begun to heal many wounds and help change me. I’m still a work in progress and at times I wish it would be sooner. When I go through self loathing or am impatient with myself I remember those words. How about grace?

    • Philip Yancey says:

      A beautiful story, movingly told. You have lived a hard life, and been Graced throughout. –Philip

      • Crystal says:

        I have begun reading What’s So Amazing About Grace? and you write – why do I so often act as if I’m trying to earn that love? Why do I have such trouble accepting it?- I too find these same things happening to me and I was wondering if it has changed for you since publishing this book? The copyright says 1997. Do you find that after 20 years you embrace God’s grace and believe with all your heart that nothing can separate you from his love? Or do you still struggle with accepting his grace and trying to earn it but less often?

        • Philip Yancey says:

          That’s a great question, Crystal. I had a rollover automobile accident in 2007 and while lying there facing the real possibility of death, I felt settled and calm in God’s encompassing love and acceptance. In an overall way, and theoretically,I do accept it. Truthfully, though, I’d have to vote for your last sentence. There’s something about us humans (pride?) that makes us want to earn our way. It may be more blessed to give than receive, but it’s sometimes harder to receive than give. Grace means that God knows all this about us and loves us anyway!

          • Crystal says:

            Thanks, Philip! It’s comforting to know that my more seasoned siblings in Christ have the same struggle and that it can lessen with time. All the more reason to keep holding onto my hope of being with Jesus and being completely restored with all my loved ones.

          • Paul Edwards says:

            God drove Adam and Eve from Paradise and said, “Now you will have to earn your daily bread by the sweat of your brow.” So we have been doing that ever since.
            We were created to journey and grow and use our talents for the common good.
            Our calling is to become adults of God, and we have to use everything we have to travel that Way.

  5. Sue says:

    I am trying not to be jealous of the families who have raised all their children to be believers.
    My husband and I,
    both Christian college graduates,
    raised our sons in the faith.
    Sunday School.
    Youth group.
    GT and the Halo Express at bedtime.
    Church camp.
    Trip to Israel.
    In high school, they went with us on mission trips.
    The older son had a relatively compliant personality,
    the younger was a non-conformist from his babyhood on.
    Now, as adults,
    the older works for a Christian school abroad,
    though extremely frustrated
    with what the evangelical church has become.
    The younger came to claim his faith at a Christian college,
    was later kicked out of that college for a poor decision,
    had a resurgence and then repudiation of faith
    during his armed services years.
    He now reads Hitchings and Dawkins proudly.

    As a parent,
    I wonder if there was sin on my part at conception
    (In sin did my mother conceive me…)
    or if we could have changed an event
    that started the atheistic dominoes tumbling.
    I have yelled at God
    (making my husband nervous,
    but hey, it’s not lukewarm…)
    in frustration, quoting “Train up a child…”
    and “He who has begun a good work in you…”
    I have begun to realize that any control
    that I thought I had in raising our sons
    was probably an illusion,
    that God loves them more than we do,
    and that prayer may be the only option.
    And then I get too depressed to pray
    and let the angels translate my groaning.
    It could also be avoidance.
    It is easier concentrate on the day in front of me
    rather than the eternal,
    especially when I don’t see any change.
    And then I get panicked
    and guilty
    and yell desperately in my mind,
    “God, I’m sorry for not paying more attention to prayer
    and not having faith that you can change him!
    Lord, I believe– help my unbelief!”
    My son’s lack of faith sometimes wears mine down.
    I find myself asking, “Is what happens God’s will?”
    And if the answer is “No”
    then where is the Baptist omnipotence I was raised with?
    Though the Baptists threw around “perfect will”
    and “permissive will” in my childhood,
    as an adult,
    I think it meant that, really, they had no idea.
    And if the answer is “Yes”
    and it IS God’s will that my son is an atheist,
    then I don’t like God very much.
    And I feel guilty about having OUR son in mind and not others–everybody is somebody’s child,
    and some people are unrepentant unbelievers
    and there’s going to be a reckoning…

    Life is mostly joyful in God’s creation,
    but I find this particular aspect of life on earth mentally exhausting.

    I’m hoping that somehow I have misinterpreted the scriptures,
    and that grace is going to get us all.
    I am prepared to be unprepared…

  6. Grant says:

    This is a tale of two Mothers. Where are the Fathers?

  7. Bridgette says:

    Thank you very much, for sharing these stories. They tell a lot. Well, I like to share my personal experiences of my life with God and Jesus. who called me when I was not looking for it, either did expect it.

    I have learned deeply, that it is all not about “either being strict or loving” nor about “black or white”…It is about “solace and demand”…it is about “love and rules” in this order, which is important. We need both. Both are our nature without having the need and the human ability to come to this point by own efforts. It will be given to us, time by time, as we open up our hearts and humbly request for it.

    So as parents, we have the chance, the need and the duty to give both to our children. Love and rules, as children need to feel safe in this. And if we are a living example of both, children feel it and take it in a natural way. We don’t even have to fight but to clearly stand for it. That makes a good difference.

    The good thing I experience in my life is, that the more I feel the love of Jesus Christ in my heart, the more I live with the inner rules without needing them to come from outside. It is a natural process to live and grow as a human, that happens by taking the time to be in contact with God and Jesus in my heart.

    My own life story could not have been more conflicting and contradictorily to the love of Jesus. I grew up with harsh rules. Very strict and extremely abusive in different ways, no grace at all (on the other hand, in material circumstances definitely providing outer security).

    To cut things short. I assure you when I as a person was able to cross these two different worlds by the love of God from within, anyone will be able. There is a way to love and live the “right” way without a contradiction in us, as it is our nature and meant to bring out the best in us in a holistic way. God knows how HE creates us, all we have to do is to believe and trust in HIS love and our identity in HIM more than in our life’s experiences that made us think wrong about ourselves.

    I pray for all of you to become free and fully alive by the unconditional love and the natural rules of life born into life and given us by Jesus Christ himself.

    God bless you!


  8. Laura says:

    I was raised in a fine Christian home, not perfect, but solid. Mix of grace and truth, I suppose. Three of us turned out healthy and chose to follow Christ. I am the fourth. I tried for years to force it, play the part etc…carried big guilt and fear for the scary things inside me…disrespect, pride… I don’t know why I wanted the things I did, wanted to make the choices I did. I just tried to be honest. In the end, I wouldn’t accept God as the Lord of my life. I still cry. My life is hard because of my choices. I have a hunger for something deeper. But, I know, to he end, I was loved, prayed for, accepted, fought for. There is nothing to blame. Free will.

    • Bridgette says:

      Dear Laura,

      OH, my God! What an honest answer. Thank you. There is one thing I want to say about the “Free will”. Yes, it is given us by GOD. And by my personal experiences, we only can decide freely if we are aware of the unconscious things within us, which often keep us away from the good things, even without knowing about it. And even, when we succeed in being aware of it, again it needs time to make a conscious decision and receive the grace to embody our ambitions with the help of Jesus love.
      God bless you and I pray for you to uncover the things, that keep you away! They are definitely not your free will.

      Best wishes, Bridgette

      • Laura says:


        Thank you for your gracious response.

        I do wonder why I chose such different values. I cannot abdicate responsibility. There were some very conscious decisions. God has shown grace beyond imagination.

  9. Philip Yancey says:

    Please don’t apologize, Deb. You’re empathy, vulnerability, and passion shine through. We all learn from it. –Philip

