Recently, my oldest son came home from his school day shaken up. He wears his heart on his sleeve so clearly something had happened earlier in the day. When I asked he responded with this: “My teacher was mean to me today, dad!”
When I asked him to elaborate, his dramatic and emotional response was this:
“She told me I was going to be surprised by the grade I received on my test. I asked her if I got an ‘F’ and she said, ‘Yep!’ She also told me she wanted to have a conference with you and mom because of my talking! AND (he added), she really came down on me about not doing 3 of my homework assignments.”
Mind you, he said all of this with tears flowing down his face. He legitimately believed a great injustice had been done to him. I asked him if he felt hurt more because of the way she responded to him or by the actual “charges” she had brought against him. He said it was more so because of how harshly he thought she responded to him.
But as we unpacked the situation more, he attempted to devalue the charges as well, making statements like: “But I did all of my OTHER homework!” and “But OTHER kids were talking out of turn too!” and “But I pay attention to her MOST of the time!”
This all-too-common response was my son’s attempt to do three things with his sin:
Minimize (It isn’t that bad).
Blame-shift (It is another person’s fault - “They made me do it!”).
Miss it altogether (As my son did in this instance).
And so ensued the 500th conversation in which I attempted to patiently, gently, graciously, and truthfully bring my child to a place where he could see his sin for what it was - as a serious and personal offense against God (as one theologian put it: “Sin is cosmic treason!”), and as something that doesn’t just affect him, but others around him (in this case, his sin hurt his teacher).
First off, let’s talk about "why" I should lean towards gentleness when it comes to my children not seeing their sin. The truth is I am just like them and the way God deals with me is patient, slow to anger, and quick to love. There’s a verse for this, isn’t there? In fact, this verse is one of the most quoted verses in Scripture: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Exodus 34:6 (and a slew of other places in Scripture). At the core of the good news is a God who is slow to anger and quick to love when it comes to his children’s sin.
Next, let’s get into the “why” behind my son not seeing his own sin. Really, this is a matter of why all of us struggle to truly own our sin, especially in the situations we feel wronged by others. Jesus addressed this in his sermon on the mount:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
Jesus places this in the context of judgment (“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1). The point of this statement is that when it comes to other people’s sin, we tend to be judge, jury, and executioner. We act as though we are the authoritative voice in all matters as if somehow we miraculously became omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
Only God can eternally judge a person’s soul and he alone has earned that right as God. But at the same time, he allows us to evaluate other people’s lives and sin, although not before we evaluate our own lives and sin. Sin is personal. But no one’s sin is more personal than our own sin. Yet we take other people’s sin (especially the sin committed against us) so personally. Jesus wants us to be offended by our own sin more than anyone else’s sin (hence, the log vs speck analogy).
The grace here is two-fold: First of all, when we see our sin as greater than anyone else’s, we see our desperate need for rescue. Secondly, we can properly, tenderly, lovingly, and truthfully engage another person’s sin, pushing them to hopefully see their desperate need for rescue.
Ultimately, the trick is to own our sin. But we don’t, really. And our kids don’t either. Probably because they don’t see their parents owning it much. We lessen its seriousness. We throw it onto others. We brush it aside. We miss it completely.
So where is the hope? What is the solution? How can we own our sin and help our kids do the same?
Consider these helpful thoughts about what it looks like to truly own our sin (aka repent):
Repentance is a gift, therefore it is not something we earn (2 Timothy 2:25).
Repentance is of God, which means it is more about God than it ever will be about us (Acts 20:21).
Repentance is a continuous posture, rather than a singled-out, one-time practice (1 Peter 5:5).
Repentance leads us to joy, not just sorrow (Ps. 51:1-12).
Repentance (true repentance) results in change in the life of a person (Gal 5:22-23).
Ultimately, repentance is about Jesus - His grace humbling us to see the severity of our sin, recognizing its consequences (eternal and temporal), but being more broken about what our sin led Jesus to (death on the cross) than what it leads us to (earthly and eternal death), so that we would be moved towards Jesus, knowing he is our only hope, in life and death!
The hope for you is the same hope for your children. It's always Jesus! The more you and your family can humble yourselves before the Lord to see your need for Him, the more change you will see in all of your lives. And this may be hard to hear, but by the grace of God, you need to lead out in this!
I am praying for you!