This week we continue our Practical Parenting series with a thoughtful post from my friend Christy. She has some great thoughts in this post and I’d love to hear what you think as well. Let’s discuss in the comments, shall we?
“Now say you’re sorry…”
A stiff, tiny figure robotically and begrudgingly forces the words “I’m sorry” through her pursed lips.
“There. I said it. Can I go play now?”
It’s tough to mix and mingle with other kids, especially when our kid plays the role of neighborhood bully and does the most embarrassing thing ever to someone else’s child. Though well intended, when we make them go through the motions and say words they don’t mean, we miss what matters most—the heart.
A question I had to ask myself whenever I have told my children to say “I’m sorry” (yes, I’ve done it) is this: “What would Jesus do?”
Not to sound trite, but it is true. I had to consider what God would want in this situation. After searching it out scripturally, I concluded that I can’t make my children say “I’m sorry”—no matter how sorry they should be, or how sorry I might be…
Check this out from Ephesians 6:5-6: “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…(ESV)
In Ephesians 5, Paul discusses how we can be “imitators of Christ” in our relationships. Continuing in chapter 6, right after the classic “Children obey your parents” verse, he addresses the servant/master relationship. The spirit of these words spoken to the servant relates to a child’s obedience to his parents to obey “as you would Christ.”
I want my children to obey me. But I want them to obey God all the more. And I don’t want to produce little “people pleasers” who “do” obedience that doesn’t come from the heart.
Does true, heart-led obedience take time to develop? Of course. (Ask me. God’s still at work on MY heart…)
Coercing my children to say words that are not true to save my own embarrassment won’t nurture heart-led obedience no matter how much I wish it was the reality of their hearts and minds.
Jesus rejects lip service. Saying “I’m sorry” when we aren’t is just that. Lip service. God is concerned with our hearts. And as parents, we are shepherds of our children’s hearts, but ultimately we don’t change them. Only God can do that.
Here are some tips for how to shepherd our kids to pursue reconciliation even before they understand their own need for it:
1. Point out the offense in light of truth
Our go to verses for most anything they do wrong is this passage from Ephesians 4:31-32:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Our high view of self produces a sense of entitlement-especially as young kids. Think about it-they have been served their whole lives and they have come to expect it. The moment they aren’t being served, they do whatever it takes to turn the tide to their own favor. These verses are a clear cut reminder taking us straight to gospel centered thinking on how to treat others—just as Christ treated us.
2. Do make them say “I was wrong.”
Most kids won’t deny that whatever ugly thing they did was wrong. I also try to provide a reverse perspective by asking if they want someone to do the same to them. I instruct my children to say “I was wrong for __________.” Saying the offense aloud and proclaiming the error of it causes them to “own it.” That is a good thing.
3. Pray…A LOT.
Our littles need a work of God to take place in their own hearts and lives as much as we do. Bring them frequently before the throne of grace—because the guaranteed help and grace we need is there to be found if we simply ask!
4. You, as the parent, say “I’m sorry.”
So, maybe they really aren’t sorry yet. (I mean, have WE always been sorry??) One time my five year old asked me, “Don’t I have to say I’m sorry?” I replied to her, “No honey. Not unless you ARE sorry. And if you’re not, I hope you will be sorry for your sin real soon.”
You can express your own regret for how your child behaved. You never know, it could flower into a gospel opportunity!
Ultimately, we parents just want our children to have hearts that seek God, though they fall into sin along the way. But no amount of forcible repentance will result in true repentance. May God’s Spirit do a saving work in our children. May He write His law on their hearts at an early age that they will be truly sorry for their sin before Him.
Christy Pearce is a wife, stay at home Mommy of 3, writer and speaker. Her passion is to proclaim God’s truth and make Jesus known! You can connect with her at her blog, Faith Like Dirty Diapers…because God speaks in everything, even a diaper change.