Children often highlight the reality of the human experience in a kind of stark relief not obtained by adults. Young ones are more honest and less inhibited. Small people are less self-curated than those of us with more decades behind us. (At least until we get up into our seventies and eighties and realize it was all absurd. A topic for another day.)

I have four urchins living under the roof with me, I am a school administrator and teacher, and I minister to various young folks at church. And, I learn so much. They offer profound insight, a different and precious perspective, and they also expose their own sin in funny and full ways. But, I don’t always report my interactions, because it’s not my place to tattle.

But, sometimes it’s too good. I had an interaction with two of my own children recently, and it highlighted for me, as it often does, a sin pattern present in my own life. And I suspect, based on my newsfeed, I am not alone.

One morning, while I was happily working on something adult and intellectually stimulating, I was presented with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I quickly discovered that my 4.5-year-old daughter had become angry and actually (and quasi-skillfully) punched her 9-year-old brother in the eye. Both of them appeared before me, just judge that I am not, and requested mediation. (Or screamed a lot until I paid attention.)

The mediation commenced thus:

Me:  Did you punch him?

Her:  “YES!”

I like this style really. Rather than what not to do, I think this is an example of exactly what to do. Just admit it. How refreshing. Yep. I did it. We know from our brothers and sisters in twelve step programs that the first step is always admitting that you have a problem. Hi. I am a brother-puncher.

Me: “Are you ever allowed to punch your brother?”

Her: “UUGGGGGGHHHHH. NOOOOOO.  I AM NOT.”

The law makes us mad. And, hopefully, that anger drives us to repentance. In fact, our Creator gave us the law to show us our need of reconciliation. Without the “no brother punching” rule, little bit can’t articulate her need. Without the law, we stand, and what we need most is to be driven to our knees. But that doesn’t save us from being mad about it. Of course the conflict within our souls between the old man and the new man makes us exasperated. We want to scream, “Can’t it just be over? Can’t it be the case that either I am allowed to punch my brother or that I don’t punch my brother? One or the other — you pick, Mama!” You hear the Apostle Paul scream his own version of “UGH” right there in Romans 7. He’s a bit more articulate, but it’s the same thing. Why do I do the very thing I hate? Wretched man that I am! Ugh. The law is not abolished by our railing against it, but rail we do.

Me: “Would you like to ask him for forgiveness?”

Her: “UGH. YES.”

She knows. She knows the pathway to relief, but she hates it. Because asking forgiveness is exhausting. It is terrifyingly vulnerable (What if he says no?), and it is humbling (I need something I don’t have and can’t provide for myself.)

Me: “Go ahead and ask him; he’s listening.”
Her, to her brother, mumbling: “Will you forgive me for punching you?”

She hated even saying it. Misery.

Up until this point, this is a daily occurrence. Not the eye-punching — that’s pretty exciting. But the sinning against one another, needing to ask for forgiveness, and begrudgingly so doing. Mediating these type interactions is pretty much 13% of my time. Women really can have it all, folks. But, here is where it gets less ordinary:

Brother, in response to her mumbled question: “Yes…”

Her, to Me, hands thrown out in the universal Stance of the Righteously Indignant: “Ugh. He did not say that well. You could tell. He blinked his eyes like this and he said it bad. So bad. He didn’t do the forgiving well. He didn’t. Ugh. He’s terrible.”

(Now, I’ll give her this. This particular son of mine does not take all his opportunities to affirm his fellow man. His “yes” did not make me teary eyed at the beauty of the gospel or anything. But I don’t think there was a response in the world that would have satisfied the beast.)

This is our pattern. First, we sin; second, we don’t like that we sinned (and we get mad at the law, because it’s making it really hard to lie to ourselves about said sin); third, if we’re blessed, we recognize repentance as the road out; fourth, we sabotage the reconciliation, because the old man doesn’t actually want it.

We’ll take one of two options — either no law (which affirms the delusion of no sin) or we’d like justification under the law (which affirms the delusion of a solution to sin other than grace).

Simple reliance on grace offends our pride, and we prefer our pride to genuine reconciliation. All I’m going to get is a damn “Yes…”? No thank you. I’ll stick to huffing and puffing and enjoying my status as brother-puncher. He sucks after all. Ha. I win.

However, there is good news. God’s grace to us is not reliant on our graceful acceptance of it. He doesn’t take back His yes, no matter how many times we throw our hands out in indignation. The Bible tells me so. I’m happy to say I cannot ruin the treasure presented at the cross, even when, in the face of God’s Yeses and Amens, I say Ugh over and over and over again.

But, my young ones do show us something that is relevant. We have horizontal relationships in addition to our vertical one. And those are legitimately important. We have people in addition to our God, and we can heap grace upon their heads if we can thread the needle of reconciliation.

We are blessed beyond measure if we make it to the asking of forgiveness part. We are nearing the summit of Everest if we can offer a Yes when we have been the one punched and someone seeks our forgiveness. But there is yet one more precipice into which we may fall. One more way to derail the project.

We can refuse to accept the offered forgiveness. We can throw out our hands and declare all the things wrong with the great gift offered to us by our fellow man. He didn’t say it right. I could tell in his eyes. He didn’t mean it. He didn’t really give me, in the absolute best way possible, that free thing that I didn’t deserve in the first place. We can, like my precious baby child, choose indignation over humility, putting ourselves back under the law in relation to our fellow man, instead of embracing the rarely found moment of grace with one another.

Instead, may we try to put our hands by our sides and merely accept. Full stop. Forgiveness is more precious than gold, and as my southern mother always taught me, a simple “Thank you” goes a long way.

We aren’t going to stop sinning. (Ugh. I know.) By God’s grace, we’re not going to stop seeking forgiveness and offering it when it is sought from us. May we make the final ascent, walking the narrow path of reconciliation, by also receiving forgiveness, though it will be flawed, without demanding that it be more than mere humans can give.