When my kids were little, I was crazy legalistic about language. Potty language was a no-no and we sure as…heck…didn’t say “shut up” or anything vile like that. Sweet words come out of sweet hearts, right? And woe to the fool who dared throw out the “D” word, the “S” word or, as referred to in “The Christmas Story” as the mother of all cuss words, the “F” word in front of my babies at Wal-Mart! Oh no. Just no.
And you know what the result of all that careful filtering was?
My big kids have the same tendencies toward bad language as anyone’s kids. In fact, I have one in particular who has written the book on how NOT to be respectful to your mama. And this one used to be the most rule-making AND rule-following of them all. Why is that?
The Bible has the answer. It is because the law breeds sin. In Romans 8:9 Paul describes this phenomenon…
“I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”
Think about it. How many times, when you kids were very small, did you use reverse psychology to get them to do what you wanted?
“Hey, don’t you smile. Don’t you smile at Mommy! I mean it! Don’t you even think about it…hey, I see your mouth twitching! You better stop!” As that sweet one who had been scowling moments earlier dissolved into giggles you patted yourself on the back for your parenting genius.
Well, the same principle applies to when you don’t want your kids to do something. I have realized after countless failed attempts at sin-preventing parenting that…get this… my parenting cannot prevent sin.
Isn’t that groundbreaking?
“Don’t touch that.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal…”
Has any of my children, or me for that matter, responded to a list like this? Or are we all like Paul who, “when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died?” Because I would venture to guess the truth is when we are told “do not” our first reaction is, “Oh, really? Why shouldn’t I?”
Then what does work? If a list of rules fails to bring about obedience and godliness, then what make me want to do what is right?
The Bible gives us an answer to that as well. Romans 2:4 says that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”
Walking across a busy parking lot with my little boy, I learned that, rather than tell him not to run out in front of cars, I would sweetly request, “Hold mommy’s hand!” with a big smile and he would happily place his little hand in mine and let me lead him safely into the store.
This was easy when they were toddlers, but it is much harder now when the kids are bigger and the sins have more potentially serious consequences. But if I draw near to them, establishing clear boundaries (after all, we cannot have an “anything goes” mentality or our house would be full of little anarchists) but giving them freedom within those boundaries, maybe the relationship that results will cause them to have a desire for the things that are beneficial to them long-term instead of the short term pleasure the world has to offer. It doesn’t mean they will not sin. In fact, the odds are they are going to sin and some of them will probably sin big. Am I going to scream and rant at them or am I going to look them in the eye and declare my love and commitment to them and their well-being? Am I going to make a longer list of rules, or offer wise and carefully worded counsel in order to foster trust and build a bridge between us? I tend toward the lists of rules, if I’m being honest. I love to tell my tribe what they should and should not do, thinking they will tow the line and march like good little soldiers. But that is a terribly flawed methodology and, now that they are older, I realize how much time and energy I wasted on battles that just really weren’t worth fighting after all.
God has given me one job as a mom. One. Just be kind. Just love them. It’s not my job to fix them, only God can fix people. Show grace, don’t freak out over sin…because that is kind of a common problem in humanity. Expecting perfection will only result in frustration and broken relationship. Forcing an outward show of godliness when the heart is not in the game is useless and a complete waste of time. But zooming in on their heart? Not lecturing every time a kids says “shut up” or teases a sibling? Realizing that a nearly grown teenager is going to test the waters and be “all over the place” until they truly realize who they are and why they are here will help me to relax a little and just enjoy the good moments. (And pour a glass of wine after the bad!)
In other words, I love Jesus but…
I’m not Jesus.