Last Sunday, as I was frantically trying to get my three kids ready for church, I yelled at my son: “Just get your shoes on! We’re going to be late!” His lower lip emerged and his big blue eyes filled with tears to which I snapped. “You’re fine, Nehemiah.” He shook his head and said, “Mommy, you’re being unkind.” His words stung. I had just been rebuked by a four-year-old.
My Sin and How I Fall Short
I am a stay-at-home mom of three. I love my kids and love being with them. However, despite my great love for them, my love is far from perfect because I sin daily against these three little people. My patience level is less and my temper far quicker with them than any other person. There are moments where I explode because “I just can’t take it anymore!” I say hurtful, cutting, demeaning words. I am unkind and sarcastic.
There is also temptation to dwell on my failures. I have fallen into despair over my mistakes and shortcomings. I sinfully compare myself to other moms and lust after their skills and abilities. I also judge others, shamed when my kids fall short and relieved when my kids perform better. In this comparison game, I find temporary satisfaction in being better than someone else, but that is quickly dashed as I become discouraged and angry because someone else performs better.
Furthermore, I am a law-keeper. I have standards that I expect myself and my children to uphold. I want my kids to obey because it makes my life easier. I delight in their good behavior and revel in their bad. I am unintentionally teaching them that their performance is what matters and they can earn favor with me (and God) by what they do. I am giving them a works-based theology, a false gospel.
I do these things because I am a sinner. I am impatient and yell at my kids because in my laziness I have failed to instruct and discipline them. I compare myself to others to feed my idol of self and to prove that I am right and everyone else is wrong. I am defeated and despairing if my performance (or my kids) fall short because I fear failure and the judgment of others. Without Jesus, this would be my reality. I would have no hope.
The Hope of the Gospel
But, there is great hope:
For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly...But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6, 8-10).
For Christians, there is hope because while we were enemies, God rescued us from our sin and made us heirs to the promises of God. This is crucial to remember: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Christ’s righteousness is ours. We are free from sin and alive in Christ and not because of anything that we have done. It is the work of the loving Father, bringing life to the dead: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The gospel crushes my law-keeping, idolatrous heart and gives me a new heart of flesh. Because I am loved, I can delight in walking in the ways of God because it is by his Spirit that I am able to do so. I can’t do it on my own, nor does God want me to. In Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, Because He Loves Me she states:
We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience (158).
I find great encouragement in this statement. I am sinner, but I am saved by grace and have the power of God working in me, renewing me day by day. Seeing my sin is a gift from my Father. He kindly and patiently reveals my sin and leads me to repentance. Confessing my sin brings God glory because it proves that I am sinful and flawed, unable to save myself, yet loved and welcomed, reconciled to God through the power of Christ. When I sin against my kids, by God’s grace, I repent, seek forgiveness from my kids, and demonstrate for them my desperate need for Jesus. I can’t be the perfect mother, nor does God want me to be. What I want is to point my kids to the Perfect One, the one who loves them so much that he willingly laid down his life for them.
By God’s grace, Nehemiah’s rebuke led to repentance. God used my son’s words to remind me of a verse I repeat multiple times a day to my kids: “Be kind to one another, forgiving one another as God, in Christ, has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). My sin, being unkind to my son, fueled by my idol of self, had hurt my child. But, God in his goodness used a four-year-old to remind me of the Gospel: I am a sinner redeemed by grace. God used this moment to redirect a fallen mother to himself and gave me another opportunity to share our continued need for the gospel with my children.