Usually I'd back away quickly if a book I was reading started talking about children and sin. Most of the "beat it out of them" parenting methods seem to originate with the idea that children misbehave because they're sinful, and I honestly believe that young children misbehave because of immaturity and where they are developmentally. They still have so much to learn, they're curious, and they have very little impulse control and very short attention spans. Young children need patient guidance and understanding of where they are developmentally, not harsh punishment based on the notion that they are sinful little creatures who need to have the sinful impulses driven out of them.
But tonight, as I was reading Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, I came across the following sentence in a chapter about her teenage son: "It turns out that all kids have this one tiny inbred glitch: they have their own sin, their own stains, their own will... all of them are wrecked, just like the rest of us." Out of context, or if you aren't familiar with Anne Lamott's writing style, that still may sound a little out there to you. But please bear with me for just a moment, because it got me thinking about something that I think may be really important.
I still think that young children disobey or mess up because of developmental abilities and immaturity. But it's also obvious that sometime between those early years and adulthood, people do develop certain areas where they struggle. I'm not sure when that starts happening, but it does.
Our job as parents is not to try to drive sin out of our children somehow (an impossible task anyway because no matter how old people get, they will never be completely rid of sin), but instead our job is to teach our children what to do when they struggle with it. We can teach them how to recognize areas of weakness in their own lives, and how to make amends when they mess up, and how to look to God for help, and how to do their best and still accept God's grace and forgiveness when they miss the mark. And we can't teach all of this just by telling them; we teach them by living it in front of them daily. They see us struggle with our own sins, and they see us make amends and go to God and accept grace and forgiveness. My oldest child is almost eight, so obviously immaturity is still a factor here, but I do see certain patterns and tendencies in him that I think could be the building blocks of particular struggles he will have in his life. Instead of punishing him for them, I need to help him learn how to deal with those things and also what to do when he does mess up.
I don't know about you, but it makes a huge difference to me to realize that my children are in the same boat as me. They need the same love, grace, and forgiveness along the way that I do. It makes me think of the story in Matthew 18 where a servant owed the king a debt that he could never have repaid, and the king had mercy on him and forgave him the debt-- but then the servant went out and found someone who owed him some money and refused to show him any mercy. The grace and forgiveness and patience that God gives us, we should also give to others, including our children.
I think about all I've gone through, and will go through, in my life-- the habits and temptations and weaknesses and failures, and the lessons I've learned along the way-- and it breaks my heart to realize that my children will have to go through these things too in the context of their own weaknesses and struggles. It's an inevitable part of the human condition; no matter how much I live these things in front of my children, and no matter how much I teach them, I simply cannot spare them from this human journey. They will struggle, they will fail, they will learn about grace and forgiveness in their own relationships with God. I can equip them for their journeys in certain ways, but their unique journeys are theirs to take. I can't do it for them. All I can do is be there to guide them, prepare them, and love them.