Modeling Repentance to Your Children
“Jude … come here, buddy.”
I looked into the eyes of my toddler as he slowly walked toward me. I had just corrected him out of frustration in a tone that was too harsh — it was the first time I can remember doing so. I was filled with remorse as I looked at his forlorn little face, feeling like I had just completely failed in my motherhood journey. Yes, he had been doing something disobedient, but I knew I couldn’t justify my own sin. I needed to swallow my pride, repent, and apologize to this little one God placed in my care. As I wrapped him in my arms, I said, “Jude, Mommy got frustrated and spoke in a way that wasn’t right. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?” His eyes brightened and a smile spread across his little mouth.
About a year went by and Jude was nearing three years old. There had been many more moments when I needed to humble myself and ask for forgiveness, particularly when I had grown frustrated. “Mommy?” I heard a little voice come up behind me as I worked in the kitchen one afternoon. “Yes, Jude?” I replied. “I got frustrated,” he said. “I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?” I had no idea why he had gotten frustrated or what he was frustrated about, but in that moment God showed me that my willingness to acknowledge and repent of my own sin was making an impression on my little son’s heart.
Each of us desires to be the best mother we possibly can for our children. From the moment each little one enters our lives, we strive to care for them, teach them, and love them to the best of our ability. And as Christian mothers, we desire to not just care for them physically, mentally, and emotionally, but spiritually as well — pointing them to Jesus with our words and lives. But the sad reality is that we are sinful and, on this side of Heaven, we won’t mother them perfectly as much as we desire to. But God, in His goodness and mercy, can use even our shortcomings as a way to point our children to Himself … if we let Him.
And how is that accomplished? Through repentance.
Martin Luther said, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.”
Repentance is a place of brokenness that God brings us to out of love. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (NASB). And Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (ESV). Repentance is something that is precious in God’s sight. It is an outward expression of our submission to Him as the way, the truth, and the life. Through repentance, we are acknowledging that we are turning away from our sinful tendencies and seeking to obey His pattern rather than the pattern of this world. Our righteousness is found in Jesus through His work on the Cross, not through what we do. But because our righteousness is in Him, when we do sin, we need to realign ourselves with the reality that we are not our own and have been bought with a price. (See 1 Corinthians 6:19.) As Proverbs 24:16a says, “For the righteous man falls seven times, and rises again…” (NASB).
It can be incredibly hard to swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and repent before our children when we’ve done something wrong. Often (at least in my case) there is such a great temptation to justify our wrongdoing because we’ve felt provoked in some way by their actions, or to not repent because we don’t want our authority to be lessened in our children’s eyes. But part of discipling our children is modeling repentance to them, not just telling them it’s something they need to do. They need to understand that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God — even Mommy. (See Romans 3:23.) And when they see us acknowledging our sin, humbling ourselves, and asking their forgiveness — they will accept this as a normal part of the Christian life. It won’t cause them to despise us, but rather it will endear us to them even more because they will see in us a soft heart instead of a prideful one. They will learn to trust our leadership more because we acknowledge when we are wrong, rather than trying to hide or deny shortcomings. And they will grow to understand that our ways are not always right, but God’s ways are.
Here are some practical things I’ve found helpful in my own journey in seeking to properly model repentance to my children.
Submit to the Lord
To live a life of repentance, we must continually submit ourselves to God and recognize that His ways are perfect and ours are not. To do this well, we need to be seeking Him on a regular basis. I’ve found that on days when I have taken the time to saturate my mind and heart in His Word, I am far more in tune and sensitive to His Spirit, than when I have not and end up stepping out of alignment through my words, actions, or attitude. When we constantly remind ourselves of the reality that He is God and we are not, we will be prepared to have an attitude of repentance at all times.
One thing my husband and I have begun incorporating into our daily parenting is apologizing to our children as soon as we realize we have sinned against them. This takes humility, and sometimes it feels extremely difficult to go against the emotions of pride or anger that are still lingering. But there is nothing that will drive those feelings further away than approaching our little ones, admitting we are wrong, and asking for their forgiveness. Ask the Lord to help you be humble. Ask Him for grace to resist the pride in your heart and walk in the humility that is found in Him.
Ask the Lord for Help
Repentance is a gift from God. It is impossible for us to even desire to repent on our own, apart from His grace. If we are struggling with turning away from our sin, God cares more about this than we do. Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk.15:7 NASB).
It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of spiritual strength to see our sin and, by God’s grace, turn from it. The joy and freedom this brings into our lives is supernatural, and enables us to live in a way that is showing our children that living for God is far, far greater than living for ourselves.
When I have sinned against my children, I’ve fought against despair and discouragement, feeling that I have ruined the rest of my “mothering career.” But even in those moments, God’s grace is sufficient and His mercies are new every morning. We can trust that if we repent and ask God every single day for His help, He will surely give it. We simply need to get back up, trust that His grace is fully available to us, and move forward in it.
A.W. Pink said, “The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.” Repentance in a Christian’s life is a sign of growth, maturity, humility, and devotion to Jesus. As we seek to lead our children well, discipling them and training them in the way they should go, may they see in us a continual life-declaration that Jesus Christ is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, that our righteousness is found in Him, and that He is worthy of all we are.