My younger daughter said something mean to her sister the other day -- and immediately apologized for it. It was a true, contrite apology. It wasn't prompted by me. It wasn't given grudgingly. It was an immediate recognition that what she had done was wrong and she needed to apologize.
I was stunned. I looked around to see if it was snowing on this 100-degree July day. I wanted to jump up from the game we were playing and do a happy dance.
Many of you know we have struggled mightily with the words that come out of my younger daughter's mouth. She simply doesn't think before she speaks. We've been working for years to get her to put a filter on her mouth.
Some days, despite repeated warnings, punishments, object lessons and forced apologies, I wonder if we'll ever teach her to control her mouth. There are days that I cringe at the hurtful words she slings at her sister. But on this day, I got to see progress. I got to see all that training and discipline pay off.
Would I have preferred that she not say the words in the first place? You bet. But was I going to skip rejoicing over this one sign of progress? Absolutely not.
You see, raising kids is a journey. We teach and we prod and we wonder if anyone is even listening to us. We correct behavior only to have our kids turn around and do the exact same thing again. So when we see progress, it's a moment for rejoicing. It's a moment to offer our kids heaps of praise. It's an opportunity to see God at work in our family.
Because that's how God treats us. He prods and He disciplines. He points us down the path He wants us to take, only to have us choose the other fork in the road. He points out our sin only to have us turn around and do the exact same thing again. Yet He is always there patiently waiting for signs of our progress, for signs that we are becoming more like His Son. And when we take steps on that road, He is there, delighted with our progress.
When or kids make progress, we should be delighted, too. Because the end goal is not to raise perfect kids. The end goal is to raise kids who are becoming more like Christ. Ephesians 5:1-2 says, "Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." When our kids do that, it's cause for rejoicing.
Our kids need us to celebrate their progress as much as they need us to offer correction and discipline. Correction and discipline will only get us so far. Encouragement and praise need to be offered to our kids as well. Look for those little signs that show progress. Praise and encourage those small steps. Your child might not have reached the end goal yet, but taking steps in the right direction is half the battle.
After all, God's not finished with you yet, either.