  10. Helen Peoples says:

    I grew up in a family where my mother was a perfectionist. She was the product of an immigrant Czechoslovakian family. Their hard-nosed approach to life — which stemmed from years of survival, both before emigrating and after their arrival in the United States — put the fear of God into all the children in the family. There was no mirth or joy or fun in life — only work. So as my mother grew up she emulated that which she was raised with. Every issue was black and white. And no matter how hard we tried to do something correctly, it could always have been done better — or the “right” way. And she was the one who determined what the “right” way looked like. As I became an adult and went through many years of counseling I came to realize that her actions and sensibilities were a result of a deep-seated insecurity. Scratch a perfectionist and you will find insecurity! [Side Note: My mother was ultimately diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder — which my father denied.] My father was the product of an Irish immigrant inner-city, row-house family. He was fortunate enough to have been given opportunities starting in parochial grade school. The nuns saw his potential and helped him navigate into a well-known school that offered even more opportunities for growth. He went from poverty to vice president of one of the largest aeronautical and space companies in the United States. Yet, his rise was not without a price paid by those of us in the family. While he traveled four out of every seven days, I — an only child — had to deal with a mother who’s mental and physical maladies increased with each passing year. So, at the age of 18 I married my husband and escaped this household. I had been raised Catholic — but consistently got D’s in religion because I argued with the nuns! When I was still in high school my aunt gave me my first Bible. Having gone to parochial school I had learned most of the basic Bible stories. But as a young adult who was quickly turning into a history buff I was fascinated by both the spiritual and historical information presented therein. My husband and I attended non-denominational churches all our married life (40 years). We grew to believe in the Biblical way to raise children. And when my husband and I decided to have children I was intent on doing everything the opposite of how I was raised. Whereas my mother was always too sick to join in on anything (PTA Mom, Girl Scouts, etc.), I was going to be involved with EVERYTHING [i.e., PTA, Girl Scout leader, Junior Great Books leader, soccer mom, driving them to piano and violin lessons, dance lessons, attending their recitals, working back stage during school performances, etc.] so that my girls would know I cared about them. And then the hard years were upon us. Our oldest daughter started acting out in high school. By the time she was 19 she was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder (which is DNA-based and hereditary) and years of heartache. Our second daughter was nine years younger. Because of the turmoil within our household — which was brought into the home by the older one (because of her mental health issues) — the quality of life for the second child was less then what we had hoped for — and what she deserved. So, in my mind, the first child’s life was impacted by Bi-Polar — which caused her to make many bad decisions — for which she had to be accountable. And for that she paid a price. And the younger child’s life was impacted by her older sister’s situation — which made it virtually impossible for us to have any semblance of “normal” in our household during those years. And ultimately, the second child made irresponsible choices in order to escape the environment she was in. So for about 17 years the cascading domino affect was almost more then we could bear. And yet we persevered (my husband’s favorite word!) — because what other choice did we have. And over time I came to see that most of the people in my Christian community had no clue how to relate to our situation. Additionally, they were quick to stand in judgment that all of this was a result of “too much sin in our lives,” or that the “sins of the father were being visited upon the children.” They were so quick to point the finger. They didn’t do it blatantly, but it was very obvious where their sensibilities lay. I say all of this by way of background in order to get to the main reason for my response. Over the years I have examined — in hindsight — my actions and motives, and I am convinced that all along the way I was sincerely trying — to the best of my ability — to do what was in the best interest of my family, my marriage, my children, myself AND what God would have me do. Yet, in spite of continued counseling (to deal with periods when I get stuck) I feel like I failed at every turn. And when I risk discussing my feelings with those Christians within my circle I am summarily told that I shouldn’t give in to Satan — who wants me to feel bad and ineffective. So I get no solace from the group who I trusted for guidance. Instead I just feel judged. I have grown less and less enamored with attending a church made up of such pious yet judgmental people. It is only when I find others who have walked a similar path as ours that I find any consolation. So, at 62, having survived the sudden death of my husband (in a plane crash), I have two grown girls who were both raised in the church and who have no desire to find out who they are in relation to God. I thought we did everything “right” so that it might ensure that they, too, would own the beliefs we taught them. So here is another tale of two sisters. One blames God for her Bi-Polar Disorder. The other blames God for her diagnosis of Type-1 Diabetes (at the age of 16). Both blame God that their father died too young. And I am left wondering if all those years ago I should have questioned everything even more — and not just believed whatever was told to me by church leaders. I see now that I was hoping beyond hope that if I crossed all the “t’s” and dotted all the “i’s” that whatever I lacked (because it had not been taught to me within my own family) God would make up for — in His wisdom and grace. But that didn’t happen. Life happened. And all we can do is survive. And the only way I survive now is to still put my trust in the Holy Spirit (which is a piece of God which He left behind as a Comforter) to give me the strength to take each day as it comes and to PERSEVERE!

  11. UB says:

    I am not sure if I would be as eloquent as you all or as relevant ….still thought of sharing …me and my sister…both doctors. … both came to know Christ from a hindu family in India…I got saved first …she, eight years my junior, a loner since childhood was influenced by my coversion but came into faith after a heart break of losing our dad on table during a surgery, during her first year of college ….strange how she started believing Christ right after that….well
    I fought my way through… now settled with a good caring christian husband and a kid….she is still fighting her own fight….suffered depression during college days…slowly became a recluse…..finished masters degree as a weirdoo….like most indians including me had an arranged marriage. …which collapsed almost at once….now pursuing her career with my mom as her caretaker. …they say she has schizoid personality. … (not schizophrenic )….she has no real friends. …never goes to a regular church….but reads bible for hours and pray her own childish prayers….never once questioned God for her losses….never once able to accept she is a perfect child of God….l often hear her pray like Jesus please forgive my sin….have mercy on this sinner etc…etc….still….still….I have seen and experienced how much Jesus loves her….never once leaving her to be torn away by her own self and the rude world….I don’t know how she would end up….as Philip once wrote
    …just trying to focus on Jesus than trying to make sense….

  12. Baron Rackow says:

    A nurturing balance? I’m not sure what that is. One of my deepest fears is that we–the Western body of Christ–have lost this; the spiritual equivalent of Tolkien’s ents, longing for the entwives, but without a clue as to where they might be. It seems that nurturing balance seems such an elusive thing. We look for it in our families. We long for it in our churches. It’s absent in our politics. As I write this, the riots of your homeland have spread into my own: alt-right versus alt-left, with no balance, and God-knows, no nurturing to be found.

    And how can we find such a thing? What do we look for? Could I find you amidst the madding crowd, if I had never before glimpsed your face?

    I follow Christ today because my mother before me. But cancer claimed all but the battered shell of her body while I was a child. My father, still nursing the pain of the losses of his Pomeranian childhood, responded poorly to the loss of his wife. And was lost without anchor to the seas of his own bitterness, his furies of regret.

    So now I pray that I can pass balance and nurture to my children–but I do not know what this is. By the grace of God, I am blessed thus far: my children (imperfect though they are) love their Lord and seek after Him.

    But I confess openly: by faith, I am okay with this. Would I rather pass on a nurturing balance that I have learned from my parents? Or would I rather rely with utter abandonment on the Spirit of God to show me and my children what true nurture and balance is? One seems easier than the other; and one seems far likelier to provide good soil for deep roots.

    So only the dilemma remains: will I recognize it as He shows it to me? I trust Him–but can I trust myself enough to learn and obey? Perhaps this is the dilemma that unites us as a body more than anything else.

  13. Deb says:

    I have been thinking about the “discipline” versus “grace” issue all Summer long.

    Discipline is obviously the better way to live, but collectively, we do it like Alpha dogs bullying the other dogs into submission. The best combination is more like the Dog Whisperer, who understands how to help the broken dogs and angry dogs learn how to belong. He understands that it is almost always an owner who doesn’t understand the needs of the type of dog they have, which causes the problems.

  14. Andy L says:

    Mystery indeed! My wife and I are blessed with three adult children, all strong in the faith and living it out as they’ve felt led by the Spirit. From the time they were born, or before, we prayed their future spouse would be raised in a loving, Christian home, strong in the faith and that God would prepare that spouse for our child. We were one for three! Our oldest married a man from a broken home that never darkened the door of a church, but he was surrounded by a group of friends who were/are strong believers and God got hold of his heart and transformed it. Our son married a young woman from a home hostile to religion and faith and, frankly, most people and ideas except their own. She began to recognize their bitterness and God gradually transformed her into a woman of faith and ministry. Only our youngest married a man raised as we’d envisioned. Though strong in faith, as a young man he’d wrestled with how to put his faith into action. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, my wife and I were praying “too small.” God can raise up people we can eagerly and deeply embrace as family, men and women of faith, from any family and any circumstance. For our grandchildren, we are praying that God will raise up and protect men and women of faith to partner with our grandchildren in the good works he created them to do. God’s transformation of people is a mystery indeed.

  15. Aaron Mead says:

    Thanks for your reflections, Philip. As usual, I see you unflinchingly embracing the real ambiguities of the life of faith and the hard questions I often want to shy away from in favor of tidier formulaic answers. What I wanted you to say was that gracious parenting produces well-adjusted children. And perhaps sometimes it does. Just not always. There aren’t any rules, since (as you say) there are so many powerful variables in play–nature, nurture, and free will–any one of which could probably rule the day in a given situation. Thanks for telling us the truth, even if it isn’t tidy.

    I grew up in Canada with just my mother until age ten, at which point she married my wonderful stepfather. Both of them were very loving and generous toward me; neither of them had (or have) any substantial religious beliefs, as far as I can tell. Attending church was never even a topic of conversation growing up. Despite the kind and loving way of my mother and stepfather toward me, I was very strongly shaped by the absence of my biological father. My journey to faith at age 24 was tangled up in my efforts to heal from the pain of his leaving me at age one. I have visited him regularly all my life, but I still felt (and sometimes feel) his absence acutely. My early years were spent trying to live up to impossible demands, the achievement of which I felt would somehow win him over and win him back; I tried to earn his love. Strange how even as a faithless child I slipped into a pattern that many Christians wrestle with in relation to God, trying to earn love that, in the end, cannot be earned but only received as grace. I still struggle to experience God’s love, though with each passing year I feel myself opening more to it. I’m grateful for God’s healing.

    So, as a parent trying to raise two teenage daughters in the faith, I haven’t really had a Christian parenting model etched on my soul, so to speak (neither has my wife). As a result, we have had to read, think, talk, and pray our way to a parenting philosophy we’ve felt comfortable with. Probably the best way to describe our approach is with the adage, “high expectations, high warmth” (I heard someone use this during the first few years of my parenting and it made sense to me). We have required our children to reach high standards with their behavior and attitudes (they would probably say we were “strict”, though not legalistic), but we have also tried to be very warm, loving, and gracious toward them. Lots of hugs, lots of snuggling, lots of encouraging words, lots of time together, quick forgiveness when needed. They seem to be lovely kids so far; not much teenage rebellion going on, and mostly love and continuing respect toward us as parents. And, of course, it is possible that it all could have gone much worse, even while implementing the very same parenting philosophy. It is indeed a mystery, as you say. In the end, all we can do is thank God for the gracious gift that our children are to us.

    Thanks again for your continued work as a truth-teller in God’s church.

  16. Deb says:

    Wow, thought-provoking and powerful.

