3 Essential Words to Say to Your Child

I slid behind the wheel and felt the familiar pang of spiritual conviction. As we began the short trip to school, I tried to ignore the tap on my shoulder, but I knew what I had to do.

Just twenty minutes earlier, I yelled at my children. This was not a loving, firm correction, but an explosion. They disobeyed, and I lashed out at them, trying to provoke feelings of guilt and shame and smallness. It was terrible and embarrassing. I needed to come clean.

I confessed my sin and asked my daughter for forgiveness, which she gave gladly. Her grace pointed me to the very goodness of God I needed to remember.

The following hours were busy, filled with meetings, classes, advising, and grading. And yet, that four-minute conversation was the most important part of my day.

Seek Their Forgiveness

For their spiritual health and yours, your children need to hear you say those three little words: Please forgive me.

I’ve resisted this, and you have too. I have thought my sin was not that bad, or it wasn’t the right time, or they didn’t notice. If we’re honest, it’s easy to find reasons not to confess your sins to your child. You’re big, they’re small, and they’re not the boss of you.

But these conversations are crucial, both for your child’s spiritual development and for the health of your relationship with them. They’re one of the best ways to spotlight Jesus and glory in the gospel. Each talk may be uncomfortable, but there are at least five reasons we should ask for forgiveness from our children.

  1. Because God commands it. In the Bible, God urges reconciliation and harmony in relationships. We are to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph 4:32Col 3:13). Real forgiveness presupposes confession from the guilty party, so when you sin against someone else, you should ask for their forgiveness.1 This includes your children.
  2. Because obedience is for everyone. Parents make and enforce the rules at home, so children usually know their offenses. But they see your sin too, especially when you sin against them. Through confession you underline that you are not above the law. God’s standard applies to you, and you don’t measure up. Admitting your sin gives you the chance, as a fellow sinner, to point to Christ.
  3. Because it teaches them how to forgive and seek forgiveness. Give your children a model for these conversations. Confess your sins specifically, without excuses. Describe the pain you have caused. Express your grief over your sin and the relational rift you’ve created. Ask them to forgive you, and thank them when they do.
  4. Because it teaches them grace. You don’t deserve your child’s forgiveness, much less God’s. Remind your child that God forgives his enemies: us!
  5. Because it points to Jesus. God didn’t forgive by putting our sins off to the side; he faced them. He is enraged against sin, but Jesus felt God’s fury in our place. Forgiveness, even the peer-to-peer kind, is costly (see Matt 18), and talking about this cost naturally turns to the gospel.

The Importance of the Heart

When you talk to your children about sin—whether theirs or yours—emphasize the heart. Give your children categories and language to describe the most important part of their relationship to God.

For example, I yelled because I was angry. But I was angry because my child’s disobedience upset my comfort and peace. I reacted in a sinful way because my happiness was more important than honoring God and caring for my children.

Conclusion

Enlist your spouse in your efforts to keep short accounts with your children. They have a better sense of when you need to confess than you do, and they can see your relationships more objectively.

As these conversations become more a part of your family life, your children will trust you more. Hopefully, they will come to a greater awareness of their own sin and the forgiveness and grace that God offers. This is the great aim of parenting.


  1. For much more on this line of thinking regarding forgiveness, check out the book Unpacking Forgiveness.  

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Links for the Weekend (4/26/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

What Should I Think About During the Lord’s Supper?

Have you ever wondered what should occupy your mind while you take communion? Erik Raymond gives us “five looks” to consider.

In the Lord’s Supper, we are pledging our ongoing faithfulness to Christ and his people. We are saying that we are still needy of God’s grace in Christ; we are committed to loving Christ and his people; we are saying we are still with Jesus and one another. Baptism then is the front door along with church membership, and the Lord’s Supper is the dining room table where we renew our vows of faithfulness to Christ’s Word. Naturally, then, the Lord’s Supper is for those who profess faith in Christ. The Supper is a sign of fellowship with Christ and his people.

On Graying Toward Glory

Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes about her graying hair and how we view aging as Christians. While our culture views aging only as negative, I like the way Lore writes that she feels more herself as she ages, and this points to the work of God.

We know we are cracking, the veins are working their way down to our very foundation or up to our outer beings, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. This is what the Bible says. What seems to all the world as cracking, crumbling, graying, and wasting is this very moment being renewed. Headed, as they say, toward glory.

Say No to the Gospel of Self-Forgiveness

In this article, John Beeson interacts with the popular notion that we must forgive ourselves to make true progress in the Christian life. He describes the two kinds of forgiveness found in the Bible, and he notes that self-forgiveness is not among them.

But you know what David never walks through? The process of self-forgiveness. He doesn’t entertain for a second that he must forgive himself or that, once he’s sought forgiveness from God, he must self-flagellate to fully release himself from his sin. In fact, David would probably shock modern therapeutic sensibilities with how quickly he feels release. He admits that, once forgiven, he will have the audacity to sing: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness” (Ps. 51:14).

It’s Time To Break Free From the Algorithm-Driven Life

Tim Challies writes about how the content we encounter online is served to us through algorithms. This has both benefits and drawbacks, and we should be aware of both. He suggests that we make an attempt to become our own curators of content and not rely on the algorithms of Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, etc.

It is true of all technologies that they invariably come with both benefits and drawbacks. Algorithms are no exception, and present us with both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are obvious. For example, they can sort through the vast amounts of content to cut it down to something manageable, they can distinguish between what’s interesting to you and what’s interesting to me, they can detect nudity and block it from those who don’t wish to see it. The weaknesses, though, can be a little harder to detect.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an essay I wrote, titled King David on the Resurrection. Check it out!

Thanks to Phil A for helping me round up articles this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.