My teenager and I were talking about words we had recently studied, when my five-year-old enthusiastically interrupted. “I remember one! It’s from my catechism . . . corrupt. I am corrupt.”
“I don’t think you want to go around saying that,” her sister advised.
“Why not?” I wondered aloud. “Without God’s grace, that’s what we are and always need to keep in mind.” My teen looked away, then nodded.
Rearing children has made my husband and me acutely aware of their—and our—fallen natures and our total dependence on Jesus Christ’s grace. In the early days of parenting, I was frustrated when my children erred. “How could they do that? Didn’t I teach them to do better?” Now I have a better grasp on the impact of Adam’s sin. “The heart is deceitful . . . and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). This truth tempers my anger and disappointment, and helps me pray for mercy and strength to discipline with the right object in mind: inward change.
Scripture encourages us to keep the “heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). When our children misbehave, we try to engage them to discover the root of their wrongdoing and seek God’s help.
A recent exchange with my five-year-old reminded both of us how much we need diligence to keep our sin nature in check. “My show is taking so long to start. I’ll never get to see it!” she screamed and threw the TV remote.
“With that attitude you definitely won’t,” I replied. She threw herself on the floor in tears.
“Get up!” My voice began to rise. “Pick up the remote.” Then I remembered her little voice shouting, “I am corrupt.” Lord, I sighed, it would be so easy to punish her outward behavior and get this over with quickly. Help me respond to her heart.
“Go sit in the corner,” I said. Several minutes later, I went to her. “Why did you behave like that?”
“I—I was frustrated,” she sniffed.
“I understand that. But there’s a bigger problem. Throwing things around in a temper doesn’t honor Jesus.” We talked about sin and Jesus’s power to change our hearts.
I shifted in my seat. “Baby,” I said, “you know that phone call this morning? I got annoyed with the lady for misplacing some forms. I need more patience, too.” Her eyes grew wide. After we asked for forgiveness and help to live in a God-honoring way, the sparkle returned to her eyes. I felt surprisingly free.
Getting to the heart of disobedience is difficult and time consuming, but it is our only hope of lasting change. Our continued catechism lessons remind us that our sinful hearts need to be changed, which only God’s Son, Jesus Christ, can do (Titus 3:5–6).