    You share with such openness and courage. I love the way you mix thoughtful contemplation with heart.

    I respect and admire that. It is why you became one of my favorite authors.

    I had a bully, atheist father, but I don’t want to give the impression that he disciplined us. He had a lot of odd thoughts and did things like teaching us laziness on purpose. He told us things like if anyone ever asks you to do anything, do it wrong and they won’t ask again. My mother was a silent woman of grace, beautiful on the inside and out and was a hard worker. She was the one who tried to give us a life of discipline, while my father fought against it.

    I can point to most of my flaws and know they came because I got angry at him for how he treated her and it was the middle of women’s liberation and I wanted her to not be treated like that, but it never touched her soul. It touched mine.

    When we did something wrong, she would look at us across the room and we would stop immediately, because she was quite capable of “mom eyes”, but other than “mom eyes” she was a woman of grace. I am not sure if she was a Christian. If she was, it was one who was silent before her husband and he would order her around and she never got angry, but she was grace personified to me.

    She would come home from work at midnight and she would still have a box of more work to do and he would run up the stairs, race to the couch and say every night, “While you are up, get me a cup of coffee” and I would be the one who would argue and she would quietly, gracefully get my father a cup of coffee and get back to her work without one hint of resentment or anger.

    I was the one who had resentment at him for decades…. [pyasst]

    • Tom King says:

      Wonderful story, great lesson, thanks for sharing. A variation of it was true in my life, too. Such courage and insight showed you were made of forgiveness and love. More you cannot ask or do.

  17. Tom King says:

    Fascinating, is it not, that there’s no predicting with any certainty where our genes and our upbringing (or downbringing) will take us in our lives? We are each formed differently in birth and then bent differently in our growing up. Siblings turn out differently than we do and we wonder why.

    You can live to be 80 and still you not only don’t fully know your own wars and peace, but you also are perplexed by what you’ve seen happen with others you know, and sometimes love, and sometimes don’t, and sometimes you just don’t care.

    Do we know better? Paul the Apostle writes in Romans 7:15-20: ” I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

    Makes you wonder doesn’t it whether that sin that lives in me is just the devil who made me do it. But no, I picked and ate the forbidden apple myself. Not the devil. His sin of pride was not greatly different from our own, excepting degree, and we are not archangels.

    Nor were our parents. They married for love or convenience or no good reason at all, and some did not marry at all, but in passion, conceived and bore us. Some were teachers, some were not. Some cared for us and loved us deeply. Others didn’t. It all had something to do with who we are, but we brought our own mix into play, too.

    My parents married less than nine months before I was born, the eldest of 5. My dad was a loveable jock, smart, able, suffering from depression when his athletic powers waned and he lost his job when the milk company where he worked spent his pension and shut down. He was, as they say, old school….loved a few drinks and then some, sung Bing Crosby songs almost as well as Crosby did, had a few errant flings, but somehow stayed married to my saintly, driven mother.

    He was a “don’t do as I do” kind of father, but he worked hard, helped others in need, and expected us to do better than he had. The drinking stopped later in life when my sister, a nurse, told him after a pancreatitis attack that he’d die if if he didn’t quit. Believing he wasn’t saved, due to his former errant ways, he didn’t want to die, so he finally quit. When he was alone after my mother’s death, he regretted his behaviors and thought he couldn’t be forgiven. I gave him a Brennan Manning video to watch, one in which he shakes the viewer’s timbers with God’s forgiving love, and my father believed he was forgiven. He died at the age of 89, not long after.

    Mom came from the farm in latter years of the dust bowl. 16 years old, beautiful, and off she went to the big city in the ’30’s to become a hair dresser like her aunt, who was only a few years older. I’m sure she was swept off her feet by my father, but 10 children later, and 5 stillborn, she was swamped with caring for us and trying to get my father to grow up. Since I was the oldest, it fell on me to try to get him to change. I had my own troubles. Helping him change would happen many years later after mom was gone and I was retired.

    I was a compliant kid, pretty good student, became a teacher and still teach some. My wife and I have been married for 55 years and count ourselves lucky to have wed and committed to making it last. My two brothers did well, one a salesman who died from cancer at age 60, the other a teacher, now retired. Both brothers divorced but married again. One sister has had many physical ills, divorced and remarried, but has persisted in overcoming her many travails. The younger sister is in a happy marriage, and has raised a fine family. Only a couple of us still go to church, but all of us still carry a faith inspired by our mother.

    There were days back in our growing up when mom and dad were on the outs, and mom was ready to pack up the two youngest and head back to her parents’ farm. How that would have worked for us boys I have no idea. I guess that’s why they somehow stayed together. We are glad they did.

    They both loved us as well as two, busy parents trying to make ends meet in the 40’s and 50’s. My mother expected us to pray, and got us all to kneel and say the rosary, as urged by Padre’ Pio and Archbishop Sheen. My father included. She expected us to do better in our lives than she had, never realizing the high expectations she had for us all largely paid off in our own lives.

    She loved her kids. Clipped stories from the paper and magazines for each of us on prayers and poems for us to read, and good nutrition and needed vitamins. She took in neighbor kids when help was needed, and showed us all that we all owe.

  18. Preston Rentz says:

    Hi Philip, we grew up with Christian leanings, but mostly in theory. My siblings and I were left to think and believe what we wanted for the most part. Very little guidance, some neglect, even apathy for family structure or definitive teaching of any kind. Upon reaching adulthood, I realized I was given too much rope to believe what I wanted, and was beginning to see the repercussions of not having a clear vision for right and wrong and good values to live by. Looking back, I lacked both nurturing and discipline. I had friends who were subjected to overly strict parenting that seemed to cause its own kind problems, I’ve come to see both extremes harmful.

    As a result of having not been offered the structure of truth, or some kind of structure, I found myself drawn to a legalistic form of Christianity as a man in my early twenties. I loved the rules, basked in the clear description of right and wrong and marveled at its righteous structure. Finally, life made sense. Starting around 1982, I was finally seeing life clearly through the lens of a religious construct of means. My romance with legalism sufficed for about 13 years. Various rumblings from deep within my own heart began to surface; guilt, anger, resentment, etc. Unresolved issues were coming to the front of mind and heart and I didn’t know what to do with them. Then, grace found me. Various sermons, The Jesus I Never Knew and Max Lucado all hit me about the same time. Finally, structure along with God’s love and acceptance seem to complete the picture.

    Now, as a father of three daughters, I find myself striving for the ever-illusive “middle ground”, if there is such an animal. I know they need clear and immovable boundaries on one hand, and real love and nurturing on the other. It feels like a paradox. It’s a real circus act in fact, and I’m not sure if I’m making the cut. In God’s amazing patience and grace however, my wife and I are learning to be the best parents we can be.

    We don’t have all the answers. For now however, I hope to find that balance of nurturing, discipline and healthy boundaries within God’s economy of love, grace and discipline.

    I’ve loved your writings over the years, so glad you’re keeping it up. This world still needs your voice, maybe more than ever.

  19. Carol Behrends says:

    I’ll just say I can’t wait for your memoir to come out!!! I have been in counseling over the past 3 or so years over this very issue! That being the toxicity of being raised in a very legalistic environment. I’ll spare the details but it left me in fear of believing that grace could really be true! Your WHATS SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE so helped my journey!!! Since then, I’ve read ALL your books! So!!! I look forward to this upcoming memoir, Philip!! Obviously God is and has been using you in mighty ways. Your views along with others, have helped me climb up out of the dark hole of shame and legalism. All I can say is THANK YOU! You are one of my FAVS!

  20. Vanessa says:

    It’s all the holy spirit. American Christianity thinks they can control outcomes by praying and doing what Christian parenting books tell them to. They are not dependent on God, they are dependent on the god of what the American church is telling them to do.

  21. George Fanning says:

    Hi Phillip

    Thanks for this article . I grew up in a dysfunctional home and long story short everything collapsed when I was about 9 . Anyway I look at it I am surprised that I can go through all that I did and manage to do a decent job of being a parent myself ( at least I think so ). I learned parenthood by giving what I missed the most …myself, my time and my affection . I did discipline a bit but only in areas of defiance because I felt that if I allowed that then they would defy teachers next and then the police and so forth.
    Suffice to say they turned out OK all have or are at Uni and are doing what they enjoy but mostly they show love and/or consideration to others and get on well with most . My wife comes from a close caring family and so the blend of the two still worked out well.
    I still have issues with Father image and the like but I am working through these on an ongoing basis .
    Thank you for sharing the way you have and without offering cliche 3 easy answer type solutions to be a great citizen and parent . What I enjoy most about your books and writings is the fact that you help me to think through things and work through difficulties without glib Christian over simplified answers.
    I consider myself a follower of Christ I try not to use the C word any more it just carries too much baggage with it.

