The most important sin

 This is an edited repost of a post written several years ago….was just thinking about this day and wanted to tell it again…..

I am rinsing the dregs of the lunch dishes, chasing spent suds from the sink’s steel sides, when I see it. We’ve had a good morning, Youngest and I, with little disruption or scolding needed. She is taking a bath, the door cracked so I can hear her sing and splash while I clean.  I have just been thinking what an easy day it’s been, so it’s due time when I turn to see the dog–our big, yellow, loopy dog–hurry from the bathroom. She comes right to me, her patient brown eyes pleading “fix this, please.” I skip a beat, laugh in exasperation as I rinse suds from my hands and reach for the dish towel. The dog sits with the patience of Job and continues to fix her gaze on me pointedly. Atop her head, scrubbed into curls of fur and mounded like white snow peaks on a dun-colored mountain, shampoo bubbles foam and slide and drip down her golden ears. The water drips onto waxed wood floor, beads up in growing pools.

It’s obvious what’s happened: Labradoodle, ever-curious, must have hung her great doggy head over tub’s edge. Youngest, ever-creative, has seized the opportunity and practiced her cosmetology skills. We have talked much in previous weeks about things like this, because a parent can’t anticipate every childish crime that comes her way. The first time you {paint the cat, cut your hair, dig a large hole in the middle of the yard, wash your stuffed animals in the dish washer….} you get a stern explanation as to why your actions are wrong and a warning as to what will transpire if it happens again. This first action is a mistake to be learned from…but to repeat something you now know better than to do is a premeditated, willful sin and will be punished as such. This dog shampooing, being the first of its kind, falls into the former category.

I pull Labradoodle’s head over the tub’s high side, kneel beside white porcelain and carefully rinse suds from curled yellow fur. Youngest watches. “Mommy,” she ventures. “It was a sin to shampoo the dog. I’m sorry.” I smile, push stray hairs from my face with the back of my wrist, wrestle the dog back into place with one hand on her collar. “It’s OK, sweetie…you thought you were helping. But now you know better, and if you do it again you will be in trouble.” I continue to rinse, pink plastic cup bobbing into warm water and over the dog’s curls again and again.

Youngest sniffles. Whispers in a small voice: “No, Mommy. It was a sin.” I look up to see her pointing, follow her small finger to the damning evidence. My French shampoo, forbidden to children (and this she knows well) is open on the tub’s edge, tell-tale pools of lavender-scented soap stain porcelain’s white and run down its pristine sides. No wonder the dog smells so good.

She is crying in earnest now, tears running fast down her little face. I sigh. “You knew not to use that shampoo, Love. You’re right, that was a willful sin. But I forgive you, and thanks for telling me. Let’s clean it up.” I stand, shuck water from my hands, rub dog’s grateful head with a towel and release her to lick her wounded dog-pride under the kitchen table. Behind me, from water’s warmth, I hear sobs. Not just the cry of a youngster who has been caught red-handed, not the sorrow of someone who has been found out and must now face the consequences. This is the come-undone sobbing of a soul rent, a hopelessness that I cannot connect with the child of six sitting in front of me. What on earth could be so wrong? It’s really only shampoo, and I’m not even upset with her. But she’s crying like someone with a broken soul and concern is rising in my chest as I rinse her off, try to sooth away the fear and despair that I see in her eyes.

You’re not in trouble, Love. I’m not angry any more, I forgive you. Don’t you understand that I forgive you? I love you so much more than French shampoo! It’s only shampoo, Love. We all sin, that’s just what people do. You’re forgiven, it’s Ok. You’re forgiven.

