The Repent Game

thegamemain"Pent!" 22-month-old Dorothy squeals in delight. Chubby arms extended, she flings herself into my embrace.

Not two seconds later, her giggles still surfacing, she locks eyes with me. "Again?" she asks with anticipation.

"Again," I affirm.

Her toddling legs carry her away from me. Back turned.

"I love you, Dorothy! Repent."

And she literally does. She repents -- or, as the word means, she turns around. Once again, she flies into my open arms.

To my four daughters, "Repent" is a fun game my husband Ted taught them; an activity he borrowed from singer and songwriter Andrew Peterson. Each girl takes her turn walking away from her papa (or, in this case, mommy), ears alert for his call. At the sound of his "I love you! Repent!" she turns around and runs into his waiting arms. Happy laughter echoes through the hallways of our home.

It's a simple means of conveying to kids our Heavenly Father's heart; a heart that beckons, "You can always come home to me. My grace never runs out."

While it would be nice to leave you with this heart-warming picture of parenting at our house, here's where confessions of a real-life mom come in.

I hate to admit it, but there are days when my kids learn very little about God's grace from me. Sometimes I'm so focused on teaching them how not to act, that it's a wonder I even know how to play "Repent." Too often I illustrate what Tedd Tripp, in his book Shepherding a Child's Heart, cautions against:

Discipline exposes your child's inability to love his sister from his heart, or genuinely to prefer others before himself. Discipline leads to the cross of Christ where sinful people are forgiven. Sinners who come to Jesus in repentance and faith are empowered to live new lives.

The alternative is to reduce the standard to what may be fairly expected of your children without the grace of God. The alternative is to give them a law they can keep. The alternative is a lesser standard that does not require grace and does not cast them on Christ, but rather their own resources.

It's on those days that I need the "Repent" game more than my kids do. I need the reminder to not get so caught up in correcting their behavior that I fail to point them to their dependency on Jesus. It's an ongoing struggle for me as a mom, but an area in which I consistently seek to do better.

"Pent!" Dorothy's baby voice calls once more. And for the sixth time in five minutes, I wrap her in my arms.

That is, until she wiggles free and asks, "Again?"