There are times when my daughter tells me she’s sorry for something she’s done, but I’m still so exasperated with her or set on punishing her for what she’s done wrong, that my heart is not ready for those words. She still hasn’t learned her lesson, I think, giving her another spanking or a time-out, even after her apology. Instead of being a strong-willed mom, I must let go of my desire to punish when a child expresses repentance.
After all, that’s what our loving God did, and still does. If you look at the children of Israel in the Old Testament, they seemed to constantly turn away from God in favor of idols. When they made the golden calf, God told them he would not go with them into the Promised Land (Exodus 33:5). But after the people mourned and Moses met with God to humbly ask that He keep the people in His covenant, God showed mercy. God did the same for the Israelites when they’d reached the Promised Land, but were sold into slavery because of their unfaithfulness to God (Judges 10). Nevertheless, when they cried out their repentance, requested deliverance, and put away their idols, God “could bear the misery of Israel no longer” (verse 16).
Does this mean that God is inconsistent, or that He changes His mind with His emotions, like we do? No, for He is the same in the New Testament. Jesus told about His father through the story of the Prodigal Son. Remember that the father did not wait to hear those magic words “I’m sorry”: he saw his beloved son returning, proof of his repentance, and ran to him (Luke 15).
Our God does not change: He has always loved and cared for us, and He always will. Our desire to be close to Him, to return to Him, will never fail to stir Him to mercy.
What audacity for me to hold onto my precious hurt feelings when a child seeks my forgiveness! Let us take God as the perfect model of a good parent, in all his beautiful mercy. Rather than following the dictates of some parenting book, which emphatically preaches the importance of “winning your battles,” let us let our children touch our hearts. Let us be “tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave” us (Ephesians 4:32).
There is a difference to be noted here: sometimes parents show mercy not because they’re forgiving, but because they’re taking the easy way out. A temper tantrum flares up, and the parent gives in, bottling up their anger for another day. This is not the result of tenderheartedness, but of weakness. Offer your child comfort, attention, and security, but never proof that bad behavior earns them what they want.
So check your motivations: Are you deliberately showing mercy because your child has touched your heart? Or are you tucking away frustration and even humiliation to avoid a confrontation with your child? If it’s mercy, you’re not being weak, and shouldn’t persevere in being a strong-willed mom. If mercy is your motivation, you’re emulating our God’s tenderness toward His penitent children.
Choose mercy when your child asks for it. They won’t use those words, but you’ll know it when you feel it.
By Kimberly Mauck
Kimberly lives with her husband and two daughters in Durant, Oklahoma, where she is a part-time college English instructor and a freelance writer. She also writes for KatharosNOW, a webzine for teen Christian girls, and her own blog Virtuous Woman…Virtually.