Jack and Deb Graham spoke to Debra Murphy, editor of Christian Book Previews, about their book Courageous Parenting.
CBP: If you would share with us, briefly, your Christian testimony; where you came from.
Jack: We were both raised in Texas. I was born in Arkansas, actually. I enjoyed growing up in Texas. I came to Christ as a child with a strong Christian background, home and family. Church was always a part of my life. We love the church and have been grateful for our relationship with Christ all these years.
Deb: My parents took me to church when I was a babe in arms and I accepted the Lord when I was nine-years-old and it’s just been a growing and wonderful experience.
CBP: Did you feel, though, when you started a family that you were equipped emotionally with all the skills for raising a family?
Jack: Absolutely not. We talk about it in the book – one of the unique things about the book is that we try to tell some stories, and one of the themes of this book is keeping it real. So many books about parenting sometimes they get technical. We wanted to make this transferable, and to tell stories. My part is to take much of the Biblical principle and Deb has told some of the stories.
I remember when our first one was born in 1973 and just going back to the house and thinking how unprepared I was to be a dad, but just really having a season of prayer and asking the Lord to make me the kind of dad He wanted me to be. We have dependent upon prayer and principle all these years, and we’ve been blessed with great kids. So we felt that we had something that we could share that was doable in parents’ lives. We find that so many parents are putting pressure on themselves today. Deb thinks and talks about this a lot – this undue pressure of perfection in parenting. We’re trying to help people to relax a little bit, to trust God a whole lot more, and to walk through this journey with joy and faith and courage.
CBP: So as parents, we feel that we need more – and there are plenty of books out there – so we read the book and a lot of what we read is what we should be doing, and we know what we should be doing. We’re really asking for more tools for that. One of the things you do is you tell stories. But those stories, the picture tells a thousand words. So sometimes when you do relate to your child, you can think back to the stories that are in your book and help you through that time. That was, as you said, part of it for you.
How did you decide the strategy that you would use for raising your children?
Deb: Well, I think any young parent has these lofty ideas that they’re going to follow some manual – you use all the right ingredients and you’re going to get this perfect cake. But the older you become, you see parents who did do “everything right” and they’re children don’t turn out right, so you start examining it. I think every day you have to re-examine your heart and your life and that relationship with that child, you have to build on it every day. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you can’t expect it to happen overnight.
CBP: Well, that marriage union is so important, you talk about that. Then you kind of surprised me by saying the marriage of three people. And I thought do they mean the kid is part of the marriage? So it kind of brought me in to read that chapter. When you’re talking about the marriage of three people, what’s that all about?
Jack: Well, it takes three to make a marriage; it’s a triangle, and, of course, the Lord is the third. A three-prong cord is not easily broken, Scripture says. And I tell couples, when I’m preparing them for marriage, that it takes three and that means the Lord is the center of your home and the center of your life in marriage. That gives a marriage the under girding Jesus talked about when he said, “Build your house on the rock.”
CBP: So can an unhappy marriage produce, as you’ve mentioned, an effective set of parents?
Deb: An unhappy marriage? Well, I think marriage is the key component that is, in our society today, we see marriages that aren’t successful and we also see a lot of single parents. I think we need all the hope for those people because I strongly believe that any child that’s given to the Lord, the Lord is going to seek someone who can care for them, and I strongly urge my single friends that they can find help.
Jack: Some great kids have come out of broken homes and broken families and broken lives and we see that all the time. While we raise the standard and we want biblical principles to be pre-eminent in people’s lives when we fail. That’s the thing I was alluding to earlier: there’s failure in life and there’s failure in marriage. Kids are not looking for perfection, but they are looking for direction and they get that direction primarily from the pattern or example of their parents. So if parents will be consistent and faithful, and if the kids know that they’re trying, obviously where there’s love, love covers a multitude of sins, love covers a multitude of failures. If kids know they are loved and completely confirmed and accepted, then that’s the best environment for which they can grow. But if they’re not loved as they should be loved or if there’s brokenness in their home, then God can sovereignly and providentially move that child’s life, and out of much pain often comes great power and focus in the child’s life.
CBP: There’s just as much divorce, though, in Christian homes as there is in secular homes.
Jack: Yeah that’s what the study has been showing. It’s almost hard to believe. Be that as it may, whether that’s exactly true or not, there’s no question that Christian families struggle and there is brokenness in homes of families. But, again, we tell people, if Christ isn’t at the center of your life – it’s not that you can be a Christian and not have a great marriage or a great home or great family, but if you are living under the Lordship of Christ, if both the husband and the wife are seeking God together and if they are opening their hearts to the word of God, that they’re engaged in a meaningful church membership and ministry, it’s next to impossible to fail at your marriage. That doesn’t mean that Christians don’t fail because some people don’t own up to their responsibilities.
CBP: I like how you describe how our culture, our society escapes through divorce because, like abortion, as a way to escape the consequences of their choices. We just so easily take that way instead of taking the consequences.
Jack: Yes. It’s an easy way out; it’s just too easy right now for people to give up and quit. And we keep saying to people, persevere, and work things out. You can work it out. Don’t tell me if you’re a Christian the spirit of God lives in you, that the love of Christ is in you, that by His spirit you can’t work things out if the other person is willing to work with you on it. Sometimes reality sets in and sometimes people have made up their minds and there’s no getting back together.
CBP: Why don’t men lead in their families?
