This was our home telephone number when I was 8 years old: 828-3010. If I answered the phone in our London townhouse, I was to say: “Hello, this is Susan. Who’s calling please?” And I did. The license plate on our blue Volvo station wagon was VUD 466T. Isn’t it strange the clarity of detail that accompanies some childhood memories? We lived in that white house with the maroon door, #73, for three years, ages 6 – 9 for me.
Here’s a snapshot memory, clear as day, from age 8: me coming home from school. Sitting at the long counter eating my afternoon snack, my mom asking me about my day. The pit of guilt growing in my belly as the casual chat wore on… And then me coming out with it, surreptitiously at first, not knowing how to form clear words to speak my black guilt. Beating around the bush of the reality I knew I needed to convey: I had cheated. On a quiz. In Miss Livingston’s third grade class. The details of the actual incident – how I did it, who I copied from (if that’s how I pulled it off) – I don’t remember. What I do recall is the weight of the sin, the compulsion to get it off my chest, and the kitchen table confessional. My mom asked a few clarifying questions to make sure she understood. Then she quietly packed me into the blue Volvo and drove me back to school. So I could tell the teacher what I’d done.
I don’t remember that part either. The only part I remember from the whole incident is coming clean to my mom, and her ushering me toward the necessary resolution. Why is that? I’m not sure, but if I had to guess I’d wager this: my mom was the knower-of-the-Whole-Scoop in my life. Whose ear I’d whisper into if my shorts got embarrassingly dirtied, whose chest I’d cry into when the others kids cut my feelings deep with teasing and I feigned to all else that I didn’t care. She got it; she got me – the good and the bad. And she was for me, no matter what. With the cheating incident, my mom 1. heard confession, 2. forgave, and 3. showed how to resolve. That was all of it.
Moms are like an external-hard-drive conscience for their kids. They serve the role, for a time, as a sort of Keeper of the Soul. Your mom knowing something that happened in your 8-year-old life makes it real, and resolution with her means all is – or will be – OK with the world. Or at least with your world.
I thought about it a lot when honesty incidents arose with both our oldest kids last week. One cheated on a spelling quiz I administered (especially interesting in homeschooling when mom is both parent and teacher); the other surreptitiously swiped frosting from a container in the fridge, then denied it. Overwhelming guilt, tears, and a driving need for the deck to be cleared with me characterized both incidents – though in both cases the dishonesty was discovered before the kid came forward with it. [Who knows if they would have come forward on their own in these cases?] They needed to know that I’d still accept and love them after the awful truth was out in the open… That their trespasses first could and then would be forgiven.
In short, they needed transparency and grace. They needed truth at the fore – the whole truth – but mercy, too, in equal measure. Same as I need, and you. They groped and were compelled toward the outlandish reality, “All is forgiven!”… For the contrite person willing to reveal shameful truths.
It’s quite a role we play, we moms and dads who guide and lead our littles. God entrusts to us a God-like role as we interact with our kids: He lets us mimic omniscience. He let us see partially into young souls and consciences, helping His Light transform guilt and darkness into freedom and light. We get to be teachers who bring our kids experiential, soul-level lessons about who God is and what He does. Responsibility of responsibilities.
It’s a fine dance, too, because though we sometimes act like external-hard-drive conscience, and though we play a God-like role as hearer-of-confessions and the extender-(and confirmer)-of-forgiveness, we aren’t the convictor of sin. The Holy Spirit still does that – in infancy, and forever onward till judgement day. That’s his job, never ours.
And our kids will lie. Studies show they lie a lot. According to research in the “Why Kids Lie” chapter of NurtureShock (a worthwhile book if you haven’t read it), they will all lie a lot more than any parents – probably than many Christian parents with idyllic visions of Bible-trained, prayer-centered kids – imagine they do. It helps neither them nor ourselves to pretend this won’t be the case. And for all the poignancy of my sweet 8-year-old memory of the quiz-cheating confession, I can think of plenty of cases when I lied to my mom and didn’t tell her about it. Or even feel that bad about the lie.
The development of conscience and the conviction of the Holy Spirit doesn’t work in a perfectly charted-out, clearly graphed line. (Oh that it did!) It’s a mystery no parent controls – or even fully sees. Even the kid can’t see or grasp the whole picture of what’s going on in his soul and conscience, only God can. This is where prayer and the use of godly wisdom – hefty doses of it, begged for in prayer – come in for moms (and dads). That, and the continual surrendering of our kids and their spirits back to the God who created them.
May we walk with the humility and wisdom that our God calls us to, “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” as we mother. Upholders of honesty and goodness, and also extenders of never-ending mercy. And may they grow, by the power of the Spirit, to be lovers of truth and walkers in the freedom of Jesus.
Originally published April, 2014