“Carson, you shouldn’t mess with the blinds when you are in bed,” I said to my four-year-old as I straightened the wildly askew blinds above his window.

Through his tears, he said, “I know, but I wanted to see outside.”

It was late, yet some of the neighborhood kids were playing in the yard outside his room. Always inquisitive, Carson wanted to see who was still awake at this late hour – and especially what game they were playing.

“I realize you wanted to see outside, Bud, but its late and you need to be asleep.”

The whole conversation started with his tearful admission to me that he had “broken” his window. Fortunately, tangled and twisted window blinds are easy enough to fix. My heart warmed to my little guy, clearly affected as he was by his misbehavior. Carson knows that he shouldn’t touch the blinds above his window, especially at night when he should be sleeping.

I pressed just a bit, wanting to clarify the rules. “I know you wanted to see outside, but remember that the blinds are fragile. When you are in bed, you need to sleep. And don’t touch the blinds, okay?”

But I was making things worse. The tears were streaming harder, and his voice was getting louder. “I know, Dad, but I wanted to look!” He buried his face in his pillow and sobbed.

Seeing the negative effect of my stern voice, I went “good cop.” It was late, and more than a lecture, Carson needed sleep. I rubbed his back and whispered in his ear. “Everything’s fine, Dude. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I love you. Let’s get some rest.” Then I stayed there as my littlest guy drifted off to sleep.

Because I can’t expect my four-year-old to think rationally after 8:00 PM (or on an empty stomach – the term hangry was coined for him), his pushback on my parenting efforts didn’t really surprise me. In the middle of the day, when all involved were thinking clearly, perhaps I would have corrected his self-justification, seeking an admission of guilt and an acceptance of responsibility in its place. But not at night. At night, I expect Carson to be defensive. I expect him to avoid responsibility. (“I wanted to see outside” basically equates to, “How can you expect me to leave the blinds alone when there are kids out there?”) I expect him to justify his sin, no matter how small. He’s just a little man. That’s an understandable mark of his immaturity.

On the other hand, a mark of maturity is an eagerness to acknowledge responsibility and a rush toward repentance.  While ruled by the desires of the flesh, we will love neither of those things. The flesh is defensive, always eager for a fight against those who point out its shortcomings. The flesh digs in, refusing to yield to the words, opinions, or desires of another. The flesh fights for its reputation. And when the flesh feels that it has been caught out – when it knows that its jig is up – it runs from conflict and correction rather than enduring rebuke. If it has been a long time since you’ve changed your mind on a topic, any topic, that’s a sign of your flesh’s strength. If you rarely say the words “I was wrong” without qualification, that’s an indicator that your flesh is in the driver’s seat.

If it has been a long time since you’ve changed your mind on a topic, any topic, that’s a sign of your flesh’s strength. If you rarely say the words “I was wrong” without qualification, that’s an indicator that your flesh is in the driver’s seat.

Yet we are called to subdue the desires of the flesh and walk by the Spirit (see Gal 5:16). If you are increasingly able to admit your faults and your mistakes, that’s a sign that your fleshly desires are weakening. If you find yourself less and less insistent on having your own way and instead frequently count others more significant than yourself (see Phil 2:3), that’s a sign that you are growing in gospel maturity. If you no longer feel the need to defend your reputation, even when your reputation is maligned wrongly, that is a sign that you are growing in grace. If you embrace conflict rather than run from it, not to stir things up but to settle things down, that is a sign of the diminishing influence of your flesh.

Because of God’s grace, we should rush toward repentance when we are wrong. Because we are led to it by the kindness of God’s mercy and not the severity of his judgment (see Rom 2:4), true repentance – acknowledging our error and turning from it – will never weigh us down; it will free us! It is never miserable. Repentance is a fruit of the faith that trusts in the justifying grace of God. It is a way of enjoying, time and again, the favor and delight of the Father. It is a way of saying, “Dad, I know that I should not mess with the blinds and I won’t do it again. But I want you to know I’m sorry because you love me.”

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). Subduing the flesh, let us rush toward repentance by the grace of God, through the power of the Spirit of God.

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