I love this section from the preface to Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel:
[The gospel is] for the bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out.
It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.
It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the hand-out of amazing grace.
It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.
It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.
It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.
It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.
It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.
I see myself in many of these descriptions, but “inconsistent, unsteady disciple whose cheese is falling off his cracker” is an apt picture of my parenting. I teach my kids the truth about God’s holiness and our sin, but not consistently. I move toward them in love, but with stumbling feet. I just stepped on a Lego, and my cheese is joining the other debris on the (metaphorical, dear) floor of our family life.
And this is a problem, because my ragamuffin-ness hurts my kids.
I often say that my kids are my primary mission field. But I shall earn no medals to wear for missionary week. Not with the way I behave. If my kids think that God is literally like their earthly father, Lord help us all.
It seems so horribly wrong, so ugly, that children should suffer for the faults of their elders. Can any good come of this? I believe it can, and it is a very necessary one.
Scripture tells us that humans are born bent and wayward, with rebellious fists raised to heaven. Anyone who has crossed a two-year-old knows the consequences. So we know, even before they do, that our children will fail to meet God’s standard of holiness. Then how will they react?
If parents present a polished facade of unbroken “righteousness,” will their children be able to face their own failures?
I fear not. David Kern wrote an excellent exploration of how our children become, through imitation, versions of us. So there is a glorious opportunity hidden in our failures: We can teach them to embrace grace.
When my kids yell at each other, my wife and I require and help them to apologize specifically for their wrong. We want them to recognize their sin, turn away from it, and receive forgiveness. But the lessons can’t stop there. If my wife or I speak unkindly to each other in front of the children, we try to also apologize and forgive in front of the children. And we end with an embrace, just like we tell them to. We try to show them there is joy and redemption on the other side of confession.
Let’s be honest – the kids know when we act like stinkers, and they know it’s not OK. There is no question of how our children will react if they learn we’re flawed. They know. So it is vital that they also know what we do about it.
We talk about 1 John 1:9,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,
but my best “sermon” on this text was when I went, teary-eyed, to face a wrong I had done my daughter and ask for forgiveness.
Of course she forgave me and, afterward, she visibly glowed with the knowledge that her daddy, too, disobeys, and God’s mercy is big enough even for my mistakes. I think she now feels more permission to be a ragamuffin herself. And, I hope, she has more confidence to humbly – but boldly – approach the Throne of Grace.
He occasionally blogs at jamesdwitmer.com or @jamesdwitmer, spends his free time digging in the garden with his wife, and is pleasantly surprised to find that loving his family makes meaningful change in the world.