I never knew so much ‘tude could exist in one little body. My four-year-old sat perched on the edge of his bed: arms crossed, eyes narrowed, and sweet lips pressed into a firm line of defiance. His chest heaved from the Oscar-worthy performance he’d just displayed as he protested the great injustice of having to obey his mom.
I knelt in front of him to address his disobedience. After a short discussion, Benjamin admitted—with great reluctance—that he had done wrong. And in that moment, his tough, I’m-right-and-you’re-crazy-if-you-think-I’m-ever-wrong face began to crumple.
“I try to do the right thing, but—” He stared at the floor as his lip trembled, “I just can’t.”
The impatient response of a frustrated parent was on the tip of my tongue. Yes you can do the right thing, and you’d better straighten up and do what you’re supposed to, or so help me…
But as I watched my son wilt in discouragement, it was as if I were looking in a mirror. How many times had my heart responded in the same way when faced with my sin? Romans 7 came to mind, where the Apostle Paul confesses his inner struggle between his sin nature and new-in-Christ nature. I try to do the right thing…but I can’t. And the things I don’t want to do…I do.
I was reminded that my son does not yet have a relationship with Christ. Because of common grace, he does have many moments where he is kind, obedient, considerate, and loving. But Scripture tells me that apart from Christ, a person can’t bear any real fruit (John 15:5). Apart from Christ, we are enemies of God and dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).
“You know what, B,” I said as I took his hands in mine, “you’re right. By yourself, you can’t do the right thing. I can’t either. Even on my best days, I still do wrong things, and so do you. That’s the bad news—we aren’t perfect, and that keeps us far from God. But the wonderful news is that Jesus did what we could never do on our own…”
As we took the next minute or two to talk about the gospel message, I was struck by how easily I could have missed this opportunity. How often do I act surprised, irritated, or outraged when my son does exactly what a sinner in need of Jesus is expected to do?
Ephesians 6:4 commands fathers (and parenthetically mothers) to not provoke or stir their children to anger, but to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Our children must be guided and corrected, no question. But we are at risk of discouraging them if we forget to acknowledge that, until they have a personal relationship with Christ, they remain enslaved to sin.
As parents, we are stewarded with the incredible task of mirroring the character of God to our children. Our God is righteous, and he hates sin; but He is also slow to anger, full of grace and mercy, and sympathizes with us in our weaknesses.
Will my children make me want to pull my hair out sometimes? Absolutely. But I’m so grateful that God is patient with me when I struggle with the same kinds of disobedience again and again.
My prayer is that I would be a mother who extends that same patience and grace to my children when they inevitably struggle. And my hope is that, by that same grace, my children will be drawn to the Father because they’ve experienced His unbreakable love and patience.