I keep replaying a phrase in a sermon by by Pastor Dan Jackson, the President of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (Listen here, at 20 minute mark). It comes back to me in ways that aren’t comfortable. I’m sharing it with you because even though it sounds simple, it changes how we treat ourselves, our kids, and all others.
He told a story from when he was pastoring and dealing with a member who was not wanting to come to church because he hadn’t kicked the smoking habit and didn’t want to come to church smelling like cigarettes. He said, “I don’t want to come to church because people can smell my sin!” Elder Jackson’s response to the man was…
There is only one difference between you and that other person sitting next to you on the pew…you can’t smell their sin”
He went on to say that if there was an odor attached to every particular sin, it wouldn’t take long for us to be open about our sin and more importantly, our need for a savior.
I share this on this blog for two reasons. First, I think it’s helpful to think about sin from a God’s perspective rather our typical arbitrary framework. If you are like me, you’ve done a pretty good job getting rid of the ones that are easy to see or smell yet I need to remember to not only extend grace to others but to allow God to work in the deeper, hidden parts of our lives.
Second, as a parents it’s easy to focus on helping our kids manage their outside image to the exclusion of the internal. It’s natural to come down hard on bad language, passing gas in public, elbows on the table, hurting others and a whole bunch of other external acts of rebellion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t guide our kids in these areas but we need to be careful that we aren’t planting seeds of perfectionism and people pleasing and neglecting the important work below the surface.
The danger for us and our kids in chasing perfectionism is that it is a never ending trail of disappointment. We can’t become perfect and many times the perfectionist hurts himself and others by not accepting reality and the grace that is only available to the imperfect. Ironically, healing comes when we finally quit trying to be perfect.
The danger in people pleasing is that we end up splitting our personality because there is no way that we can be an “intact” or a whole person and please everyone. It’s impossible without becoming splitting our personality living different personalities. People that are really good at living multiple personalities either become TV stars or end up with serious psychological problems, maybe both.
So, what does it look like when we parent knowing that hidden sin is potentially more dangerous to us and our kids than the obvious sins? First, we need to always focus on the heart and what’s going on inside rather than just look at the outside behavior. I was recently talking with a boy at our Youth Ranch who was really down because of an obvious mistake that he had done. He had blown it in a really public way. However, when we had a chance to talk (this is rare privilege since I’m not able to be at the ranch much and am not a key player in teens’ therapy), he wanted to talk about how he had lost his cool publicly but at the heart of his explanation, he was trying to make up for his “sin” by trying to be perfect rather than be real.
The real conversation came out eventually and he shared how he makes these crazy choices to get people to think he is cool, even if costs him. He wants staff approval but more than that, he wants peer approval and if those conflict, he chooses to impress his peers. The problem for him was that most of his “friends’ made him feel stupid for doing the little attention seeking things. They laughed when he did it, but made fun of him for it too.
Too much stuff to cover in one blog post but what would it be like if we not only believed all sin had a smell, but that we also spent more time looking at the deep down hidden stinky stuff rather than the obvious surface stuff?[reminder]What do you think it would be like if every sin had a smell? How would it change your parenting?[/reminder]
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