    Perth AU

  22. Marlynn Rey says:

    Hello Philip,

    I grew up in a Christian family in North-Central Alberta, Canada. I could relate to the part of your article regarding the focus on Old Testament rules and teaching. That was always very strong in our strict household. My mother was very much about the rules and very little grace. My father demonstrated a strong belief in the Christian faith and although strict, gave me serious grace, especially when I was a teenager! I never knew if I was ‘good enough’ for my mother’s approval; I did not question my father’s because it wasn’t based on performance. It was also obvious to me that my mother favored my older brother and this did not help our relationship. I entered adulthood with baggage from the relationship with my mom that took years to heal. I know my brother distanced himself from the family and especially from my mother because of her controlling nature and lack of emphasis on relationship. Interestingly, both my brother and I have been married to our spouses for around 30 years despite the lack of grace from our mother. I have no doubt that her strictness in some sense instilled discipline in me which I have carried through into my marriage, music career and beyond as a mother of two. Both my brother and I have children who are well adjusted, productive and relational people. I think in some ways my brother and I have lived tension of being more aware and perhaps wary of an ungracious attitude toward others while maintaining principles which we know must be lived out and enforced within a family. I could relate to the article you wrote because I recognize that I benefited from the strictness in childhood even though it wasn’t met out perfectly.

  23. Ken Davis says:

    I grew up in a strict (legalistic) loving family with parents that never really learned how to express love verbally. They put food on the table and a roof over my head and I never doubted that I was loved. (Except when I disobeyed one of the rules. But oh how longed to hear the words, “I love you.” How I needed to be held closely for no other reason than to express love. One of my richest and most cherished memories was when I would fall asleep on the way home from some church activity or after visiting friends. I vividly remember being carried from the car to the house in the arms of my father, my head held close to his. I often pretended to fall asleep so that I could feel his arms around me, feel the scratchiness of his beard, smell the old spice. I would pay a fortune to have felt that embrace spontaneously when I was fully awake. Held close not to keep me from falling to the ground, but to confirm what I deemed to be the truth. Dad loved me. When I pass through the gates of heaven, I will look for him. He’s been with Jesus for awhile now. I think he is finally free to express love with words and hugs. I can’t wait! Even if he is drenched in Old Spice.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I was halfway through this, thinking to myself, “This person can write!” when I looked over at the name and photo. You bet Ken Davis can write. Thanks, friend.

  24. Pamela Latcham says:

    my parents had both served in ww2 and seen theresults of religious intolerance so were keen that we made up our owm mind regarding faith.I would say that they were nominal christians.They nurtured our individuality and right to choose in life while at the same time being strict.My mother was determined to teach us to be our own person while listening to differing rules They were good parents.I became a chrisian through a Billy Graham meeting and they always respected my choice. My Dad became a christian at the end of his life I was never sure about Mum.I had 4 children and although we were legalistic fundamentalists at the beggining my own memories of my childhood made me think and rethink which was painfull for me and the relationship with my husband. I always said that we didnt bring our children up to be christians that is the work of grace through the Holy Spirit but we taught them about Jesus and forgivness and loving humanity and gave them space. They are all serving God in church and are used of God and I still encourage them to think for themselves ect…I love your books and your message

  25. Lisa Simmons says:

    As I heard James Dobson say when my kids were little “As a parent, you can’t take all the credit and you can’t take all the blame.” I had an aunt who was like Joyce…also had 5 kids. My Aunt Jerolyn, my mom’s oldest sister, was a rule follower and a rule enforcer. Church was mandatory for her kids. Her husband was in the army and when he was home, he did not attend church. He was a gruff, typical Army guy…also a rule follower…his rules.

    My mom was the baby or her family…. got pregnant with me at age 18. Married my dad because she thought she HAD to. (and stayed married 26 years until she died at age 43) She suffered emotionally a lot both in the marriage and from her church. Even though her parents were there for her (something sort of unheard of in 1959), I believe she felt unworthy to attend church. Many Sundays, I remember standing on the side of the road waiting for my grandparents to pick my sister and me up for church. They just lived 2 houses down from us. When my aunt moved in right next door, the Sunday glares at us playing in the yard as she drove up with her 5 perfectly coiffed children from church, was scary.

    My mom returned to church, rededicating her life to Christ when I was in 8th grade. I gave my life to Christ at the same time. Even though it was still the same little church that she had grown up in and “fallen from grace” in, she dove in…singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, going to WMU.

    I won’t go into all that happened later, but 4 of my Aunt’s 5 children have been married and divorced at least once, with much drama associated with each. My sisters and I didn’t have the perfectly styled Christian testimonies either, (more DRAMA) but we’ve all been married over 30 years to our husbands. Both of my sisters have incredible ministries to the homeless and underserved. Not bragging, just saying that a lot of what children turn out to be has little to do with the household in which they grew up. Or at least it affects people differently, no matter what kind of parents they had. Like my Mawmaw used to say, “Ya cain’t never tell about some people.”

  26. Tobie says:

    Philip, I have witnessed the phenomenon that you describe above at different times and in different settings of my life. I believe there is indeed a level of mystery to it, but I also believe that gracious people oftentimes undergo greater suffering for the simple reason that they know better how to deal with it. I can hardly imagine what would have happened to Annette’s children if they had Joyce as a mother. So perhaps God allocates his broken children to parents who have a profound grasp of his love and grace. It is not the healthy who are in need of a physician, as Jesus taught us.

  27. Debra Dichiera says:

    Interesting to read these reflections right after finishing “Hillbilly Elegy.”

  28. Nan Hudson says:

    Wow, I am sitting here today struggling with my own dysfunctional adult children who were raised like Annette’s. I was raised more like Joyce’s family and did not want that for mine. But sure feel like I missed something as they struggle with addictions, lost relationships, lost jobs and always blame something other than their own choices. I am in Al-Anon learning to let go of them and live my life as God directs and allow them to be on their own journeys. It is puzzling and I still am trying to see my part in all of this. Something was amiss in building character and principled living in my case…Did I make it too easy? Did I not let them suffer consequences of early choices soon enough? I know God is still in this but the sadness I feel is sometimes overwhelming.

  29. David Neely says:

    Mary Pipher said similar things in Reviving Ophelia, stern loving families did better than loving families with minimal rules. I felt loved and accepted by my parents, but also felt like I should behave. My sisters and I often said , “our parents loved us no matter what we did, but they really cared what we did.” Also I didn’t feel like I needed to behave or perform to earn their love. I also think role modeling is so important. They behaved as well as they expected us to behave. And they loved us so much we wanted to please them. We behaved out of respect and love for them. It was a pretty good deal. Worse than them being angry at us, was when they were disappointed…

  30. Lin Hardesty says:

    What a great explanation to a question I pondered for most my years of child rearing years. My husband Bob and have 3 children. All in some way or another were rebellious at times in their younger years. The oldest,a daughter got into drugs, sex and a baby before marriage. Our son turned away from his Christian upbringing and today is divorced, and fathered a child later marrying the girl but rejecting the resurrection of Jesus yet believing in God. His family is not churched and when visiting we are not welcomed to mention Jesus. Our third and last child, another girl is a Godly woman and mother and wife. She made mistakes but was repented and “grew up”She and her husband are raising two boys that have received Christ as Savior. She is a servant to Him in every way. We were a combination of both families, lavishing love and discipline covered in unconditional love. Your explanation was most welcomed.

  31. E says:

    yes, the older I get the more I see that wanting answers to life is a way of control, but life is more a mystery and isn’t that really what faith is? Faith and trust is going blindly through life never getting the understanding we so desperately want.

    I would say my upbringing was a mixture of both, having somewhat of a legalistic mother (not harsh, more black and white) and an alcoholic father who basically wasn’t really involved. I’m a writer and through writing I’ve basically spent my entire life interpreting it all as with alcohol no one talks, they all pretend nothing is happening. It’s the elephant standing in the living room that no one wants to acknowledge.

    But I’m seeing God’s grace and finally understanding how much he really does love me and through all the struggle he’s been working on my heart. A faith that stems from my heart, not my head.

  32. Chris Campbell says:

    My brother and I lived in a home of laissez faire parenting mainly due to divorce and a working mother. It wasn’t “bad”, just lonely. Some our happiest times were summers spent with our paternal grandparents on their small farm. There were days filled with farm chores (e.g., baling hay, cleaning the barn, etc.) and days of non-stop play (e.g., hours exploring the surrounding forests, playing with the family dogs, etc.) And most importantly to me there was the quiet, steady, and reliable faith of my grandparents. They always took us to a week’s worth of Vacation Bible School. Yet what stands out in my mind is seeing them each reading their Bible, prayer at meals, the occasional comment about their witnessing God’s protection and blessing throughout their lives. Their faith was always expressed with love. It was always an invitation. I don’t know what my life would be like without having received and (eventually) accepted that invitation. I’ll always, always be grateful to them for their love, their interest, and their care for us. Thank you Grandpa, Grandma. And that you dear God for putting them into my life.

  33. Mike says:

    I feel fortunate that my parents introduced me to the possibility of a Creator, but I have come to know a very different God than what I was taught. When I had children, I wanted to be the perfect parent and I understood when I messed up. Why would I have any greater expectations of myself than what God has of themselves? God must be like the perfect parent which is surely being more graceful than legalistic. I think we way we portray God has caused more disbelief in God than we care to admit.

  34. Kimberly Dearman says:

    Just have to tell you how much I love you. I found you, Philip Yancey, while incarcerated in prison for a white collar crime I didn’t commit. I was broke, just got married and had lost it all but my family. I had been an attorney and everything I worked for had been ripped from me. I saw it happening and fought for it but couldn’t save it. Through this horrible process God became more real. I had always been a believer but I became a true believe and What is so Amazing about Grace changed my life. I have almost all your books and have your devotional and read it daily for several years. I thank you for letting us in to see your struggles as well as your victories. I have 3 favorite authors that I know I would not be where i am now in my faith if I had not found, You are the top. It is you, Oswald Chambers and Bonhoeffer. My prayer is that one day I will get to you meet you and tell you thank you in person. For the past 10 years you have been my mentor through your works and I cherish your works. It is a joke at my church because everyone knows how much I love your work. God has done great things through you.

