I’m trying not to panic, but all of the greatest songs from my high school years are now featured on the “classics” radio station. My first sign of aging was when “U Can’t Touch This” went from a great dance mix to my children’s fighting theme song from the back seat of the car. When I was pregnant with my third baby, my doctor wisely hid behind a chair as he informed me that I was now considered a “mature” mother. I’m not in Abraham’s category, because his age description was as “one as good as dead.” What’s happening to me? I’m pushing forty, and I’m entering yet another “stage” of my life.
The first challenging “stage” of life is toddlerhood. I’d like to believe that this phase is as difficult for the toddler as it is for the mother–I’ll let you know as soon as my head stops spinning. When our good-natured Nate began to have temper tantrums, it took me a while to catch on to the fact that he had just turned two. He quickly mastered the various tantrums: The Boiling Lobster (flailing and screaming), The Mummy (rigor mortis), and The Jellyfish (limp body, refusing to budge). When you have children, you frequently keep your sanity by reminding yourself, “This is just a stage,” -whatever you have to tell yourself to get to sleep at night. Well-meaning visitors will watch your child swinging from the chandelier and advise, “Don’t worry; it’s just a stage.”
Do the stages ever really end? I have come to the conclusion that we never truly outgrow the “stages.” From toddlers to teens, from mid-lifers to seniors, everyone is in a stage. Each stage has its less-than-charming “side effects” that everyone will blame on the stage. At what point will we realize that until Jesus returns, no one will ever be perfect? Jesus is perfect, and we are to strive to be like him, but if we expect perfection from ourselves and others, we will be greatly disappointed.
As I lie in bed at night and reflect on the events of the day, I often imagine the conversations about me that might be occurring in the heavenly realms.
Angel 1: Wow, look at her. She’s still struggling with the same issues.
Angel 2: (rolling his eyes) I know. Yesterday she made the same mistake five times. When is she ever going to learn?
God: Don’t worry; IT’S JUST A STAGE.
Angel 1 & Angel 2: (in unison) But she’s forty…
When our children are frustrated by their mistakes, it’s easy for me to comfort them. After all, the very young are expected to learn through continuous trial and error. I encourage them that “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Prov. 24:16). Once we reach adulthood, we put certain expectations on ourselves that can lead to self-condemnation.
Since I have always been a perfectionist, I like everything in my life to be meticulous. I am so organized that when I die, you can just three-hole punch me and put me in a binder. When the “roll is called up yonder,” I’ll be there…in place alphabetically, of course. If I want to be a good example for our children, however, I need to model humility, which involves a healthy attitude toward both success and failure.
Some parents desperately try to prove that their children are “spiritual.” They unabashedly demonstrate how well their little ones know their Bible verses. Our kids can recite Bible verses too, but I also find myself saying things like, “No, you may not throw the toaster at your brother’s head.” Our children will never be perfect, so why try to keep up appearances? It is important to be able to confess our sins to each other and to God.
1 John 1:8-10
(8) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
Accepting forgiveness for sins is a stumbling block for many Christians. But what exactly was Jesus doing up there on the cross? His blood dripped for a reason, and we should never dilute it with our condemnation or pride. By his death, Jesus essentially tore up the “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” (Col. 2:14 REV)  for our sins. For ourselves and others, we tend to “Scotch™ tape” the decrees of sins back together again.
Colossians 2:13-15 (REV)
(13) And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, even you he made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
(14) having blotted out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and he has taken it out the way by having nailed it to the cross.
(15) He disarmed the principalities and the authorities, and he exposed them in public, triumphing over them in it.
Our kids constantly bring me their books with torn pages and ask me to tape them. There are some books with pages that look like they’ve gone through the shredder, but my children still expect me to tape the pieces back together. They refuse to accept the fact that the paper is irreparable. Similarly, when we focus on our sins or the sins of others, we are attempting to tape those abolished decrees of our sins back together again. The triumph of Jesus erased our debt! He put our list of sins through the shredder! Imagine if our credit card, mortgage, and utility companies took all of our debt away for us as an act of love. Would we refuse to accept it? No, we would be dancing in the streets out of joy and thankfulness.
According to Psalm 103:12, the sacrifice of Jesus removed our transgressions “as far as the east is from the west.” I asked our daughter Grace how far she thought the east is from the west, just to see if a five year old could comprehend this concept of forgiveness. To my surprise, she pondered this question for quite a long time. She slowly paced around the house, trying to measure the distance with her feet. She looked out the east window and the west window. She furrowed her brow, thought long and hard, and then answered, “It’s really, reeeeally far.” She got it.
Even if we had a particularly bad stage of life, a time that brings shame to our hearts, those sins can also be repented, confessed, and forgiven. It was hardly a mid-life crisis when Paul was consenting to the death of Christians. He considered himself the worst sinner of all time, but Jesus demonstrated his love, mercy, and grace through Paul’s life as an example to us. The blood of Jesus does not discriminate.
1 Timothy 1:15 and 16
(15) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.
(16) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
If we repent for our sins, confess them, and accept forgiveness, the Lord will give us the same love, mercy, and grace we need to move forward for him. He needs us to get our act together and get back in the game for him!
(12) Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
(13) Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
(14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
(15) All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
(16) Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Many children are traumatized by the process of “picking teams” in gym class. The coach will select two captains, who then decide which classmates are “team worthy.” Everyone knows that the most capable students are picked first, so the last ones standing feel humiliated and unwanted. When we get back in the game for Jesus, he needs us to reach out to include others on our team. Those who are living in condemnation need someone loving to say, “I don’t care if you’ve never scored a goal. You can play on the winning team.”
Self-condemnation will only sideline us; condemning others will only hurt the team as a whole. Instead, we should labor with all diligence in love to make whatever “stage” of life we are in extraordinary. Young, old, and in between, we are all forgiven and loved.
 John W. Schoenheit, Revised English Version® (REV®), and The REV Commentary of the New Testament, (Martinsville, IN: Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, Inc., 2009).