“Mommy, you look funny.” My 2-1/2-year-old furrowed her eyebrows.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I didn’t see anything particularly strange about the jeans, blouse, and cardigan I was wearing.
She wrinkled her nose in a way I’ve come to know means she’s searching for the perfect insult. “Your shirt is yucky!”
Along with being very verbal for her age, my daughter Sadie is a bit more spice than sugar at times. Sometimes I think she tries to think of something contrary to say simply to add some excitement to our day. And I’ve discovered something else—repentance is a hard concept for a 2-year old.
After my daughter’s what-not-to-wear moment, we sat down together on the couch. “Sadie,” I said, “You shouldn’t tell Mommy that her shirt is yucky. This shirt is not yucky, and that hurts my feelings and makes me sad.”
She sniffed in mock exasperation and crossed her arms.
I continued: “Please say, ‘I’m sorry, Mom, for hurting your feelings.’”
She dutifully began, “I’m sorry, Mom, for hurting your feelings …” then she continued more softly, “but you shouldn’t talk to me like that.” This was not the first time she had added such a disclaimer.
“I like you all the time, but I don’t like you sometimes.”
“I’m sorry I hurt Brother, but I don’t want to go to bed!”
“I’m sorry I was mean to you, but you shouldn’t be mean to me.”
Right now there’s usually a “but” that comes with her contrition. Her half-hearted apologies got me wondering how often I am the same way about my shortcomings. How often do I apologize to my husband for something while dishing up a grievance of my own? How often do I confess sin to God while making an excuse for my behavior: “But I was stressed, Lord” or “But they treated me badly.”
As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes my view of my own sin isn’t too different from that of my 2-year old. I justify my shortcomings and foolishly think, “I’ll do better next time.” I don’t see my sin for what it is—the thing that made Jesus go to the cross.
When I think of true repentance, I think of King David’s Psalm 51:1-2. “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” In the rest of the Psalm, David really gets into it. You can feel his desperation to move on from his sin and be restored to right standing with God.
My 2-year old may be full of excuses, but when I fall short, I want to be like David and realize what my sin has cost God and others. I want my repentance to be real, so I can stay close to my Father’s heart—no buts about it.
Dr. Stanley describes the qualities of a repentant heart in his article “What Is Genuine Repentance?”