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Reading 2012: Families Where Grace Is in Place

February 29, 2012

In Jeff VanVonderen’s Families Where Grace Is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame, the author describes family relationships as either Curse-Full relationships or Grace-Full relationships. In his description of curse-full relationships, such relationships are focused on control, external appearances, and getting needs met in a person. Grace-full relationships, on the other hand, are focused on finding identity in Christ, on true spiritual growth regardless of appearances, growing in grace, and loving others.

Part marriage book, part parenting book, Families Where Grace Is in Place is a helpful book for any family who sees the dangers of manipulation, legalism, and shame within familial relationships. VanVonderen divides his book into three main parts, making up fourteen chapters:

Part I: Families Where Grace Is Not in Place
Introduction
1. Our Detour from God’s Plan
2. Curse-Full Relationships
3. Living Under the Curse
4. When a Marriage Doesn’t Work
5. Trying to Escape the Curse
6. Recycling the Curse

Part II: Families “by the Book”
Introduction
7. A Real Marriage
8. Parenting Means Controlling Ourselves
9. Building Faith Into Your Children
10. Freeing Your Children’s Hearts
11. Equipping Without “Tripping”

Part III: Families Where Grace Is in Place
Introduction
12. A Grace-Full Family
13. The Grace-Full Spouse
14. The Grace-Full Parent

One frustration with the book is found on the back cover, where a blurb states, “You can build a happy, restful home–powered by God’s grace.” To me, this phrasing seems to place the results once again on the efforts of the family members rather than on God’s grace. (This is not to say I believe human effort plays no part.) I don’t find this emphasis to be true in the book, though, and I can see what this statement is attempting to say. Another frustration is one of the endorsers on the front, whose name I fear might keep a few people here and there from reading this book.

Going into the book, I was expecting more of a focus on parenting, but found both foci of the book very helpful. This is one of the few books that discusses parenting that I am happy to recommend to others without feeling deep concern about other troubling portions of the book. (That doesn’t mean I agree with every part of the book, though.)

For those who find charts helpful in understanding and explaining family relationship and counseling scenarios, this book has multiple diagrams, acronyms, and charts to better illustrate the message of the book. There are also discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which may make this book a useful resource for a group study.

Excerpts:

“[F]or too many Christians, being married has come to mean not being divorced. They think that as long as they have a piece of paper that says their marriage is intact, God won’t notice that it’s broken. It is as though God cares about the letter of the law so much that He isn’t able to notice the true spirit of a marriage.” (65-66)

“[Curse-full] parents view themselves as being responsible for their children’s choices, but not always responsible for their own. In a controlling environment, the end justifies the means. Therefore, it’s all right if the parent rages, manipulates, or otherwise acts inappropriately in order to get the desired resulting behavior. They can hit their children to get them to stop hitting each other. They can yell at their children to get them to be quiet. They can call them names to get them to be quiet.” (141)

“In grace-full families, what is real is more important than how things look. Having a safe, unconditionally accepting place where outsides can match insides is really the only way to find out if there are inside needs and problems that must be addressed. Life is seen with a process perspective rather than an event perspective. This means that people don’t have to react, or attempt to “cure” behavior forever. Because God is involved, you don’t have to panic: The story is not over, even if it doesn’t look too good right now.” (163)

“Under the best circumstances, the most healthy, most sensitive, most educated person is still not capable of [fully] meeting the needs of another. That is God’s responsibility.” (168)

“I do not believe I am to control the behavior of my children. They must be learning to control themselves; I am to use my power to empower them to do so.” (182)

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  • Erika March 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    “Therefore, it’s all right if the parent rages, manipulates, or otherwise acts inappropriately in order to get the desired resulting behavior. They can hit their children to get them to stop hitting each other. They can yell at their children to get them to be quiet. They can call them names to get them to be quiet.””

    Wow. Convicting. I’m going to look into this book–thanks for the good recommendations on here.