How many times do I have to tell you?

We have a little rule in our house. It’s called no eating, nibbling or touching of your food, until we’ve prayed and given thanks to God. It’s not that we think there’s anything particularly unholy about eating before praying. But it’s just one of those rules we have to try and teach patience and self control. Unfortunately, our children are not very good at keeping it. Sometimes we walk into our dining room and spot them ‘at it again’, the movement of their mouth and the guilty look being the giveaway signs! At those moments I often despair and think or sometimes say, ‘How many times do I have to tell you?’

Now of course, you may be thinking that doesn’t sound that bad. It actually sounds quite funny. And you’d be right! It’s certainly not the most serious sin that’s committed in our house. But it is one of those that we often need to talk about.

Is it the same in your household with repeated sins? Do you despair at how often you have to tell your children off for doing the same thing? Do you think ‘Why do I have to sit with my child on the naughty step again? Why are they squabbling again? Can’t they just ’get it‘ and change?!’ Perhaps I’m revealing too much of my own experience in all this!

So what can we do when we think and experience this in our parenting? The answer is actually very simple: come back to the gospel. Preach it to yourself and then apply it to your children’s lives. Here’s what I mean:

First, think about how often you commit the same sin again and again. Are you actually very different from your children? In those moments I often feel like I’m the only one with a sin problem but it turns out God’s people have always had that problem. Take a chapter like Nehemiah 9. Here the priests, in confessing their sins, give us a little history lesson of God’s people. They speak of how time and again God rescued or blessed his people and yet time and again they sinned against him. What did God do about it? Time and time again we see God being compassionate towards his people and forgiving them.

They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Nehemiah 9:17

OK, so that was back then, but wonderfully, our God has not changed. When we, like our children, commit the same sins time and again, how does God treat us? Countless times he forgives us, because of the cross and resurrection. Again and again and again he forgives us. One phrase we use in our household is, ‘God’s grace will never run out’!

So what does this mean when it comes to parenting? Well, it means we will have to go on telling our children the gospel when they mess up. In our household that will mean trying not to bark at my children the next time they eat their food before we’ve prayed. But instead I’ll try and take them to Jesus. Yes, you’ve done it again, but Daddy sins too. Let’s come to Jesus together and see his grace and forgiveness displayed at the cross. And because of the cross he’ll never stop forgiving us. And let’s see how Jesus is actually better than food itself, so that can help me to wait next time.

Does this seem too difficult? Too idealistic? Join the club! I so often think the same. But what a privilege it is to be able to share with our children that God’s grace will never run out. To take them to Jesus when they’ve sinned again!

I’m a failure in this area. But my Father in heaven is so gentle in the way he parents me. He’s patient with me and forgives me all my parenting mess ups! There’s no condemnation, only grace. And not only that, he’s also not left me alone in this thing we called parenting. Each day I have his Holy Spirit living in me to help me and change me.

Nick Lambert

Nick is the children’s and families worker at Moulton Parish Church.