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One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.

Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.

I’ve thought about Sarah’s insistent words a lot lately, because I see them in myself: I did not laugh. We so naturally want to avoid shame’s nakedness like the plague. (See this all-time top post on shame-parenting vs. guilt exposure.)

I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.

But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?

THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.

When teaching this discipline, I really like these 5 A’s of Confession from the Young Peacemaker, of whose principles I can’t get enough.

Admit what you did wrong. (I ask my kids to be specific about what they did wrong–and also to acknowledge the heart attitude they had.)

Apologize for how your choice affected the other person.

Accept the consequences.

Ask for forgiveness.

Alter your choice in the future. (Note: I also take another “A” from the adult version: Avoid using “if,” “but,” or “maybe” in your apology.)

And now–the ideas!

  1. Parents, set the stage. I have found so much freedom in two of the most important words I can say as a parent: I’m sorry. It says, Hey. We all need Jesus all the time. Including me. I find that, rather than making me look weak in my kids’ eyes, confession strengthens our relationship. I have more equity to speak with them because I’m not trying to hide or fake anything or hold my position of superiority (not to be confused with authority). They can trust me.

2. Grab the opportunity in conflict.  Almost always, I have kids start their “peace talks” during an argument by first admitting the log in their eye and asking forgiveness. (This has a side benefit of cutting through a lot of the talk to get right to the heart of things.)

3. Restore after discipline. This article from FamilyLife was a game-changer for me! It taught me the “forgotten” part of discipline: restoring the relationship. Sometimes I pray with my kids after discipline, and we confess our sins together (…because usually Mom has lost her temper. Again.). Then we can do a little happy dance: We’re forgiven! YEAH!

4. Make it regular. If you pray together before bedtime, consider taking a silent 30 seconds to a minute just to confess your sins silently. Before church in the car, sometimes we take a minute to silently ask God for specific forgiveness, and then (like Matthew 5:24 says) ask forgiveness from each other before we go and worship.

It’s not unlike John the Baptist preparing the way, right? Rather than coming to God with our mental resume of all the good things we’ve done this week, we can show our kids, This is how we get ourselves ready to receive him. We repent.

5. Praise heart attitudes more than the appearance of righteousness. Yes, we totally want to praise our kids’ good behavior! Most kids naturally want to please their parents. And that can be both a good thing…and a bad thing, if it motivates our kids to false piety. To only praise outward behavior sets a standard of behavior based on appearances. Tedd Tripp writes,

The genius of Phariseeism was that it reduced the law to a keepable standard of externals that any self-disciplined person could do. In their pride and self-righteousness, they rejected Christ….

A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees?…Yet this is what we often do in childrearing. We demand changed behavior and never address the heart that drives the behavior.*

 

Help them explore what’s going on in their hearts with good questions. (Ginger Plowman has a lot of them, well-categorized, in this wall-calendar-style resource.)

6. Stand in the gap for your kids. I’m sure a lot of smarter-than-yours-truly scholars can articulate more of the theology behind Job praying for his kids. (He’s not the only one who stands in the gap: Moses does. Aaron does. Abraham does. Job prays for his friends, later. And of course, they’re all pointing to Jesus.) I can’t speak to whether God forgives our kids sins when we ask. But I do believe that interceding for them is biblical: asking God to forgive them. To awaken their hearts and create sorrow for sin.

7. Use an object lesson. I like this one from Kids of Integrity (one of my fave kids’ character websites), as well as this one, and this one that uses piles of luggage.

8. Praise your kids when they confess. I don’t praise what they’re confessing, obviously. But I do commend them for coming to me (or a friend or sibling) and having the courage to admit they’ve been wrong. At times, I’ve even lessened some discipline when they choose a soft heart.

9. What about when they’re not feelin’ it? Someone asked my mom this once, and I agree with her sentiment: First, give a child a minute to calm down and step away from their anger or indignance. But then, if it’s been a bit and they still don’t want to, understand that performing a discipline still has value when we don’t “feel” it (like changing your kids’ dirty diapers–still needs to be done, even if it’s not the joy of your soul). Just remind your child to not let it go unresolved in his heart.

10. Help them restore the relationship. One of my son’s friends actually came in person yesterday to apologize for something–and deliver a small gift to “make restitution.” I could not be more thrilled that my son has a friend like that (with a mother like that driving him over here!). Help your child brainstorm ways to reconcile what was lost. (When our kids steal, they know the “Zacchaeus rule”–they return four times what they stole.)

11. Have some verses handy. Post and memorize a couple of these together! I’ll give you a free printable to help. (Credit goes to angiemakes.com for the free feather graphics!)

confession Scripture memoryPrint it free here! 

 

Give grace to your children today by speaking of sin and mercy. Tell Susan that she can relax into God’s loving embrace and stop thinking that she has to perform in order to get her welcoming Father to love her. Tell David that he can have hope that even though he really struggles, he’s the very sort of person Jesus loved being around. Dazzle them with his love.

― Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

HELP US OUT! What do you do to create a culture of confession and repentance in your home?

*Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

 

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