I’d like to share a conversation I had with my daughter, our oldest who is now a first grader, that took place two weeks ago. I was putting all three kids to bed and decided we would try something different to pray. I got us all in a circle and said we were going to pray for the person on our right. Then I showed the boys which direction was right.
The boys prayed silly prayers, imagine that, but when it was Addi’s turn she said she didn’t want to pray. Thinking she was just too nervous, I offered some encouraging, fatherly words that would surely convince her she could pray.
Then she said, “I can’t pray… I did too many bad things today.” That got my attention, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. Then she looked at me and said, “I want to feel clean inside.”
That floored me. Instantly, my heart was both full and broken. I was a mess of excitement and nerves. This was the kind of conversation starter pastors live for, and here was my little girl opening that door.
I pulled her over to me, sat her on my lap, and gave her a big hug. I said a couple of things to her, then realized we needed to be able to have a real conversation. So I put the boys to bed, grabbed my Bible, and we sat on Addi’s bed and talked.
I read 1 John 1:9 to her: “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I explained that to confess simply meant to admit to God she had done bad things, which she had done. I told her because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are clean on the inside. I desperately wanted her to understand that this is what grace is all about, that she didn’t need to do anything, that because of Jesus she is forgiven and clean.
She said she understood. I prayed, and she repeated what I said. I asked her if she understood what she had prayed, and again she said she understood.
I wonder how much she did understand. I wonder how deeply a six-year-old can grasp amazing grace. I’m not sure how deeply I grasp it! I constantly find myself slipping back into old ruts of approaching God based on what I’ve done lately rather than because of what Jesus Christ did for me 2,000 years ago.
And I remember when I was about Addi’s age I prayed the sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus over and over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I prayed it, but I know I had it memorized.
My constant fear was that I had not prayed all the right words, that I had left out a part, or that I had not been 100% sincere. Ironically, in my prayer asking Jesus to save me from the eternal fires of hell, my focus was completely on my own efforts to be saved. I did not get grace. My faith was pretty weak; I wasn’t able to simply trust in Christ alone.
From a developmental view, maybe I was unable to mentally and emotionally grasp the concept of grace at that young age. Maybe the same is true for my daughter. Less than a week ago, again at the end of the day, Addi said she did not want to pray. Then she said, “I think I need a new heart again.”
She felt bad for something that had happened earlier, and I love that she feels bad about being bad; I hope she never loses that! We had another conversation, and I explained how in a relationship it is important to say sorry when you recognize you’ve done something wrong. Then we prayed together.
I think her statement is also indicative that she doesn’t get grace yet. As we go on from here and have more conversations, this is what I want to try to bring down to her level: that she is saved by grace and that her “job” is to believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it really is.
As Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” Faith is believing that God’s grace is real and is for me. That’s what I want to be convinced of in the depths of my soul, and what I want for my kids as well.
I do believe that God is hearing the heartfelt cries of my little girl, and it pleases Him to extend His Son’s righteousness to her. She might not fully get it, but in Christ she is forgiven and clean. She is His.