A System of Grace

Angry mother scolding daughter clutchin teddy bear in living room

The opposite of a shame based system is one of grace. If you aren’t quite sure what this looks like, or if you’ve been living in a shame based system for any length of time, this list reveals how to build up your family while teaching them solid lessons they can implement for a lifetime.

The Top 10 Characteristics of a Grace Filled System

1. Out Loud Affirming

“Good job!”

“You are so capable!”

Recently our nieces and nephews were over and my nephew spilled apple juice – the stickiest substance if it dries on the floor. We cleaned it – or so we thought. About 3am I got up for a glass of water. Walking across that spill in my bare feet, I was quickly reminded that I needed to go over the spot again. And it was easy to think at first, “Oh man, Little Guy! You made such a mess on the floor!”

The following morning we got up with the kids and he had apple juice again and I realized I didn’t tell him what a great job he did by not spilling it this time.

We forget to say, “Such a good job!”

“I love you!”

“I’m glad God put you in my family!”

And when using out loud affirming – use names and use them often. Use your child or spouse’s name when praising them.

2. People Oriented 

Grace filled families separate people from their behaviors.

David Seaman said, “We all need an environment where our needs are met because of who we are, not because of what we do.

It’s not psycho mumbo jumbo to say to Little Johnny, “I love you, but I don’t like what you just did.”

It’s grace. It’s about communicating acceptance when behavior is lacking. And the psycho mumbo jumbo that works is God’s invention. The psycho mumbo jumbo that doesn’t work is psycho mumbo jumbo and we have to sort through the two.

Sometimes God isn’t real pleased with my behavior – even as a pastor. When God sees me He sees Jesus. I am forgiven. I am in Him. I am righteous. I am holy.

People have made grace to mean God can’t see us or our actions. But we can grieve the Holy Spirit and at the same time have perfect love and righteousness and acceptance and holiness. He sees us in Him. But sometimes he sees us and says, “No! Don’t choose that path. It leads to pain and disappointment.”

3. Out Loud Rules and Expectations.

I like rules. People don’t expect that from me. I’m a grace pastor, after all.

I travel a lot. Travel to me means anywhere but home and I get really serious about my travel rules. Now, you know you have your own set of neurotic rules. Come on! Admit it!

Recently we went to the movie theater. I was the last one inside the theater. I have this rule – always turn right when it’s an arbitrary choice. The couple we were with went into the theater before me. So, when I entered the theater and saw them I immediately let out a sigh and realized I didn’t have to react that way.

We all have these things. And when we verbalize them, what it prevents is someone going, “What is wrong with this person?”

Some people hang onto things for years that they don’t tell their spouse – that a particular thing drives them crazy. Verbalize them – not in a dictator kind of way, but talk about them. I’m not picking on the little rules. But, some people have big ones. Take those things – what are the big rules you don’t talk to anyone about? If the truth is spoken it reveals a problem and it’s addressed without attacking the person who is sharing them. Have family time and allow members to identify their preconceived rules as well as rules the family would like in place. It really will bring you closer together without creating unnecessary animosity or resentment down the road.

4. Communication is Clear and Straight.

Zachariah 8:16

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts

“Truth is the absence of the intent to deceive.” – Jeff Vanvonderen

Sometimes what someone says is true, but the way it is said or what is omitted deceives the hearer.

5. God is the Source

God meets needs, defends, and is the one who determines our acceptance. It may be very American to think our value is determined by money or position or clothes, tools…whatever else we are using. But, our position in Christ is that our acceptance is in Him and not in what we have or how we can perform. Only God decides what is true about us.

It’s okay to be concerned about our child’s math grade. But, if they fail math they only fail math. They are not a failure. And it’s important to distinguish the difference between the two.

 6. Children Are Enjoyed.

In a grace filled home children are free to act according to their age appropriate development rather than being expected to act like adults.

7. Responsibility and Accountability Dwell in a Grace Filled Relationships

Fault and blame are used in shame filled families to punish for lack of performance. And they’re used as tools in an attempt to control others.

People are responsible for their choices and it’s okay to hold them accountable for their behavior. This may involve discipline, but this does not mean punishment. There’s a difference. It means helping the child learn from the incident, which might occur in the form of consequences received or it might happen just by talking about it together.

 8. Head Skills Are Used for Learning, Not for Defending

“Why did you do that?” usually triggers a defensive response. But, when we say, “Help me understand your thinking here.” That doesn’t invoke the need to defend. When you ask your child’s help in understanding what was going on in his head and the answer is “I dunno. I just left the milk out.” That’s okay. Since the person is already preapproved; living in a grace filled relationship – the focus is on learning and growth. And if the thinking is faulty it can be changed. The behavior will change as well and if done early, growth occurs.

If you’ve been living in a shame filled system – when you attempt to do some of these things there might still be a tendency to defend because the person doesn’t feel preapproved.

 9. Feelings Are Valid and Useful

Feelings aren’t right or wrong – they simply exist.

 Feelings act as signs that let us know that something is going on between us. There’s a big difference between “you always do this.” and “I feel like you always do this.”

Because the moment we acknowledge we feel like this – it reveals that our perspective may not be true. And it may be skewed to some extent.

I love what Jim Richards says about truth: He says when referring to past events in our lives, what is important is not what happened, but how we feel about what happened. And that’s essentially what creates the reality of our experience and what those emotions do at a heart level.

 10. It’s Okay for Outsides to Match Insides

In a grace filled family what is real is more important than how things look to others or maintaining an image. Life is viewed from a process perspective rather than an event perspective.

I rejoice in progress.

God is not through.

Behavior is changing.

Unacceptable behavior is about poor choices, not our value and worth as a person. Therefore, grace filled families don’t have to fix one another in order to fix themselves.




  1. Renee Miller left a comment on March 9, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Reblogged this on reneemillerblog and commented:
    Lucas Miles continues his series on becoming Grace Dependent. It’s a must read if you want to break old habits developed in a shame based family system and open doors to life and joy through Grace.

  2. alan1704 left a comment on March 9, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Reblogged this on Prism of Grace.

  3. amberbye left a comment on November 20, 2016 at 6:55 am

    This is some really great stuff (this post and the previous 2 – at least 😉 … I found myself not very clear on the ‘children are enjoyed’ part. We certainly let kids skip, jump, hang, climb, etc. But we expect a lot from everyone in our family – chores, family responsibilities, and generally we redirect on poor behavior (Uh-oh, I can’t understand whining, so try that again without whining.) … so that’s an age appropriate behavior, but I expect more. Your thoughts on children’s unappealing age-appropriate behavior?

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