So much of life is spent in our homes with our family, especially if you’re a homeschool family. It prompted a question like this one from a wife and mom named Gretchen. “Dear Pastor John, I spend the bulk of my day raising and teaching three young children at home. I am constantly aware of my sin: impatience, selfishness, irritation, etc. Like King David in Psalm 51, my sin is ‘ever before’ me.
“There is never enough time in the day to confess these sins! It is hard to hit the pause button on the day’s events so that I can adequately repent and subsequently experience the joy of repentance. How do I confess sin moment by moment while still being present to the people around me, especially when I cannot take a break to be alone with the Lord? Can rapid repentance still be honest and thorough? What does repentance look like when life never slows down?”
Five things come to my mind as I think about Gretchen’s question.
1. When to Pause
There is one kind of sin, Gretchen, that I think should regularly interrupt our busy schedule and preempt whatever else we are doing. We need to take care of it right away. That is sin which hurts other people.
“If we have hurt someone, then let’s just stop what we’re doing, apologize, and seek to make it right.”
If we discern that the words we have spoken or what we’ve done has wounded somebody or caused them to sin, I think Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:23–24 about leaving our gift at the altar and hastening toward reconciliation really does apply in principle here.
If they’re hurt, then let’s just stop what we’re doing, apologize, and seek to make it right.
2. Take Two Seconds
With regard to the recurrent, ongoing sins that she mentions, like impatience, selfishness, and irritation, if God gives us the grace to recognize them when they happen, and yet we’re in a situation that just can’t slow down, I think we should realize that God knows our heart and would gladly receive from us a two- or three-second whispered, “O Lord, I’m so sorry. Please help me. Please forgive me.” That took two seconds.
Surely, the patience of God that we know from the Bible would imply that he’s willing to receive that. I think of Psalm 103:14: “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” So he doesn’t hesitate as you just move right on forward to whisper those heartfelt, two-second apologies and cries for help to God.
3. Full Forgiveness
As long as I’m thinking about Psalm 103, it would be good for Gretchen, and all of us, to store away in our minds and in our hearts a few precious reminders from Scripture that we can whisper to ourselves right in the middle of the onward rush of activity.
“We must never get into the mindset that God’s favor is on us only in the moments after significant confession of sin.”
Take, for example, Psalm 103:10: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
I’m thinking right when Gretchen recognizes her sin: “I’ve just had a rotten attitude,” or “I’ve just said something unkind.” She can also preach to herself: “God doesn’t deal with me right now according to my sin. He doesn’t repay me according to my iniquities. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear him” (see Psalm 103:10–13).
We must never let ourselves get into a mindset that God’s favor is on us only in the moments after significant confession of sin. That’s a legal mindset that contradicts the gospel.
4. Pray Like This
We must remember that there is no merit assigned in the Bible to any particular length of confession or repentance or remorse for sin. In fact, when Jesus teaches the Lord’s prayer and how to apologize to God for sin, it’s pretty brief: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Pray like that.
Watch out for getting into a mindset of negotiation with God in which length of time in repentance and remorse secures your acceptance. It’s the other way around. It’s the acceptance through Christ that leads us to repentance, not vice versa.
5. Extended Time
The last thing I would say is that Gretchen’s instincts are good with regard to a more extended time of soul work that she feels the need for. I hope she feels that every day.
“There is no merit assigned in the Bible to any particular length of confession or repentance or remorse for sin.”
But the reason we need more time alone with God is not because lengthy repentance is more acceptable than brief repentance, but because we need time to dig into our souls with Scripture in order to discern — dig down and discern — where did that attitude come from? Why does that keep popping up in my life?
It does take time to think through how Scripture digs down into our souls and helps us discover those things and begin to get victory over them. And that’s time in prayer and reflection, meditation, lingering in the presence of God, and a time to reorient our mind for another day’s battle. That does take time, and Gretchen’s absolutely right to want it.
I hope she carves out time for it, even in a busy mom’s schedule, late at night or early in the morning.
So, Gretchen, a word to you. Carry the word with you into the day, say from Psalm 103.
Whisper your acts of repentance as the Lord brings them to your mind in the flow of your life. Remind yourself that your Father understands your limitations. You are dust.
Pause if necessary to make right with others, any hurt you do them, and look forward to the extended times that God is eager to have with you as much as you are to have with him. These are time when you can go deeper.
He knows your heart in the moment, and he’s in no hurry to get to those other times. He is with you all the way.