When We Mess Up

Posted on April 9, 2009 · Posted in Parenting

“Mess up” is admittedly a euphemism. It is a term we often use to avoiding taking  the full brunt of failure as a parent. For me, it is a personal term, as in, “I can’t  believe I messed up again.” It is a phrase I said far too often as a parent, and thought even more often. Messing up, or more precisely, sinning and falling short of God’s best, is a fact of life for parents. Prayer and good intentions will never eliminate failure from your parenting. Because this is true, we have a natural, fleshly tendency to become comfortable with these failures – hence the euphemistic term “mess up.”
Most of the posts on the blog have to do with handling the sins of your children and then, secondarily, with addressing your own sins as you respond to your children. But in these next two or three posts I want to look specifically at how you handle your sins in parenting. Euphemisms are handy ploys to keep issues on the surface, away from the heart. So parents use terms such as messed up, overworked, stressed out, cabin fever, running on empty and the like to explain their less-than-exemplary parenting. It may happen sometimes that we raise the parenting standard to an impossibly high level, and then let ourselves off the hook with an appropriate euphemism. It goes like this:

Yes, I know I was wrong to yell at the kids. I should have been able to recall exactly the right phrase I learned in the Shepherding a Child’s Heart video instead of being angry at the kids’ unbelievably bad behavior. I don’t know how many times I have told them the right way to handle that situation. And then, well, you know, I haven’t slept much this week and my husband is more concerned with the Master’s golf tournament and March Madness, and things have been hard, and well, I just can’t do EVERYTHING right ALL the time. Sometimes I just have to realize that I am human and God still has more work to do with me – I just messed up and lost it.

This little scenario could have been written for fathers just as easily–but you get the point. If you, as a parent, want to know the power of Christ as you seek to honor him with your parenting, the first step is to have the courage to call sin sin. To do this consistently may seem to be a path to continual heaviness and gloom, because sin is such a part of our lives – especially if you are actually looking for it. However, the opposite is true.
When sin is correctly identified, there is hope. There is little hope for mess ups. But for sin, there is the true hope of the Gospel. David recognized this in Psalm 51. In verse 4 of the psalm he says “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” There is no holding back. David is open before God, and he is simply stating the obvious. God is not impressed with our euphemisms. What he wants is the honesty of a heart that doesn’t attempt to hide the seriousness of sin. In verse 6, David says, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” God desires truth, not euphemisms. But here is the good part: Jesus Christ forgives sins. By exchanging your euphemisms for the more accurate term–sin–you bring the full power of gospel grace to your task as a parent. Yes, God knows you cannot be perfect in this life. But he expects that you will ask for forgiveness when you are not perfect. Why? Because he knows that you will experience the fullness of his love expressed in the gospel when you acknowledge your sins before him–when you repent and receive his forgiveness. Ultimately, it is this realization of the richness of God’s grace that will move you away from your sins, including your anger as a parent. David knew the power of God’s forgiveness. This power allowed him to return to teaching others, even after he sinned. This same power will let you return quickly to your role as your children’s teacher in the ways of God.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you. Psalm 51:12-13 NIV

Don’t let euphemisms rob you of the joy and power of knowing God’s gospel grace as a parent. More in the next post.

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