But for the first time, my mother’s assurances fail to console. Her heart is broken, her sobs reverberate off tile floor and slick porcelain, rise with the steam to heights above us. I stand, wrapping her in towel’s warmth, confounded by her heartbreak. What about this has broken her so? She has been naughty in a thousand ways worse than this one. What is in her heart now that tears her apart like this? I wipe away tears, soothe with words, try cheerfulness and stern warnings and finally just kneel and hold her, me on my knees on the tile and her standing wrapped in a wet towel, wretched and dripping on the cold tile floor. She sobs, hiccups, draws in quavering breaths. Her small shoulders shake as if under the weight of the world. I silently swear off expensive shampoo, pick over my mind for what parental failure has led to this breakdown, hold her close and rub her back. The tide of sorrow abates somewhat, slacks off to let her speak between shuddering breaths. 

“I…Just…can’t stop…sinning, Mommy!” she cries. “I try and I try and I try every day, and then I just sin again!”

Oh. And now I understand.  I see now where this flood of tears is coming from, and my mother’s heart breaks for her.  How many times have I cried that in my own heart?  How many times have I cried over this too…this bitter realization that my human nature betrays my good intentions time and time again? I hear Paul’s voice speak it simple out of Roman’s 7:15…  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  And I see how it breaks us, how it opens us when we realize that stark truth, when we look up at God in our brokenness and admit: I can’t do this by myself.  I can’t ever be good enough.  On my own, I am not going to make it.

I pull her away from me a bit, smooth wet hair away from damp face, see the tears and bathwater run in tandem rivulets down her round cheeks.  She chokes it out, the truth that every one of us must come to terms with: “Mommy, no matter how hard I try I just can’t stop sinning and I’m afraid I might go to Hell!”

And it’s out there, the real truth of our human situation hanging here in the room with us, heavy with the steam and tears and heat.  And I am overcome in this moment by the power of something so simple, by the fact that wasted shampoo can lead to a moment with eternal consequences, by the painful beauty of coming to understand what we are, and who He is.

I wipe tears from her face, smile down into her worried brown eyes. “My little love! Jesus knows you try hard not to sin. He knows that sometimes you’re going to anyway, no matter how hard you try. We all do…Mommy, Daddy, everyone. But He will forgive you, just like Mommy forgave you for the shampoo. God is a perfect forgiver, even better than Mommy. He even forgets what you did entirely. Do you know how you get that forgiveness? How you tell Jesus that you belong to him, and that no sin in the world will ever come between you?” She nods uncertainly, she’s heard these words before but until now they have run down the smooth surface of her heart. Now for the first time they find cracks and seep in, they take root in the open places created by her broken realization: I am a sinner. I can’t do this on my own. I need Jesus to help me, to heal me, to forgive me. I need Jesus to save me from myself.

We kneel, two broken souls on the wet tile. We lift our broken hearts to Jesus, offer them up in cupped and trembling hands like breathless doves waiting to take flight. We admit our failure, our brokenness, our habit of sin. We ask, from the soul, for His forgiveness. We ask for Him to take us in, we offer to take Him into ourselves to live. The Spirit fills what is broken, mends what is cracked, strengthens what is weak. I pray with her, the prayer I’ve prayed to hear come from her lips:  “Jesus,” Youngest whispers, her eyes closed tight. “Thank you for dying for my sins. Please come into my heart to live. I give my heart to you.”

 And when we rise, the pucker of concern has left her small forehead. The tears are drying on her face. She opens her eyes, radiant and almost painfully beautiful in her moment of joy. I am transfixed by the power of what I’ve just witnessed and by the beauty of His plan, by His love that is so powerful and so simple that a little child can understand fully the life-changing power of saying yes to the gift of Grace.

“Will I sin again, Mommy?” She asks later that day. “Yes, undoubtedly.” She nods. “But Jesus will still forgive me and love me, and I’ll still go to Heaven.” It’s a statement, not a question, and I hug her close, tears of my own falling. Because He made is so simple, this offer of salvation. So beautiful and so poignant and so humbling. He is holding out His hand in offering, and it occurs to me that the most important sin we ever do is the one that brings us to accept what He has to give.













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