  35. Sonja van Zyl says:

    This is so interesting. I spent so much time this week thinking about this exact same thing.
    I grew up in an extremely legalistic home. I am 35 years old, and this past week I was scolded by my mom for cancelling an appointment with my sister because I felt sick. when I told her it is an issue between me and my sister (the funny thing is, my sister didn’t take any offence at me cancelling…) and we will sort it out so I would really like it if she respect our space. She didn’t talk to me for a day and when I sent a message to say sorry for my attitude, but I still want her to respect my space, she simply responded with a photo taken from the Bible: Proverbs 1:8-9

    I have had my difficulties with faith in the past, but after years of exploring the Bible myself, I discovered that the Jesus I knew was not the one my parents followed. He is gentle and humble and a lover of sinners. As a christian I believe it is important to respect your parents. I do sometimes struggle to know what that looks like, especially when they try to manipulate me using the Bible and thereby even become a channel for the enemy to to try and make me believe things which is not true about my Father in heaven.

    Regarding the influence this has on children in general – it is definitely so that no matter how you raise your kids, there are no guarantees. My brother is an atheist and my sister doesn’t really know what she is – she is very confused.

    My wish is that my mom would really come to know the heart of Jesus for a world who don’t know Him and that that will be the thing which bridge the gap between us and Him.

    • Dorothy says:

      Hi Sonya,

      your comments really resonated with me. I have very similar struggles with my parents at the moment. It seems that I cant even have a normal conversation with them because I get a Bible verse back, used inappropriately, and everything is over-spiritualised. Reading Philip Yancey and others (C.S Lewis, Tim Kimmel, etc) has been so encouraging and healing for me. I pray for my parents every day and I live with the pain of a lost relationship with them everyday. I will keep on praying!

  36. Sarah Smith says:

    I’m the “black sheep” of the family – brought up in the same type church as yours (yes, you know our family who is composed of missionaries and pastors). For 50 years I tried to emulate what I was “fed” but finally realized that it just isn’t for me. And I am more content and peaceful just being neutral.

  37. Deborah Brown says:

    Dear Mr. Yancey,
    Ever since I read “The Glass Castle,” I have often wondered about nature vs. nurture. The Walls children, or at least three out of four of them, grew up with resilience and adaptability as well as a keen desire to do better. They also looked after each other. Watching parents around me grappling with the toughest job in the world—raising children, I am bemused by those who have loving parents and fail at life, and those who do not, yet are decent, caring, hardworking people. Is it better to have rules or unconditional love? As the Bible is made up of the Old and New Testament, perhaps we have to have both. But I have not been able to forget the neglect, cruelty, and selfishness of the parents in “The Glass Castle.” The author does not sentimentalize her life or that of her parents. She credits them with making her resilient and independent. But deep inside, we recoil from the parenting that her parents gave. As I am not a parent, I can not answer nor judge. But it is disturbing and disconcerting. Thank you for this article. As always, your writings and books have always made me think long and hard about what I believe and do.

  38. Don Stecher says:

    Hi Phillip,
    I love all of your writing, and your work has sustained me through most of my Life of faith. (45 years)
    I grew up Catholic Til 17 and understand Scripture in the Reformed tradition. On an online group (Reformed Pub) I have had to defend your work against accusations of antinomianism.
    I disagree with them vehemently, but admit that you lean towards free will more than most In a fairly extreme group.

    I contend that many in the group, in spite of their Reformed understanding wind up legalistic and forget two of the “solas”, sola gratia and sola their zeal. (If you travel far enough north, you actually wind up going south again!)

    Your writing helped swing the dangerous and unproductive pendulum of guilt, shame, and fear I had of my Father and really helped me believe that God could actually love me….permanently.

    Is there a danger of licentious thinking and behavior when the pendulum swings towards grace, perhaps, but because of my background, I needed the swing!

    I’m not sure if you’ll respond, and that’s fine, and there might not be enough for a book, but I would be excited to hear your thoughts about the blend/tension of this topic and for you to address this.

    Perhaps you have, and my memory fails.

    I am very grateful for your ministry in my life.


    • Philip Yancey says:

      I’m working on a memoir, which will indeed deal with these issues, though in a narrative form. Yours and the many other comments here show the power of stories. –Philip

  39. Michele Breen says:

    Hi Phillip
    I love this blog. Your honesty combined with wisdom never ceases to amaze me.
    I myself have been a combo of these two ladies you describe. Thinking I was hitting it right. I have five children with a real different outcome then I had faith for. Two oldest seek the Lord with all their hearts. Third child loves the Lord but struggles spiritually but lives a good moral life. Fourth child claims to be an atheist. Fifth child rarely goes to church and chooses to drink smoke and go to bars. It can be so very disappointing. What we do have is a family that loves unconditionally and we respect each other and get along amazing.
    I have struggled greatly with a dear friend whose five children were raised in a very dysfunctional home going to church in a ritualistic way.
    Sometimes with the natural eye one plus one just does not make two. By faith with the unseen eye I must believe the math adds correctly. It does take faith though.
    I almost did not read the whole blog because when I read the first part I was sure your second mom was going to have perfect kids. I kept reading because somehow I had hoped you would minster to my heart and you did.

  40. Jessica Wade says:

    Thank you for this Phillip!!
    My family was a family that went to church every Sunday, my mom would usually say “if you want to eat you have to go to church”. Needless to say we all went to church! I have two younger brothers and an older sister. I accepted JESUS into my heart the same night my dad did, I was five!
    My mom was always involved in children’s church and for a while was the director. My dad was always involved in men’s groups, was a deacon, took offerings, etc.
    my dad was caught sexually abusing my sister one night by my mom, so my mom went to our church the next day and talked to the children’s ministry pastor about it. They came up with a plan to send my sister to counseling, and to pray and release my dad from his demons, the demons that caused him to do these terrible things. They called people in from diffrent states to come and pray over him and they did what seems like an exorcism, I remember that night very vividly!
    Needless to say they said they couldn’t release him from one demon it was too strong. I don’t really know what happened after that but my parents left that church and went to a diffrent one. My dad still continued to sexually abuse me, all the while he was playing this “good Christian man” role. It’s like I was being taught one thing in Sunday school and another thing at home. I would see the shift in my dad when he was about to be around church people and when he was alone with me. Two diffrent people, which one was more authentic? My dad would get caught abusing me three more times, every time my mom would allow him
    Back into our home, believing God changed him this time. Church knew of his behavior and still allowed him to be part of the ministry. This left me very confused as a kid!
    Long story short when I was 14 my dad was finally sentenced to life in prison 197 years to be exact. My siblings do not believe in God, honestly I can’t blame them they’ve just been so hurt by “the church”.
    I went back to church in my mid twenties, I had kids of my own and thought it would be nice to have them in church. God has been strengthening my relationship with him for the last ten years.
    What I really want to do is do the exact opposite of what my parents did, in a lot of ways I do, but where I get stuck is what they “said” seemed right but what they “did” was wrong. In a lot of ways I am constantly reminded of my upbringing when I am in church, but where it’s diffrent is God has my heart. He has brought me out of so much hurt and pain and replaced it with grace!
    I think back often to the day you dad and I received JESUS as our savior I was five he was 28. I often wonder how two people who prayed the same prayer at the same time can go in to opposite directions. The differences are: one used Him to gain control over people, situations, and the church.
    The other is being Used by Him to educate people and churches of the reality that is with in their body.
    Without Jesus I am lost and afraid and I never want to go back there!

  41. Sally Johnson says:

    While my family of origin was much like yours, and like you, God found me, it strikes me that the “results” mentioned in your blog reflect external behaviors. We have no knowledge of what is going on in the hearts of all those mentioned, nor how God continues to work in their lives. And I prefer not to speculate on the wide range of unseen motives, etc. that no doubt do exist. I am thankful that I am learning to trust that God is faithful, that nothing in our lives is wasted, and in the end love wins. Your writing has blessed me for many years, Mr. Yancey … thank you.

  42. Kevin Gorman says:

    I grew up in a Christian home.. at least that’s what I would call it. My mother was a faithful follower of Christ attending every church event, bible study, introducing biblical principles to my sister and I but leaving the majority of the teaching and instruction to the local church. We didn’t have family bible studies, nor did we pray at meals regularly with the exception of special holidays or events.

    My father more of a willing participant following my mother’s lead. He attended regularly and took on some leadership roles at church but spoke rarely about his faith. He did live out his faith.. maybe minimally but I saw Christ in his actions. All that being said.. I recall just a single occasion we had a ‘spiritual discussion’ yet despite all the youth group activities, bible studies, or sermons; this one conversation was what reaffirmed my faith and walk with Christ.

    My home was filled with love and grace, legalism had little influence as we were not bound by strict rules, we were of the world yet still set apart. My parents loved me.. and love me still.. they model Christ.. spoke little but when they did it had a profound impact on my life.

    • GW says:

      I think you were writing about my upbringing. We went to church a lot but my parents never talked about it much a home. They definitely lived it no doubt. So I have done much the same with my family but something has changed and my kids can’t see the point of church and I’m starting to see the first sister example from Philip’s article of the way maybe I should have gone.

