Growing Up with Grace: A Swindoll Family Conversation

Recently, three generations of Swindolls sat down to chat about grace. This is a conversation between Chuck, his daughter Colleen, and her son Austin.

Chuck: I wrote The Grace Awakening to say, in effect, “Everybody, take a deep breath, and give everyone the room you would like to have in your life—to be and to do.” How you rear your children may be different from how your neighbours rear theirs. The entertainment you enjoy may be different from what they would choose. Neither is sinful, just different. When you’re a legalist, though, you’re looking through a tiny radius, like a toilet paper roll...and that’s the most dreadful way I can imagine to live one’s life!

Colleen: I’m often asked, “What was it like growing up in a pastor’s home? You must’ve had all these rules.” But I really didn’t. You never said, “Colleen, you have to do this or that because of what people will say about me.”

Chuck: I often would say, “Don’t do this for my sake. You’re not maintaining your purity so your dad will have a good reputation. You’re doing that for your benefit. When you compromise, you hurt yourself. There may be ramifications that fall back on me, but that’s not your concern. Your main concern ought to be you and your walk with Christ.” That kind of grace allows people to grow up! Now, obviously, when you and your siblings were small, we had rules, but they were basic-to-life rules...They weren’t numerous, tight, little, nitpicking rules.

At home or anywhere else, when we make non-essentials essential, we quickly enter the realm of legalism. Cynthia and I agreed, if it’s not essential, let’s not make a big deal about it. Now, you’ve also got to determine, “What’s essential?” Is it because Scripture states it as such...or just because you’ve always believed it?

Austin: In other words, are we focusing on what the Bible says or what we want it to say?

Chuck: You’re exactly right. Into any situation, we bring the roots of our lives. The way I was raised naturally came from my original family. The way Cynthia was raised naturally came from hers. We had to learn to ask, “Why do we keep saying our children must do such-and-such?” I remember years ago, Colleen, all you kids wanted to sleep outside. I said, “No, no, no! You’ll get bit by spiders. Somebody might crawl over the fence and kidnap you. Or, you’ll get cold.” Your mom pulled me aside and said, “What’s wrong with letting them sleep in a little tent out back? What’s the big deal?” She developed a rule I will never forget, and I love her so much for teaching me this: “Unless we have to say no, let’s always look for ways to say yes.” And you know what? It worked. I loosened up and you kids had a blast (and nobody ever got bit!).

Colleen: I made some of my best memories in that yard!

Chuck: I know it! You slept outside, and I thought, They lived to see the sunrise! No spiders bit ’em. The snakes didn’t crawl into their tent. They didn’t set the house on fire.

Colleen: Well...That did happen on the patio, but I’ll leave that out!

Chuck: Yeah, what I don’t know doesn’t concern me!

Colleen: One thing I want to emphasize is that, in the non-essentials, we give grace and let go of our lists. But even if somebody has committed a sin, we should give grace! Christ invited those living sinful lifestyles to come to dinner and sit and talk with Him. One thing I love about Austin is that he hosts Bible studies and invites people who believe all kinds of weird things.

Austin: Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Mark 2:17). If we ignore people who have an atheistic world view or struggle with some addiction or have a smorgasbord of questionable issues...if we don’t demonstrate grace to them, how are we replicating the grace Christ showed? He modelled the message we’re to model!

Chuck: And I don’t think Jesus sat there with a harlot and talked about how she ought not be a harlot the whole time they were having their meal together! Same for a man who was ripping people off financially. 

Austin: Legalists focus on consequences. Someone who has that weight dumped on them can’t focus on why something is wrong or right. In our family, through generations, there’s been an emphasis on principle. Mom and Toban would often say, “Think about whether it’s right or not instead of thinking only about the consequence.” I learned to think for myself that way.

Colleen: And I want to interject something here. When Ashley and Austin grew up and moved out, I didn’t give them a list, “You need to do this or never do that.” I haven’t even looked at their social media pages, because I have my own life to deal with! They have to deal with their own lives.

Chuck: This is grace at its best: when you’re able to say, “They have their lives. And that also means that my attention needs to be on my life.” Only One should be in charge of everyone’s lives...His name is Jesus. If He wants me to do something, I need to be doing it. But the room He gives you, the breadth He gives you, that’s between you and Him! Follow Him. He gives you truth, and what does that do? It sets you free. What a great way to live!

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