“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1
I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage. It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs. I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think – but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made. “Oh well,” they shrugged. “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”
This wasn’t even a war zone. One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!
And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths. As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.
Yes – I know. This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.
Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin. The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.
To be honest, it was difficult to start this list. I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail. Where do I start? How do I get a concept like this down on paper?
So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better. They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.
They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas. We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?” It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.
I was alone again with my thoughts.
I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head. Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness. Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone. Ouch.
The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked. I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book. I was looking square in the face of damage. I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.
The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them. Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage. I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!
How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them? How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them? (Maybe you count yourself among them!) What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them? What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?
This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children? I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it. I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth. They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin. I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true. But I am so very grateful that they do come. What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.
Their loving rebukes have helped to change me. It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits. But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes. It’s hard work. It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!
Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them. When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight. If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.
Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective. Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin. Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering. But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.
You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you. Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you – just as it has for me. Every parent messes up. Every parent messes up regularly! The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it. Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific). I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong! I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you. I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”
It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.
This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children. Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible. If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them. Some things are long-standing and messy. It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility. But do it anyway. Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.
Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin
What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…
- We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
- We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
- We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
- Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
- Our children are afraid, rather than secure
- They feel alone, rather than protected
- They feel rejected, rather than loved
- They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
- They are sad
- They are broken
- They feel despair
- We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
- We hurt them now and for years to come
- We communicate that we don’t trust them
- We communicate that they can’t trust us
- We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
- We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
- We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
- Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
- Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
- We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
- We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
- We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
- We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
- When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
- We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
- We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
- We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
- We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
- We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
- Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
- We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
- We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
- When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
- We create disillusionment in relationships
- We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.
*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added. But you can do that with your own children. Mine are happily helping me add to this one. Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well. None of us wants this to be our legacy. Getting rid of sin together is a joy!