Screwing Up and Showing Kids What God is Like

In the Women’s Bible Study class I lead we discussed an icebreaker question yesterday, “Tell us about an authority figure who has influenced you.” One of the women shared about her dad, that he had shown her what kindness and gentleness look like, while at the same time being fair. She remarked that it had helped shape her view of God.

There is a powerful connection between how we relate to our parents and how we relate to God. It’s why “Honor your mother and father” is important enough to make the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:12): if we learn to relate well to the immediate authority figures in our lives, then it will shape well how we relate to the ultimate authority.

But it’s also true that part of who we think God is comes from who our parents have been. That may be what Paul is getting at when he prays to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph 3:15). Because parents derive their position from the heavenly Father, we learn about the original from the copy. The character of our parents shapes what we see as God’s character.

As this idea flashed through my head yesterday, my heart sank. Because I’m aware of how much I screw up as a parent. It’s hard enough to think that I’m letting my kids down when I lose my temper, or act selfishly, but to realize that when I do that, I’m also shaping how they see God? That responsibility can feel crushing.

But thankfully, there’s another dimension. I recounted to our class how I screwed up on Monday as a parent. It was not a good day. At one point, I sarcastically commented to one of my kids about how he was finally getting something I had been harping on.

Immediately, tears began to form. I stopped and asked, “What’s wrong?”, but knowing at some level what I had just done.

“You hurt my feelings,” came the response.

He was right. I had belittled him. I saw my sin. And although when this happens, sometimes I can be tempted to get defensive and blame, I reached out and hugged him and said, “I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t have said that. Will you forgive me?”

How can my screwing up as a parent teach my kids about God, when he is perfect and doesn’t sin? Of course it’s not the screwing up, but what we do with it. Asking for forgiveness of our kids teaches them important things about God because it teaches them the gospel. It points them to the God of the good news.

When I ask my kids for forgiveness, it acknowledges that all of us sin. The nature of the parent-child relationship means I’m more likely to point out when they’ve done something wrong and try to correct them, but nonetheless, I’m in the same boat with them. I get it wrong. And I need God’s grace just like they do.

Asking for forgiveness helps my kids see that repentance is the lifestyle of the gospel. Jesus called us to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). That’s not just one time but all the time. I need to constantly and consistently turn away from sin and toward Jesus. And being open in front of my kids when I screw up helps that be a reality in my own life and gives them a picture of how they should relate to Jesus.

And in a surprising way, my kids can learn about God when I screw up, because of the position it puts them in. Giving my kids the chance to practice forgiveness helps them seek grace too, because it can be hard to forgive. Moreover, it helps mold them after God’s heart, because it invites them to show mercy and be merciful, just as our Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Parenting is big, and it’s hard. But I’m grateful to God that he’s built into it a way to help my kids grow spiritually not just when I as a parent get something right, but even when I get something wrong. That’s grace.

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