What parents can do that God can’t
Irene Sun

Irene Sun

Jesus never had to repent. Repentance is one thing parents must do that Jesus did not. Repentance is necessary for our salvation (Isaiah 30:15), like the first gasp of air at our new birth. We breathe lest we die. Yet we all are prone, at different times and in different ways, to resist repentance.

As salt and light, we fight to repent when society insists we protect our pride. In my Chinese culture, we are taught to preserve our honor and dignity (“face”) in all relationships. I daily fight against my fear to “lose face” and my compulsion to “save face” — to not be shamed — especially before my children. My desire to have my children’s esteem tempts me away from repentance before God.

While in the Western society, an apology can be viewed as being honest and vulnerable, in the Chinese culture, confession and apology for one’s wrong is inherently shaming. Chinese parents, therefore, never “repent” or even apologize directly. Instead of modeling the repentance we desire of our children, we attempt to make amends. “Have you eaten?” “Are you hungry?” “I made your favorite meal.” “Did you sleep well last night?” These are various versions of peace offerings.

Losing Face, Gaining Christ

On the first day of school last fall, my sons’ teacher was woefully unprepared. She was still getting her materials together even as school was starting. Unbelievable. Yes, indeed, the teacher was me.

By 10 a.m., our household was in disarray and anxiety was mounting in my heart, so I put school on hold and gathered the children to pray. I needed to repent before my Lord, and ask my children for their forgiveness. The words “Mommy was wrong. I was not prepared for today. Would you please forgive me?” were lodged in my throat. My flesh rebelled, and I wanted to justify myself.

“Repentance is the one thing parents must do that Jesus did not.”

Repentance feels like begging — a defeat where I lose respectability in my children’s eyes. In Chinese culture, these feelings are woven into the fabric of my consciousness. The thought of revealing my brokenness, and displaying a contrite heart before my sons, crushes my pride. In God’s providence, this is a good and necessary act that brings this mother in the way of grace.

Jesus never repented, because he never sinned. But God uses his servants to teach his little ones to walk the road of repentance, particularly Christian parents. In this way, our wayward souls are God’s vessels of grace. Learning how to repent was on God’s lesson plan for our first day of school. My repentance was his show-and-tell.

The Father is searching for worshipers who are willing to lose face for his name’s sake. Whoever saves his face will lose it, but whoever loses his face for the sake of Christ will bear the likeness of Christ.

Repentance as a Discipline

All of life is repentance, a steep climb up Mount Zion. We climb against the gravity of sin, the weight of our flesh, and the sinful desires of our will. Even as I confess one sin, I am reminded of so many others. But every step taken is another step closer to the summit yet unseen. Grace and goodness is the air that we breathe. God’s truth and covenant faithfulness hold us fast from the precipice of death.

Repentance requires discipline. In our home, we are cultivating attitudes that hold us to God’s mercy.

1. Hate our own sin.

“Love the sinner; hate our own sin.” Rosaria Butterfield changed my life with this sentence. Apart from Christ, my own evil is my undoing.

“Do I hate my own sin more than I hate my children’s sin, or my husband’s sin?”

Do I hate my own sin more than I hate my children’s sin, or my husband’s sin? Am I quick to point out the wrongs of others and excuse my own? I am a soul well acquainted with self-righteousness and all forms of self-glorifying tendencies. Do I show my children my fight against self-pity and selfishness? Am I willing to ask my children to pray for me when I struggle to obey Christ?

2. Never talk about, always to.

This was a rule in Amy Carmichael’s home. She was a mother to hundreds and hundreds of rescued orphans from Hindu temples in India.

In our home, we work on not speaking about other people’s sins. Instead, we seek ways to speak face to face. When we correct our children, we speak in gentleness: “We are for you, not against you.” When brothers correct each other, we ask them to speak out of love, without accusation or anger. Parents, brothers, and sisters should not tattle about each other’s wrongs. When possible, I ask my children to give only accounts of the wrong they have done, not what their siblings have done.

3. Keep a capacious heart.

One who is forgiven much loves much. A broken and contrite heart is remade for greater capacities to love. A capacious heart forgives readily and keeps no record of wrong. I often pray, “Lord, help me not be a puddle. Create in me a heart like the ocean.” A puddle-like heart is easily offended and embittered. An ocean-like heart covers a multitude of wrongs. A capacious heart has nothing to prove and is quick to repent — without excuses or blame-shifting.

Repent in Sorrow, Joy Will Follow

Breathe in; breathe out — sorrow and joy are the gentle rising and falling of a repenting soul. We lament over our sin and the suffering in the world caused by our wickedness. We grieve before our Lord, but not without hope (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Again, my cultural heritage does not lend itself to lamentation. My fear of “losing face” gets in the way of lamenting. Sackcloth and ashes are undignified. When my sin assails me, it is good for my children to know I, too, need to cry out to God for help. When we witness violence in the world, we weep with those who weep. When we are on the receiving end of violence and injustice, we lament before our Lord and with our children. We do not explain or excuse the sin away.

Dark clouds were gathering in our home on that first day of school. My lack of diligence caused chaos. But when we came together to pray, a great relief came over all of us — like the fall of rain over a parched and weary land (Acts 3:19–20). In repentance, joy triumphed over shame and self-pity. The Lord put a new song in our mouths.

“A repenting household is a rejoicing household.”

We rejoice when we repent because we see Christ. We remember his steep climb up Calvary. Jesus hated our sin and died our death. He spoke to us face to face. He is the King with the most capacious heart. Happy are those who are in him.

A repenting household is a rejoicing household. A forgiven family is a family that is well-loved and loves well. He turns our laments into praise; he puts our chaos into order; he takes our shame and covers us in glory; he crushes death and brings us life.

Irene Sun was born in Malaysia and is the author of the picture book God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World. She teaches her four boys with her preacher husband in Chicago, and through TGC Women’s Training Network. This article first appeared on desiringgod.org.

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