      • Kevin Gorman says:


        I have 4 kids (25, 23, 16, 13) and as have you parented much in the same fashion as how I was raised. They have all accepted Christ as their Saviour yet as with all of us have travelled through the peaks and valleys in our closeness with God. One rebelled but eventually returned like the prodigal son, another believes but questions/challenges, another follows without question, they are all different.. All I can say is to continue loving and praying for your kids, they will often return to the lessons learned in their youth.

        The biggest challenge I have faced is that kids growing up these days do not believe in any absolute truths. They question the validity of the scriptures and how scripture is applicable in today’s culture. Everything is grey.. with the exception of extending Christ-like love and grace to everyone, a concept kids accept wholeheartedly which is the basis of the gospel.

        I used to be concerned that without having firm convictions about certain ‘sins’ I was watering down Christ’s message, but there is no longer any room for judgement at my house. There is no bible beating.. we accept others as they are, we love, we laugh, we worship, we read scripture but don’t dissect every syllable or phrase looking for hidden meaning. We just ‘are’..

        Praying for you and your family.

  43. Bonni Morrell says:

    God’s grace is a wonder! I was raised with much shame and feeling that I never got it right. Getting pregnant and marrying young I always felt like I was barely hanging on to keep my family and my sanity together. I lost my oldest son at 22 to a drunk driver and 5 years later my 49 year old husband died of cancer. And yet, my second son is one of the finest young men I know. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children whom I love with all my heart.
    Even with all the shame and anger of my father, he stood beside me when I got pregnant and never turned me away. My son really struggled in college and flunked out a semester due to the deaths of his brother and father. I kept paying and he has a great career.
    Richard Rohr says that the rules provide a container that is necessary for life. The second stage of life allows us to love more generously. We can’t break the rules until we know them. A simplistic explanation but one I have found true in my life.

  44. Warren says:

    I too grew up in a “thou shalt not” home. Yet I really enjoyed my friendships at church and the sense of community it provided. Now my views about God would be considered progressive, and I ache when I witness the dogmatic certainties of fundamentalist Christians who are well-meaning but short-sighted. When I was a kid I needed the structure provided by my religious system, but as an adult I became ready for a fuller understanding of humanity’s relationship with God. Seems to me that is the message of I Cor. 13: 11.

  45. Debbie Wilson says:

    Philip, I love how you challenge us to think. Life is surely a paradox. The families in this post sounded like two opposite ends of the spectrum of faith. Of course a few short paragraphs can’t show everything about them. I was reminded of John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” I’ve heard people separate grace from truth instead of the law from grace and truth. Jesus told some hard truths that I look at as guardrails on a steep mountain road. They protect us, not rob our freedom. Reading the Old Testament through the eyes of grace brings us to what Jonah knew and why he didn’t want to preach to his enemy, ” I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” His message of pending judgment brought life not death to a whole city. That is so opposite of how we think.
    I think the goal in parenting/life should be to walk in the Spirit. That may mean tough restrictions one time and a hug the next. The Holy Spirit, not rigid rules or mushy sentimentality should be our guide. (Easier said than done!) It may seem less efficient to seek God’s wisdom in each situation than to fall back on our default response, but I believe that is the only way to produce real spiritual fruit. We want healthy individuals, not robots.
    I failed many times with my kids, but, by God’s grace, they both love the Lord and us. And they are thinkers. My mother would ask for forgiveness when she lost her temper. I’m thankful of her example, because I had to follow it more often than I want to remember.
    I recently finished “What’s so Amazing About Grace.” Excellent, challenging and inspiring. Look forward to you next book!

  46. James H Grummer says:

    Dear Philip: For years I have read your postings and reflected on my own walk of faith dating back to LaSalle Street Church. Like you, I grew up fearing God, seeing Him as the “cop in the sky”, watching my every move. As a young boy, God never entered my household and I began to see “going to church” as just an item in my family’s “to do” list. Christ came to life at LaSalle Street Church and adult Bible studies with you. Janet added the element of service on Sunday morning breakfasts. Without knowing it, God was laying in His foundation for me. The years passed, and I found myself divorced and suffering from clinical depression. Needing a change, I moved to Florida to be closer to my parents. I started my own company, restored a beach house and traveled around the world. I slowly reinvented myself through God’s grace. Strangely, in all the years of living in Florida, I had never found a church home. For better or worse, I compared every church to my LaSalle experience. They all came up short, but my faith in Christ remains strong. I have read many of your books along the way, and surrounded myself with other Christ followers, but the search for a church home now seems irrelevant. I’m plagues by my thoughts. How can I love the Lord and not be a regular attender ? Isn’t being in church what Christ wants ? Why can’t I lower my standards ? The questions are endless. In the end, I find myself grateful for your ministry, your writings. So, thank you Philip. Writing you has been on my mind for years, I’m thankful today was the day. Hope you are enjoying life, Janet, the Rockies and the Cubs. With peace, James H. Grummer

    • Philip Yancey says:

      So good to “virtually” reconnect, Jim! We’ve never found a church to equal LSC either. Those were very formative years, and I’m glad we’ve been companions along the way. –Philip

  47. Beth says:

    I grew up in the “Joyce” family. No radios in the house. No dancing. No listening to music, except rare approvals from our mother. No movie theatres. We did what our mother said, when she said it, and “Because I said so” was the answer to absolutely everything. My siblings and I turned out to be highly successful people, but I decided that I would parent through proactive, disciplined attachment, and not through reactive punishments. Now I’m parenting more like “Annette,” but this post gives me a bit of a scare! Annette probably swung the pendulum too far and became a permissive parent. There’s a big difference between always keeping a place for prodigal children and simply becoming an enabler.

  48. Greg says:

    Mr. Yancey,
    I claim your book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace as one of my all time favorites. I have read it at least 4 times. I still thirst for grace, and your book help quench that for a season. I am sending you something I wrote recently concerning my two grandmothers and the change in our culture. Things are never as black and white as we would prefer, and certainly not when we seek to use simplicity and complexities only for pragmatic reasons. Thank you for your writings and examples of grace.

    A Tale of my two Racist Grandmothers

    My grandmothers both taught in my Sunday school class growing up. My maternal grandmother, Wilma Hancock was from Mississippi, and arrived in Oklahoma in her late 40’s. My paternal grandmother, Catherine Roller was from Oklahoma, but her ancestors the Chickasaw Indians, had their origins in the south, my maternal grandmother’s birth place.

    Both of my grandmothers were bible believing Christians. Their backgrounds though diverse, converged in their mutual faith and belief in the bible. I was young when I attended their Sunday School class, but I remember my grandmother Roller smiling while taking attendance when I entered the door, and my grandmother Hancock herding the energetic children around small wooden tables. We painted with water colors, played with playdough and listened to bible stories. There was great comfort in my grandparent’s presence as the two sentinels of consistency and stability faithfully stood guard.

    Both of my grandmothers worked hard raising their families and both were faithful to their husbands. Neither divorced, and their lives centered on their God, their faith, and their families. When I attended Sunday School class in 1972 they were considered Christian American Homemakers. Today in our culture’s zero-sum, binary game they would be considered racist. Please let me explain.

    My grandmother Hancock loved the south, and felt blessed by her southern heritage. She admired Robert E. Lee, and taught me that his horse was named Traveller. She said she admired his humility and sincere faith in God. My grandmother also deplored slavery, and on many occasions with strong emotion, explained to me the evil nature of slavery and reminded me frequently that slavery was never God’s intention. My grandmother believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and abhorred divorce, especially when children were involved.

    My grandmother Roller was 1/2 Chickasaw Indian. She attended church regularly with her family. She was always kind with a ready smile. During one of our last conversations we discussed her early life. She told me of attending an Indian Boarding School 40 miles south from where she grew up. When I asked why she just didn’t attend where she lived, she looked at me like I wasn’t the swiftest runner in the pack. She answered with a pained expression that I can still picture to this day, “Greg, I couldn’t. We weren’t allowed to attend school with the white kids.” I was stunned, during all the years growing up in her Sunday School Class, and being in her home, I never knew. She never talked of it. She moved on and lived her life. She too deplored slavery, yet her ancestors didn’t. It is an established fact that the Chickasaw Indians had slaves, and were one of the last tribes to free them.

    Both of my grandmothers believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman, based on their beliefs in their bibles, and cultural traditions going back thousands of years. Both deplored slavery, though both of their distant relatives owned slaves. Yet, despite their marked differences, both worshiped the same “Jewish” Savior together every Sunday morning. Now, in our current zero-sum culture, based on these brief narratives, I was raised by racist Grandmothers. One of which was prohibited from attending school with her white classmates, and whose ancestors owned slaves. Can Don Lemon please parse this out for me, so that I can align my beliefs correctly with CNN and avoid being a racist? Where is Van Jones when we need him?

    Do you see how far we have gone down the road to idiocy? Today, if you embrace the values that both of my grandmothers instilled in my youth, you’re a racist. So, how did these two raciest grandmothers from completely different cultural backgrounds coexist in harmony? They focused on what they had in common instead of what they didn’t. They looked to the future, forgetting the past, and they were both Americans first, both believed in God, and both were dedicated to their families. That’s the country they both taught me to believe in, and to contribute to.