Deb: Some men don’t lead because some women don’t let them lead. And I think some men don’t lead because they’re not equipped. Most women have access to parenting tools, to bible study classes, to some type of mentoring. Most men do not. They think it’s somehow beneath them to ask for help and I think we need to make a society where it’s acceptable for men to ask for help, and for them to seek that help and to get encouragement. Too many women just go ahead and take the job and lead and don’t wait.
CBP: I also like the part where you said in the book that a lot of men say, “Well, she’s better at that, so I’ll let her do that.” And they use excuses too.
Deb: Parenting takes work and so many men are fighting a battle out there for their jobs and other things the world pushes on them, but they come home and they’re tired and they don’t realize the importance. That those days are going to slip away and they’re not going to have young children there.
CBP: When you’re a leader and you do wrong or you make a mistake, that’s very tough, and men do not want to make mistakes.
Jack: I think men are really trying to discover who they are today – am I going to be the mellow man, the Marlboro man, the whole manly man thing. What kind of man am I supposed to be? We’re trying to say, “Be a man of God, be a man of principle, discover your identity in Christ.” Many men are not -- I believe God has given women sensitivity to spiritual things greater than most men. But that doesn’t mean that men cannot learn and grow and develop a spiritual facet of their lives, and they must. So in a good marriage, a good relationship, a good home, a man is willing to take responsibility for loving and leading.
Deb: There’s a difference in a strong-man home and a whether a man is not strong. And the children see the difference.
CBP: You mention also in the book that when a man becomes a servant of God, then they seem to be able to take that leadership role. Is it a measuring stick when your children grow older, really want to come home to see you?
Deb: That is the greatest joy, I think. Our oldest children have our grandbaby, and for Christmas they made us a DVD and on the front cover “Now we know, because we love him, how much you loved us”, and it broke my heart because that’s the point you want them to get. In a Christian’s life it’s to know how much Jesus loved you, and in a parent’s life, it’s to realize how much you love them.
CBP: And the time that a father spends with his children.
Jack: That’s a big thing. That’s why, as a pastor, my number one goal first was to be a husband and father to my children; because if you don’t have a marriage, you don’t have a ministry, assuming you’re married. If you lose your influence at home, you’ve lost your influence, ultimately, in the church. So I never made that a big deal. It was a joy for me to coach my kids in Little League and to be involved in my daughter’s art things when she was doing art. Those things should be natural in a Christian home. Not forced. The Deuteronomy 6 passage talks about, “Talk about these things when you sit at the table, when you get up in the morning . . .” to me, a devotional life in the family is so much more than sitting down and reading the Bible and having a worship service at your house. It is the natural, normal, daily devotion of your lives together in Christ.
CBP: Parenting is an uncommon calling. What did you mean by that? 99% of us have been, will be parents, so what is the uncommon calling part of that?
Jack: I was trying to say that the greatest calling in life is to be a parent; greater than your career, than your job, greater than any calling in life is to be a parent. You have an opportunity to influence generations through your parenting. So it’s an uncommon calling.
The whole idea of the book really with the idea of Courageous Parenting that there is a life in the family with all of the cultural war that’s going on around us and the pressures and the pull and that great sucking sound of the world taking our kids down, that parents have to be willing to engage in a spiritual battle for their kids, and they have to be willing to be courageous enough to make good decisions themselves, and then to bring their children under spiritual discipline as well as personal commitment. A lot of times the kids are parenting the parents these days, and we’re trying to say, “Look, grow up and be a parent!”
CBP: That’s something that’s in your book, that if people are wondering about what they can get from a book, there’s a section in there about “Will the Real Parents Stand Up”. That was a fantastic section that I would suggest people turn to. Another part I would suggest they turn to is really understanding how to build a home so that when the fire comes, you’re the last one standing. There’s another thing that I think sets your book apart. You also talk about blessings for a family. Now this was an ancient thing that we used to have blessings in a family and we’ve gotten away from that. That’s another thing I thought was unique about your book. It used to be a formal event. How is that part of Homeland Security? That was another cute term you had.
Jack: Homeland Security that’s the emphasis in our country, protecting our nation so that’s about protecting the family. There are so many assaults and alarming attacks upon the family and so what are we doing? What are you doing as a parent that is actively, currently protecting your children? You can’t protect them from everything, but one of the jobs is not just providing for your family but protecting your family.
CBP: Many of us talk about purity for their children, and you really talk about teaching your kids the priority of purity, and you talk about sexual sins and making sure your kids understand that these sexual sins really form bonds that are very powerful and destructive. I think more what we hear from other books is that you shouldn’t do that, just say no.
Deb: Kids want an answer, they want a reason.
CBP: You end it by relaying your idea of raising families and of wishing on this world a generation of young people committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s all about.
Jack: We say in this book that really, we’re not just raising children, we’re making disciples. Something that occurred to me the other day is we’re not only raising our children, we’re raising parents. And we’re learning that now more than ever before now that we have our first grandchild. So one of the great joys of life is that you’ll see your children’s children, and that’s one of the privileges and promises that comes from God.
We dedicated this book to our first grandson and that kind of became the impetus for us wanting to do this book thinking the timing was right. Our oldest is married, the three younger are in their twenties and single, but they’re at a place in life, in a position of life, that we see so many things that we believe and taught them. They’re all involved in ministry, they all love the church, they all love to come home, they have an impact and a compassion on people, we have a great daughter-in-law, daughter-in-love and we’ve seen our children’s children. So it just doesn’t get a lot better than that.