Better Off Dead (Than To Do This To Our Children)
Have you ever been listening to a sermon and felt as if you were repeatedly being struck by the arrows of an expert marksman? Like the weapons were positioned, aimed, and delivered right into your heart? That was me two weeks ago when I heard a preacher expound on a passage of Scripture that, until then, had never felt particularly relevant in my life.
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! (Luke 17:1-3)
It seems so obvious to me now, so duh. The application that struck me is not a novel one, but boy was it new to me. So don’t wait with anticipation for some profound exposition to pour from my fingertips, because here is the simple truth that knocked me out:
My children are some of the little ones spoken of here.
Uh huh, yep…told you not to hold your breath.
How often have I referred to my children as “little ones?” Many, many times. And yet it took me this long to connect my little ones to these little ones.
As a mother, my job description is to provide my little ones with sustenance, nourishment, love, attention, shelter, warmth, and comfort. But there is one thing that I should not be providing them with: temptations to sin.
And my mind suddenly began to flood with examples of ways in which I am guilty of tempting my little ones to sin:
When I am impatient and harsh with them during naptime because I idolize me-time, I tempt my little ones to worship themselves and their own desires.
When I gossip and slander, I tempt my little ones to regard others with a critical eye and to tear and rip others apart.
When I obsess over housework, reacting harshly when they drop their crumbs or track their footprints, I tempt them to a skewed mindset that views a clean and beautiful house as more important than the people who fill it.
When I am ridden with anxiety without taking every care to cast my burdens upon the Lord, I tempt my little ones to doubt that God is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful.
When I respond severely and unkindly to their own sins, I tempt them to the false view of a severe, unkind, and unsympathetic High Priest.
Ultimately, when I do not fight sin in my own life and when I speak and behave like there is no God, no Jesus, no Holy Spirit, I tempt them to disbelieve and reject the Gospel.
How unspeakably tragic it would be to one day discover that the name of God was blasphemed among my children because of my failure to adorn the Gospel (Romans 2:24.)
Convicting? You betcha. But here is what kicked me while I was down:
It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:2)
I would be better off dead than to incite my children with these temptations. It’s that serious. God does not view my daily proddings to my children to sin as a small matter, and neither should I. It would be better if I were anchored down to the depths of the sea, my lungs deprived of oxygen and finally deluged with water than that I should cause my little ones to sin.
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.
These are hard truths, truths which cause much sting and conviction and guilt. The reality is, as desperately as I desire not to, I will continue to tempt my children to sin. Because I am a sinner. Yes, a sinner who belongs to Jesus and is being sanctified by the Spirit, absolutely…but a sinner nonetheless. My resolve to adorn the Gospel ebbs and flows. At the end of the day, I look back on many instances where I tempted my children to sin. I know I’m not alone in this. Are we hopeless? Are our children hopeless?
Are we hopeless? Are our children hopeless?
What’s a guilty mother to do?
I’ve come up with my action-plan, with just three things to remember.
Firstly, I need to check myself.
Pay attention to yourselves! (Luke 17:3)
As I daily inspect my children’s behaviour, attitudes, words, I must not neglect to inspect my own, asking my children for forgiveness when I sin before and against them. I must watch myself carefully, relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal my own sin and empower me to resist it. Those examples I gave above? They came to my mind easily because they are the stuff that make up my sin-life. Once identified, I must fight them: ultimately because they grieve the Lord, but also importantly, because they will tempt my children to sin in the same ways.
Secondly, I need to pray that my children will be protected from ME
Tim Challies has provided great insight when it comes to praying for our kids. While I often pray that the Lord would protect them from the harmful influences and actions of others, I usually neglect to pray that He would protect them from me.
I pray that God will protect my girls from me, from their own father. I fear that my selfishness or my negligence could harm them, or even that my ignorance would expose them to some kind of sin or danger. I feel a great swell of love and affection for both of my girls, but also see so much sin and ugliness within myself, and fear how my sin could harm them. And so I pray that God will protect them from the worst of me and only ever allow me to be their guardian and protector.
Thirdly, I need to believe the Gospel.
I love this quote by Tim Keller:
The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
It’s true. I am a mess. You are a mess. But God’s beautiful love and grace are much bigger than the messes we make. He can give me hope and resolve and triumph. He can redeem my messy, temptation-filled attempts (and non-attempts) at parenting these little souls.