Last week I shared how my unconscious sin, sin of which I was totally unaware, drove a wedge between my daughter and me. My response was typical of all parent’s natural reaction when revelation comes about our own responsibility in a relational difficulty with a family member: we stubbornly resist that revelation. We mount a desperate defense to somehow rationalize our own sin in order to avoid the cross and remain “alive.”
As a result, we face a crucial fork in the road. We initially reason, “But isn’t he/she (spouse/child) really the one at fault here?” The flesh always tries to find someone else to blame as it continues to survive by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—desperately wanting to be good and not evil—not “at fault.”
And you can always find a way to do so in your own mind. Traveling down the fork of “it’s not my fault” is always a live option, as there is always plenty of sin on all sides to go around. Is your spouse or your child without sin in family conflicts? Of course not. The sin in the lives of other family members is ever on display before us, and we can always place our focus upon their sin if we so desire.
This is generally how we address most family difficulties—point out, emphasize and work on eliminating the sins of spouses or children while remaining oblivious to our own. With this approach, relational problems will invariably continue to fester and grow and not be resolved. To many parents, not being wrong is unconsciously more important than a restored relationship.
The Bible teaches a totally different tack—the other fork in the road, definitely the “fork less traveled.”
Jesus says that we first must focus on our own sin and deal with it before addressing the sins of others (Matthew 7:3-5). Once we see our sin, the result of God answering Essential Parenting Prayer #1, “Father, open the eyes of my heart,” do we continue down the old familiar path of covering and hiding it, rationalizing and excusing it?
The other possibility is to face it head on, own it and pray Essential Parenting Prayer #2, the prayer of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:13? “Yes, Lord, it is I. I did it. No excuses. I repent for my own sin in this conflict. Oh Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”
In my years as a Christian a much more ready prayer in my life has always been the prayer on the lips of the Pharisee in verses 11 and 12 in the above-referenced parable: “I praise you, Lord, because you have worked so wonderfully in my life and changed me. I am now faithfully performing all the Christian disciplines and pretty much have it all together, all glory to You, of course. Thank you so much that now I am no longer a wicked sinner like other men, particularly that poor tax-collector.”
I have found that the mighty power of God to break down walls and heal relationships is never released by me praying this Pharisee’s prayer of sincere thanksgiving to God. No, it is always the prayer of repentance from the sin hidden in my heart that God has finally exposed to me.
This cannot be done by the numbers, just because it is the right thing to do. Our children can sense that obvious hypocrisy in a heartbeat. Our repentance can only be in response to a genuine revelation of our very real, specific sin. Until that revelation comes, we can do nothing but continue to pray Parenting Prayer #1.
When God answers this prayer and we see, we are shocked! However, we are now able, for the first time, to genuinely turn onto the repentance fork in the road by praying Prayer #2. Then we are able, again for the first time, to properly fulfill our parenting responsibilities. Training our children becomes redemptive rather than punitive, as biblical discipline is exercised as an expression of love.
I have learned by personal experience that the three prayers we are discussing in these postings have application far beyond the family. Over some 50 years of ministry, I have left broken relationships wherever I have gone as I have continued to indomitably pray the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18. Until relatively recently, I haven’t skipped a beat.
I have always subconsciously excused myself of any real culpability in those relational struggles by blaming doctrinal differences, lack of commitment on the part of the other party, lack of appreciation for my prophetic gift, no concern for truth, etc., etc., etc. Though a theological, theoretical sinner, all of my rationalizations conveniently omitted any personal sin on my part—in specific, right-now situations. I was totally blind to that third level of sin—the thoughts and intents of my heart.
Next week I want to share with you a dramatic example of what God is doing to restore some of those broken relationships, not only in my own family but with others as well, as God is opening my eyes to what my sin has done to them.