Cooking dinner, I hear the sounds of angry hearts bubbling over into stinging words. It gets louder, and soon someone is crying. Two boys come out into the great-room, red-faced, fists clenched, and both yelling at once. After multiple attempts, I finally gather that one had frustrated the other, who responded by kicking his brother.
I begin by saying, "Remember how Jesus said we were to treat one another?"
"I'm not Jesus!" my oldest responds immediately, his face scrunched up as his feet stomp the tile floor. He runs off to his room.
Sometimes, my children speak words that the Spirit has been trying to pierce into my heart for a while.
The pasta is boiling over. The water makes sizzling sounds as it hits the red glass cook top. I stare at it, knowing I need to leave the kitchen and talk through the conflict with them. I think of how quickly anger can overflow the heart, spattering burning hot drops of pain on anyone nearby.
Turning down the heat on the pot, I walk into the boy's room, hoping to do the same with their anger. I find them both calm and playing with Legos. I get down on the floor, look my oldest in the eyes, and say, "I know you're not Jesus."
Deep into the Past
How often does a parent's response to her child's behavior imply that we expect perfection? The pharisaical heart has roots that dig deep into the past--back into childhood. A child can learn quickly the ways of self-righteousness. When they have behaved, they hear, "You're such a good boy." Over the years, they can grow to believe that the good they do comes from their own ability. When those beliefs take root, they can struggle with seeing their own sin. And perhaps even struggle with seeing their need for a Savior.
"Jesus called us to live as he lived. But he knows we can't be perfect as he is perfect," I tell my son. "That's why he died for us, because we can't do what's right. Through faith in him, he gives us the Holy Spirit. We have his power living within us. That's the only way we can ever obey. We need to pray and ask for his help."
He nods his head, listening.
"When you don't obey, remember that Jesus died for that disobedience. He loves you that much. When you feel the anger rising within you, pray and tell God you are angry. Ask him to help you to obey him."
As a recovering Pharisee, I struggle with living as though I can earn grace. I know how the self-righteous heart can look down on those who don't follow the rules. I don't want my children to grow up with the heart of a Pharisee.
I do want them to know the holiness of God. I want them to know all that he expects, what he commands, and what glorifies him. I also want them to realize that they can't perfectly obey him, and they need a Savior. I want their hearts to be grieved and humbled by their sin. I want them to run to the cross when they sin and remember his grace and mercy.
God's grace covers even my parenting blunders. How grateful I am that his grace is greater than all my sin! I rest in his promise that he is at work in my children's hearts despite my failed efforts. I trust in the story of redemption he is writing in their lives. And I look forward to that day when we will finally be like Jesus.