“No, no, no. Bad boy. Bad. Boy.”
I’m in the back room of our house and I hear my oldest daughter chastising someone in the living room.
We don’t have a dog and it’s useless to lecture cats about their behavior. So, I’m curious and concerned. Who could she be talking to?
I see her in the living room sitting with her eight-month-old baby brother, who apparently is grabbing at her long Rapunzel-style hair while she holds him.
“Bad boy,” she says again.
“Babe, we don’t call him ‘bad boy.’ He’s beautiful and wonderful and curious. You can teach him, ‘no’ and you can give him other things to grab than your hair, but we don’t label someone as a ‘bad boy.’ Ever.”
But then the next day, I’m changing the baby’s messy diaper and I hear my four-year-old behind me.
“Oh, Andrew. Bad boy.”
I explain it all again to her and my other daughters listen in. I hope they don’t miss out on the truth of what I’m saying here because this is just plain important.
We do not call him Bad Boy.
I just don’t know where it comes from. I’ve never talked to my children like dogs. I’ve never changed a diaper or disengaged my hair from the pudgy hands of an infant and said, “Bad girl” or “Bad boy.” I can correct their behavior without the hurtful labeling.
So, what is this natural inclination to legalism and to guilt-ridden, shame-filled name-calling?
Isn’t this Christian walk this difficult balance of knowing we are depraved sinners in desperate and absolute need of a Savior? Prone to evil. Apt to sin. Not worthy of heaven on our own merit or labor.
And yet we are also dearly loved and covered by the heavy blanket of grace. And the God who loves us, He knows we’re not perfect. He knows our clumsy way of tripping right into messes of our own making.
If He thought we were perfect, He wouldn’t have sent His Son to redeem us. We wouldn’t have needed it.
Ephesians says it right there:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).
So, I want to be holy to please the God I love. But when I mess it all up, I never seem to accept the forgiveness He offers. I just keep apologizing and rehashing the disappointment. I expect the discipline and the punishment.
This is because I let Him down. This is because I did something wrong.
This is because I’m a ‘bad girl.’
In an article called How to Rise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home, Barret Johnson talks about Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, who said, “I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity.”
Do you teach your kids “be good because the Bible tells you to” or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.
So, do I want to strong-arm my children into good, moral behavior? Do I discipline them so their hearts are turned to Christ and the desire to be like Him? Or do I discipline so they will act respectful, tell the truth, sit still in church, not embarrass me in public, and stop hitting their sister in the back of the minivan?
I’m reading, The Good Dad, by Jim Daly and he pins me right down because I’m too often a woman who expects perfection from myself and a mom who expects perfection from my kids:
We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection….This understanding of our own imperfections helps us avoid the modern-day legalism that endangers so many Christians…It’s okay for your kids to fail sometimes. Because that’s often how they learn best.
Nobody’s perfect. That’s why we need Jesus.
That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want, sin however we feel like it, no consequences, no worries.
It just means that while we strive for holiness, we know it’s not all on our own. We rely on Him to help us. And when we fail, God isn’t yelling at us, “bad girl.” So we can stop yelling it at ourselves.
We live thankful for the grace.
We rest in His love.
We stop looking back and keep moving forward.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2014 Heather King