    Today, if your religious convictions constrain you from baking a cake for a gay wedding, you’re sued. If you believe in the traditional union between a man and a woman, you’re a hateful raciest. I have a question for those playing the zero-sum game. Was President Obama and Secretary Clinton hateful raciest when they supported traditional marriage during their early campaigning, or was that forgotten after their miraculous epiphanies that coincided with their getting more votes for their evolving convictions?

    Many on the left love playing the role of enlightened, level-headed sophisticates. All things are permissible in moderation, slow and steady as you go…until they’re in the driver’s seat. Then they impose universal health care unilaterally and presumptuously light our nation’s most iconic symbol in rainbow colors. A gesture that would have grieved both of my grandmothers greatly. But, why should I be surprised? They were both racist.

    Isn’t it incredible how excruciatingly difficult and complex the liberal’s criteria has become for differentiating between a man and a woman, but how overtly simplistic their standards are for identifying a racist? Basically, if you don’t agree with their world view, their historical perspective, their social agendas, you’re a racist.

    And what will the left’s criteria be for what gets torn down or removed? I’m sure if it’s monuments they find offensive like the ten commandments it will be as simple as Ned in the first reader, but if it’s perhaps politically correct phallic symbols tastefully placed around enlightened coffee shops…well, the criteria will probably be much more nuanced and sophisticated.

    I spoke with a man today that I have a deep respect for. He served in Vietnam, and in the Iraqi war. Despite being on the back side of 50 he volunteered to return to the fight out of a loyalty to the young soldiers he had trained. He was wounded and airlifted to Germany, and then back to the United States. He’s retired from the military finally, but is still actively working hard on behalf of veterans in his second career. He loves his country and his God. I heard him say recently that he’s sick and tired of those on the east and west coast seeking to dictate how those in the Midwest should live. That speaks volumes as to why the Democrats lost the election, and why the facilitating Republicans should beware.

    It’s not the crazy neo-Nazis, or deluded white supremacist that the left should worry about, and it’s not the Marxist Left that the career establishment Republicans should worry about. It’s that indistinct middle America. The America that confounded the self-proclaimed experts this past election. Those who have fought with their black, white, and red brothers on foreign soil where loyalty isn’t purchased by lobbyist, but forged in shared suffering. Those that fight for principles that the Left and the Right continually fail to grasp.

    They fight for Ideals instilled in them by parents and grandparents like mine, ideals of loyalty, sacrifice, and self-determination. A firm conviction that you should let others decide for themselves how they should live, but when they seek to impose their choices on you, be very careful and “don’t tread on me.” Ideals that carried my Chickasaw Grandmother through forced boarding schools, and kept her from succumbing to bitterness, and persevering to see 3 of her 5 children graduate college with advanced degrees. Ideals that could reconcile two very dissimilar cultures and blend them gracefully into a blessing that trickled down on me every Sunday morning in their classroom.

    In the military, I was taught to never be too concerned with those doing all the talking because an empty wagon makes a lot of noise. No, the dangerous one’s mind their own business, keep their mouths shut, their heads down, and quietly go about contributing to the greater good.

    I am convinced when President Obama sought to impose his sudden evolving views on traditional marriage by lighting up the White House in the colors of his epiphany and when he could find no greater causes than to dictate who could relieve themselves where, the giant of indistinct Middle America was awakened, and our country has been in birth pangs ever since. I can’t tell you what will eventually be birthed, but if those on the left and the right are impatient to find out, just keep poking the bear.

  49. I was raised one of nine children by parents who practiced ‘benign neglect’ in raising us. We were pretty much on our own, except for a stable home, food and clothing. We were expected to make our own way at school and in our neighborhood. My parents are gone now, but they left behind 9 independent and contributing citizens, six who are teachers.
    I raised my own children,marveling at my parents ability to remain neutral among all those personalities, but I think children benefit later in life from parents who are not perfect. My son described me recently as “moody” when he was growing up. I think that ambiguity may prepare a child for adulthood and the social/work demands much better than the all-excepting parent, though those super-supportive parents get more praise.

  50. Bob says:

    My parents didn’t spare the rod. Quite the contrary. They regularly practiced fear and punishment. There was no love. It was fear. A part is that was biblical fear. And it was biblically enforced restrictions and world views. Elvis and the Beatles were the devil. Do as I say not as I do.

    I’m sure you can figure out by now that I’m a pretty dysfunctional adult Christian. I have total problem with “fear the Lord” and the angry Baptist fire and brimstone “you’re gonna burn in hell” preachers. More than that, I see so much hate in “Christians” today that lately is keeping me away from the church.

    Yet at the same time, I regularly try to love my neighbor. I try to pray and ask Christ to help transform me.

    The reality is that it’s not a binary issue. There’s a complicated mix of elements that shape who we become. Certainly our upbringing is a very significant aspect.

    I think there’s A lot of wrong being done today in the teachings of Christianity that have been warped and twisted to fit a view point.

    I just pray every day that Christ transform me, help me become who he wants me to be.

    So I wish i had not experienced my “Christian” upbringing? That’s a big emphatic yes. There was far too much fear and twisted “love” in the guitar guise biblical teaching.

    That much fear violence and punishment has left me crippled for my 50+ years of trying to heal from that damage.

  51. Steve Ripley says:

    Philip…First of all, thank you! Have read you for years. Raised in Chicago, landed in Michigan. I connected with your conclusion…which is “mystery.” I’m a divorced father of 3 in my 60’s. I divorced my wife for non-Biblical reasons and have acknowledged my sinful choices and patterns that contributed to the brokenness in our family. I am pursuing my children and wife for healing and reconciliation. Slow process. Oldest son alcoholic but starting to come alive spiritually after many dark years. Middle daughter following Yeshua with a Godly husband. Youngest son exploring eastern religions with the help of marijuana. I spent a portion of my single adult years in a Christian Camping leadership role. Knew a lot of the kids and as I traveled for the camp, stayed in a lot of their homes. Witnessed the following: Godly parents, kids who ran from God. Godly parents, one child follows Jesus other runs from God. Horrible parents, kids follow Jesus. Horrible parents, one child follows Jesus other runs from God. Mix and match these any way you want and the conclusion is the same…or should I say…never the same! For what it’s worth your your writing journey. God’s heart wouldn’t stop coming after me and several years ago, found me again. Last few years an amazing spiritual journey. Found myself on the narrow road. “The road is hard that leads to life.” Math 7:14. Praise Abba I’ve found life on the hard, narrow road. Thanks for what you do Philip!

  52. beth Stem says:

    This article is so true but there are so many truths. I gave birth to one (now 43) and raised her like a Bill Godhardy way. She is married to a bible college president (small college) and pastors a small church. She leans toward legalism-a lot. Just the way I raised her. But I changed 20 years ago when I came to understand Grace beginning with your Amazing book -What’s So Amazing… then read some Steve Brown, then did JAck Millers study several times and Rose Marie and etc. At this time I had adopted two babies from Romania (before Grace) a 12 mt boy and 3 mt girl in 1990. In between that time while coming to understand Grace, I adopted a 8 mt girl from Ukraine and then a couple yrs laater, a 21 month old boy. I feel like I was a good parent though still legalistic till about 1996 or so. I homeschooled, went to a good (?) supportive bible church, I did everything rsight, I didn’t drink or smoke, listened to Christian radio and dressed right. I wasn’t very strict though. That comes so hard for me. Anyway, so this is how they turned out. I hate that phrase-turned out. My bio is a strong Christian and is beginning to understand Grace as she in late thirties had two children and one blew her out of water. She is so sweet and kind and a good mom. The two from Romania -well, my son is gay. Has a partner twice his age and hates food and looks so thin and sickly. I love him. My daughter from Romania. Well, she was the sweetest baby and child ever!! And she is sweet now. She is talented (dancer ballet) and extremely beautiful. Not too bright but average and a very scared and anxious girl. She is almsot 27 now. But she had a baby 8 yrs ago, and she was 18 and her life became a mess so I have custody. She became an addict-heroin. It was hell. I couldn’t do anything but I went to al-anon and it was great. I moved back to my home, after 30 years elsewhere. After less than a month of moving, my daughter said she wanted to go to long term rehab. She has been in Lovelady Center in Bham for 8 mts. Doing great and became sweet again like she used to e. I don’t know what will happen down road. I love her so!!
    My daughter from Ukraine was a delight. She has helped me to raise my grand since she was only 12. I think it sorta screwed up her young life because she changed so much. She lives with me now and works all time-almost 21 but plans on movig in year or two. And finally my last-adopted at 21 mts. He ended up being quite autistic (fetal alcohol is the umbrella under which all his diagnosis’s ) He is 19 and CANNOT live with me He should be on disability but I had put him in a drug center just for a place to go and he started work lifting concrete. He apparently is doing his job well and is learning how to use public transportation. Much on him I won’t go into. He is a handsome boy and can be quite giving and kind but ….Our bond was never much. I tried. Only God knows how hard. So when people I see ask aout my children, I tell them. John is gay, Annie is drug addict, Wyatt is autistic (iq 70-I don’t say that)
    Now I am raising my precious grand. It is different being 66 but she seems quite smart and kind and compassionate-though I am not too strict on her and should and do try. Pray for me. Thank you, Philip for all your gracious books. They have been a lifeline for me.

