A couple of weeks ago I made a phone call to my 4-year-old that I wished I didn’t have to make. After yelling at him that morning, I didn’t do a truly heart-repentant job of apologizing. Whether he realized it or not, I had still been so mad
—and focused on his own error. So I picked up my cell and attempted something more Christlike.
What I will always remember was his response.
“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”
Now I felt really bad for yelling.
I think the power of this was in my 4-year-old son repeating the gospel back to me. He not only gets it, he applies it. (Granted, that night after I caught him spitting on the bathroom mirror, he said, “I want to let you know that even when I do bad things, I still love you.” Hmm.)
In Philippians 3:8-9, Paul proclaims the centrality of the gospel—the cross—to life.
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ …
If the gospel is central—to the point that all else is rubbish—it also must be central in my marriage, my home. Practically, here’s what that may look like as I shift my family’s culture.
1. Repent. A family that practices repentance keeps “short accounts” with each other, apologizing quickly and sincerely. The point of apologizing to my kids even when they’re in trouble isn’t at all to distract them from their sin. They need to grow up with my willing confession as the norm, to give them the knowledge that Mom requires a Savior as much as they do. An awareness of the log in my eye—even when my children or spouse are the offenders—is biblically commanded (Matthew 7:1-5).
2. Forgive. Deliberately ask for forgiveness, and then humbly and verbally extend forgiveness: “I want you to know that I completely forgive you, and that I believe God forgives you, too.”
I guess it can sound a little hokey when we’re not used to using such language in our homes … but that’s my point. Should it be? Call me an idealist, but I’d like this replication of Christ’s words to become the norm, a chance to apply the gospel to myself and my loved ones daily.
Conflict is an opportunity to glorify God, love others, and become more like Christ. Conflict allows the gospel to be played out in our midst: loving by laying down our lives in the midst of our family members’ sin. Forgiveness rolls out the red carpet for us to witness the gospel again and again with those we love the most.
3. Practice humility in the way we talk about ourselves. Truthfully speaking of ourselves in light of who God is (“Thanks! I love using the gifts God has given me”) is not false modesty. It is honestly acknowledging that everything we have—abilities, status, resources, “every good thing given and every perfect gift” (James 1:17)––is a gift from God through His grace. It doesn’t beat ourselves up before our children or spouses, and doesn’t use our good works to steal one iota of God’s glory.
4. Be grateful. Frequently thanking God out loud for both tangible and spiritual blessings reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice opened the door for them. When we realize that everything we are and everything we have comes from God, it leads us to acknowledge Him, which leads to praise and worship.
It also means looking to the trustworthy hand of the One we worship for whatever He’s ready to give. This means preparing our family to respond as Job did:
“Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
When we fully realize that we don’t deserve anything and that everything we have is a gift from God, we can’t help but have a thankful heart—one of gratitude that comes from humility.
5. Extend grace. Acknowledge with gentleness that we’re all in a process. Return a blessing for an insult (1 Peter 3:9), responding mercifully rather than harshly.
Featured on a FamilyLife Today broadcast, one woman told how she gently shepherded her son after his adolescent sister’s emotional outburst and retreat to her bedroom. The wise mother gently explained the insecurity of his sister’s season of life—and then suggested they go make her favorite cookies for her.
6. Don’t judge, in words or thoughts. Of all the possible reasons for the behavior of others, choose to assign the one that attributes the most character and grace.
I was mildly appalled at the way a friend was treating her children … until I realized that she was working from how she was disciplined as a child. I also was immediately humbled when I compared her upbringing to the richly nurturing environment I was raised in—and realized I am still overcoming the way I lash out in ungodly anger toward my own children.
Keeping the cross at the center of my home allows me to see God as judge, and to therefore choose the most loving explanation when I consider others’ actions.
7. Serve others. I need to teach my children not only to say, “How can I help?” but to think sacrifice, have the mind of a foot washer, go the extra mile: “Your sister’s really tired after practice. What if you volunteered to set the table for her?”
1 John 3:16 tells us, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives …” This can require significant changes in our family’s fabric—and something already this counterintuitive isn’t going to be helped by a culture that’s shaped around “It’s all about me!”
8. Love lavishly. Once when I was quite ashamed and mortified over a traffic citation, my husband actually sent me flowers at work, with a sweet message about our redeeming God. Between the ticket and the roses, I don’t know which was more humbling.
You’ll remember the sinful woman who, with tears and despite the dismay of surrounding Pharisees, poured a bottle of perfume worth a year’s wages over Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ response: “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
When I remember how much I’ve been forgiven, I love both God and others much more gratefully and extravagantly.
9. Speak up. I actually found myself telling the cashier at Wal-Mart the other day how happy my husband makes me. Some of you ladies might remember the time in your life when you were hoping people would notice the glitter on your finger so that you could gush about your man and your wedding. And some of us parents can’t wait to fish the 48 pictures of our kids out of our wallet.
1 John 1:4 talks about sharing what we’ve experienced of Jesus “so that our joy may be made complete”; the early apostles couldn’t help but tell their story! But could the same be said of me sharing my experience of Christ with my neighbors, my coworkers, my babysitter, my carpool? Does my love for Him, the “sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him” (2 Corinthians 2:14), spill out like my love for my family?
10. Focus on eternity. Speak often of Heaven and what it will be like to be with Jesus, emphasizing that this world is not our ultimate home. What we can see isn’t the whole story!
Scene: I had been crying because I had just received word that, as we had been anticipating, a young friend on life support passed away after a horrible accident. My back was to our 4-year-old son.
Mommy: “I want to let you know that I just found out that [our friend] went to be with Jesus today.”
Son (with excitement in his voice): “I hearrr-rd!”
All of our family’s conversations about heaven bore fruit in that moment. It actually made me laugh with joy as I saw my son connect the dots between our current reality and heaven’s true reality: Our 21-year-old friend’s death, though utterly tearing our hearts, was still a coronation day, the pinnacle of his life thus far. While I wept, my 4-year-old was saying, That guy is one lucky duck.
It’s true that the gospel should be central to our lives. Jesus Himself, “the author and perfecter of faith … for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). But when it comes down to it, the cross isn’t the last word. The resurrection is.
We live the cross so that we can live the true resurrection, both in our renewed lives here and in heaven. Philippians 2 remarks that Jesus “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (8b-9). May your own family find itself nestled in this gospel, and triumphant at His return.
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