Monday, February 22, 2010


Every once in a while I have a realization that is so profound it revolutionizes some aspect of my life. These epiphanies rarely strike in an instant, like a noisy bolt of lightening; rather, their truth is revealed gradually over time, like a glorious sunrise, silently bringing warmth and light. I recently found myself in the midst of one such realization. It came to me in the realm of parenting, and it is an "aha!" that has been years in the making. While I am far from perfecting its implementation, I am certainly convinced of its value and truth.

As a parent, it is my job to train my children in righteousness. Correcting behavior is the easy part. Changing hearts is much more challenging. I do not expect perfection, for my boys are infected with a sin nature just like their parents. But what I do expect is genuine repentance when wrong-doing has been revealed.

In an attempt to lead my children to a place of repentance I have tried many tactics. I have tried arguing them into repentance. I have tried shaming them into repentance. I have tried guilt, control, and disappointment. More often than not, the result of all of these tactics is the same: a forced apology from a kid with a demeanor that communicates anything but remorse. Not a very satisfying result.

Then, a while back, I came across this little verse in Romans 2:4:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

God's kindness leads me to repentance. His kindness. Not guilt. Not shame. Not arguing. Kindness. If this verse is true, and I believe it is, then I wondered if kindness would lead my children to repentance.

The idea is truly twisted. It would mean that when they sin, when they disappoint me, when they are in the midst of ugliness and inappropriate behavior, I would have to show them kindness. When everything in me wants to chastise and criticize, I would have to be kind. And I would have to do it without abdicating my authority or abandoning my responsibility to train them in righteousness. It was, to me, a truly novel concept. But one I was willing to test because I was sure that what I had been doing in the past was not leading my children to repentance, it was leading them to contempt.

The thing about parenting that continues to amaze me is how much God uses it to change ME. Talk about on-the-job-training! My poor kids have a rookie for a mother, and I have so much to learn in this process. For example, it is absolutely impossible for me to show kindness in the face of ugliness without serious heart-work on my part. If I have selfish motives, ego issues, or a sense of self-righteousness, I can't be kind. But if I am willing to humble myself, God gives me the strength to bless those who persecute me...even when the persecutors are my dear children.

Over time, I have had some opportunities to test the kindness theory. Often I blow it and get sucked in to an argument, but when I stick to kindness the results are always better. Better for the boys and better for me. Take last week...

My son had woken up late, and when he got out of the shower his breakfast was not ready. With an uncharacteristically bad attitude he asked, "What am I supposed to eat?" You see I usually make his breakfast, but that morning I, too, had been running late, and I neglected to cook his eggs. Many points came to my mind immediately. One, he is quite capable of making his own breakfast. Two, he has no right to talk to me that way. Three, it wasn't MY fault he was running late. Somehow, God quieted my mind and this is what came out of my mouth (in a nice tone of voice, I might add!): "I am sorry I forgot to make your eggs. Would you like for me to make them now?"

His response? In a rather rude tone, "Well now I can do it, but I'm going to be late for school."

It occurs to me that the bad attitude needs correction, so I say (again, as kindly as I can), "I am happy to help make your breakfast, but the way you are talking to me is disrespectful and inappropriate." To which he replied (rudely) "No it's not."

And that is where I wanted to lose it. A bad attitude is one thing. Denying it is another. He was baiting me, and boy did I want to roll up my figurative sleeves and get in the fight. After all, he was wrong and I was right. God would be on MY side. Or would He?

Ironically, the verse I had been working on memorizing that morning was Romans 12: 14, which says, "Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse."

"Lord," I silently prayed, "show me what it looks like to bless my child in this circumstance. It is my job to teach him right from wrong, but I don't want to get in to an argument. If I am kind, Lord, will you please lead him to repentance?"

Now if I really believed that my son did not know that he was being disrespectful, I would have had a different issue on my hands. I was, however, fully convinced that he knew that his words and tone were unacceptable, and so I chose not to quarrel. I said nothing else to my son until we were in the car on the way to school. Mind you, the last thing he said to me was a denial of his disrespect towards me.

As we neared town I asked him if I could stop and get him a drink at Starbucks--a rare luxury in our daily commute. It was the kindest thing I could think to do. He resisted the offer at first, but eventually, he accepted. When I dropped him at school he thanked me for his caramel machiato, but he still had not apologized.

When it comes to kids and apologies, I have come to realize that the adage "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" applies. You lead a kid to an apology, but you can't make him truly sorry. I wanted an apology, but I wanted it to be genuine. I wanted God to bring him to a place of true repentance, and I am beginning to accept that fact that sometimes that just takes time. I watched him go in to school, and I trusted his heart to the hands of a very capable God.

Later that night my son was back to his normal, congenial self. After a few casual exchanges, I said, "It seems to me that we have one unresolved issue from this morning. When I confronted you about the way you were speaking to me, you argued. Did you really believe that it was appropriate to speak to me in that way?" Our eyes met for a moment--and I saw it. Repentance. Sorrow for sin. God-given remorse. "No, mom. I don't think it was appropriate. I wanted to call you earlier to tell you I was sorry, but I didn't have a phone. Will you forgive me?"

"Yes! Yes!" A thousand times, "Yes."

And it was over.

No yelling, no belittling, no tears.

Kindess. A little patience. True repentance. We did it. God, my son, and I.


  1. WOW Jenn- what a great lesson. I have tried all those same tactics and failed miserably as well. Thank you for sharing and being so honest. I hope to follow your example with the same patience and grace. Love you friend.

  2. Thank you for the encouragement. I too have made efforts to respond with such kindness, but often fall into my old habits, which are no different than yours. I am encouraged to keep on aiming for God's way; it sometimes is so upside down from my way.
    :-) Even in Tansen, Nepal, mothering is a challenge...and a privilege.

  3. Oh how I love this, Jenn! Wish you would have been around when I was raising my sons to "encourage me in righteousness"! Nevertheless, I can use this little story to inform on my behavior NOW. God has much to teach me-- thanks for sharing your insights, Jennifer!