  53. Shirley says:

    I was brought up in a Christian home. All 9 of my siblings and I developed strong faiths.
    We were not an Ozzie and Harriet family. I was never spanked but my father could get very angry and speak so harshly at times that I was afraid of crossing him, I often wished he would have beaten me, then maybe he could also say he loved me. Yet I have now as an adult with grown children learned to deeply love my dad. Why?
    It was hard raising 2 my dad and mom raised 10.
    Mom and dad were consistent they worked very hard on the farm. Although work was always there we always had family meals , boisterous ones for sure, that ended in prayer and in the evening Devotions. Sunday’s were always observed. At the end of the day both of my parents could be seen kneeling by their in prayer, the old farmhouse doors didn’t stay shut except for Saturday night when they must have put something against the door.
    Both sides of grandparents were respected and participation in reunions was a highlight. We all had chores on the farm. Expectations were high and all 10 graduated from college or university. Gossiping was rare, no one had the time. The only acceptable gossip was to comment on someone’s poor work ethic, after all, we are here to work and serve. We were held accountable for our actions ,for example staying out late at night meant you were the one to be woken for chores the next morning at 6.
    Life was good. not perfect but very good and God is gracious.

  54. John Isaak says:

    Stories you choose to tell would be expected to have the opposite result.
    I suppose a gracious sovereign God still has the last word. John

  55. Darin holmes says:

    Hi Philip,
    Thank you for this story, it really made me think. I guess my upbringing was different from both. My parents both believed in God, but didn’t go to church. I remember my dad once saying to me that he had tried becoming a Christian, but didn’t feel the emotional rush he had been taught would accompany any conversion experience. Therefore, he thought it must not be for him. My mom had been raised in a mainline Protestant church but no longer attended. Yet, my parents still felt it was important that my brother, two sisters, and myself get some exposure to God, so we (us kids) attended Sunday school every sunday, but not the church service afterwards. I will say, that did give me exposure to God and I believe was part of the seed for me becoming a Christian later. On a positive note, I had a happy upbringing with loving parents. We grew up on a dairy farm and had all the benefits a farm life brings, including a work ethic and learning about life and death. My dad was on the strict side but was a good man and father….and to be honest that is often how I view God the Father. Good and loving but strict. Gets in the way of grace sometimes (at least in believing in it for myself). The two writers that had the most impact on my Christianity are C.S. Lewis and you, Philip. Thank you for showing me through your books about what a loving God can be. Your books had (and still have) a big impact on my spiritual outlook. God bless you and thanks again!

  56. DDF says:

    I like so much of what you write, and have modeled some of my own writing after you. I think I have read every book you have written, some of them more that once. Your writing has been such an encouragement to me, as you have journeyed through life, telling stories, including your own. … Sounds like you are writing a memoir, which I will look forward to reading. I really respect the way you have hung in there, and, as they say, “stayed at your post.” Impressive, and well done!

    In this particular post, you briefly recount the age-old conundrum of how two kids in the same family can turn out so differently. It sounds like that will be a theme of sorts in your memoir. At the end of this short post, inside parenthesis, you invite your readers to share their story with you, saying you would welcome hearing them. We all have those stories. Boy do we ever. I do agree with the sentiments in this brief post.

    However, I’m not persuaded of the wisdom of asking us to now share them with you and each other. What is it you are asking? And why are you asking it? To build community? To build concern and compassion for each other?

    Come on, now. You are writing a memoir. How many words? 90,000-100,000? More? You have the distinct advantage of having thought long and hard about it, as well you should. Are you now inviting your readers to, say, give you 200 words in a comment section? 500 words? More? I think I am confused. Would you do that in a comment section? Is this the safe community where I am suppose to briefly share how my particular family put the fun in dysfunction? Might I be reading in some of these replies, “Philip, thank you for letting me tell my story of how my family was so messed up. Reading these stories of how people got hurt in their own family makes me feel closer to you all than I do to those in my own church. Thank you so much for inviting me to share my own sad, hurtful story. We are now in our 10th church, but that’s another story –ha!”

    So, I am puzzled. Frankly, I have way too much respect for kids and my own brothers and sisters than to mention how they are part of my nature-nurture-free will story, especially in this venue. They tell their stories; I tell mine, but not in this comment section.

    As much as I like you, and your readers (Most of them are my tribe, for crying out loud), Philip, I’ll pass on this one, as others probably should too. Because some of what you will no doubt receive — written to you out of the eagerness of your tribe to share with you, a renowned writer — really is none of your business. Well, certainly none of mine. The next story usually can top the previous one, and often, though unwittingly, get better with the telling. … Anyway, my thoughts. Keep writing.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      You make a good point, though no one is being coerced to write, only invited, and I have found that exploring the past can indeed be a step toward healing. Wounds that remain covered rarely heal. –Philip

      • DDF says:

        Agreed. No one is coerced to write and I see that many have responded to you in a clear, honest, respectful way. There you go. The irony is not lost on any of us that many who will share their stories in an online comment section never felt safe to share stories of some of their deepest hurts within their community of faith. Me, included.

        That has changed as I have gotten older, but it was instilled in me as a young boy that you don’t tell people everything you know. There is some truth to that, but of course, not total truth. Don’t you just just know that some of those responding here cringed, hit the send button, let out a big breath and said to themselves, “I hope X and Y don’t see this.” I don’t know. Maybe that’s as it should be.

        Writer Ron Kraybill helped me understand the paradox that when people fear the step of acknowledgment and avoid it to protect the relationship, those fears often become self-fulfilling. The conflict eventually explodes or implodes. If somehow people had the courage, the permission, the safe venue, to acknowledge conflict and move toward it early, they find that their relationships can handle even the most difficult differences.

        This paradox lies behind what Kraybill suggests to congregations. If you want fewer divisive and church-splitting conflicts, encourage more everyday disagreements in congregational life. That hasn’t hadn’t nearly to the degree that Kraybill or most of us who so desire reconciliation had hoped. It not easy in faith communities filled with some of the great sweep-it-under-the-carpet kings and queens of the world.

  57. Karleen says:

    My sister and I both committed our lives to Christ the same summer in high school she through Youth for Christ and I through a weekly businessmans prayer breakfast. Both of us grew strong in our faith, despite the fact that our Mom was taken from us suddenly from a stroke 5 months later, by faithfully attending Campus Life meetings. We both married and have children. She and her husband share a strong faith where they have attended the same church for years. Her husband is a solid Christian role model. My husbands faith is not so strong and his lack of spiritual leadership was obvious as our children grew up. We started out with a strong commitment to a body of believers but left there long ago. My sisters children are all Christian and growing in their faith and relationship with Christ. Only one of my two children is saved. The other left the faith for a more permissive lifestyle. She has a more “modern” approach to faith.
    It appears to me that a spiritually strong father is key to spirituality strong children.

  58. Doyle Currey says:

    I have a strong willed 7 year old boy who is challenging – both me and my wife become so frustrated and angry when he misbehaves and when our patience wears out we tend to yell. I have prayed about this a lot and am getting better at not yelling. However my wife feels he deserves to be yelled at. I disagree – I think we are being disobedient to God when we yell. The Bible says “A harsh word stirs up anger” and The love passage in Corinthians tells us to be kind, patient and not rude. What is your thoughts on this – I need all the help I can get. By the way I have read all your books.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I’m not a parent, and dare not offer any advice on that most difficult of roles. I do know, however, that yelling can wound in permanent ways. –Philip

  59. Dani says:

    I grew up with a legalism background as well and worse, lately their church is extremely supportive of the theology of prosperity.

    Having read your books since a teen, I found or rather was found by grace.
    That’s how I live and intend to raise children someday.

    My brother went to a different path. He is an agnostic without calling himself that. He just doesn’t care. And my parents keep telling him that anything bad that happens in his life is because he quit church and giving it the 10% (with me it’s just the 10%).

    I believe my parents have their best intention deep in their hearts, but they are blind by religion and can’t see they are pushing my brother away and further.

  60. Lindo says:

    I don’t think there’s a formula when it comes to upbringing and how the kids turn out to be. Children raised in the same home with the same values “choose” different paths. Like you say it’s all God’s grace. As a parent you do your best and leave the rest to God.

  61. dave says:

    Amazing story that can change life

  62. Ellen Gee says:

    I too raised a daughter who heeds to a more legalistic view of faith, and a son, who was a prodigal. Not raised in a Christian home, I had noting to go from. And you’re right, that in between is a mystery. As a parent, I remember feeling the weight of “how my kids turn out.” And that burden for their souls was overbearing. But as a grandparent, that burden is lifted and I’m more free. So I learned the discipline of God from parenting, and the grace of God through grand parenting. And I vaguely understand how God is both. And I’m convinced He would prefer to lavish us with grace, but sin forces Him to at times, protect us with discipline. We must always struggle to find that middle ground.

  63. Michaelle Ryan says:

    I grew up in such a disfunctional family at age 18 I tried to commit suicide at age 25 God found me, were it not for that I would never have survived, however life has remained difficult for me every step of the way and also for my children, it’s as though our whole family has some kind of curse hanging over it. All the women in the family are divorced and most not by choice my daughter as yet has not been able to have children and outside of loosing a child it’s the worst thing a woman has to bear. I raised my children alone but in the ways of the lord, both struggle believing in a God they can’t see and can’t feel they suffer from much anger and abandonment. I could go on but I won’t. I do want you to know I have read every one of your books and they have helped me through some very difficult times. I find it difficult to find authors who help me through the times I struggle to believe myself. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your willingness to be transparent.

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