I will never forget my father asking for my forgiveness. Few moments, if any, were as arresting, as moving, and as unforgettable as when Pop admitted to me — at age five or seven or ten — that he had overreacted, and that he was sorry. I was most moved, at least in every case I remember, because I was not an innocent victim. My disobedience, rebellion, and immaturity were the catalyst for our clashes. I had sinned first, and I knew I was in the wrong.
But Pop had joined a Bible study, and his heart was becoming more tender to the word of God. He wanted his conduct to come increasingly in line with the gospel he loved. Not just in public, but in private. Not just as a dentist and deacon where the world was watching, but as a father, when only little eyes were watching. He began owning the fact that even his child’s bad behavior was no excuse for a sinful response. He was learning first to recognize and admit his own sin, and remove the adult log from his own eye, in order to be a more careful and patient remover of the childhood speck from mine.
The Emperor’s New Armor
Some of us might worry that making ourselves vulnerable like this to our children will reveal a chink in the armor of parental authority. Surely, we can’t really bring up our children, we tell ourselves, if we have given away our high ground. My experience as a child, and now as a parent of twin six-year-old boys, says this is emphatically not the case.
When I come down on them, with all my adult emotional weight, they can be crushed so easily. But when I come down to them, and stand with them in owning my own sin and recognizing my need for Jesus’s ongoing rescue, then I’m not only modeling repentance before them, but I’m also living the authentic Christian life myself, rather than letting parenting be an excuse for hypocrisy.
I don’t need to be perfect for my children. Jesus has done that. Jesus is that. My children don’t need me to be their perfect savior, but to point them, in honesty about my own sin, to our Savior. In fact, they urgently need to know that I’m not perfect, that my ultimate hope is not in my goodness, but in Jesus’s. I stand with them as a sinner, born in sin, desperately in need of grace. If I try to hide the chink in my armor — and it’s not just a chink, but countless chinks, even gaping holes — I don’t protect them but endanger them. I reinforce the myth we all tell ourselves at some point, that we can be good enough to garner God’s favor.