“Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. What am I going to do?”
I looked down at the shattered glass from my dad’s bookcase. His dad, my grandfather, had built it by hand. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, and it held many of my parents’ oldest, rarest, and most precious volumes.
I had been playing in the family room, pretending to be Ryne Sandberg (the Chicago Cubs’ second baseman at the time), and swinging my bat in the house. I was eleven years old, and I knew better.
Slowly it began to dawn on me that I would most likely not live to see twelve.
My sister came in and saw the glass. I started to cry. She asked me why, and all I could stutter out was, “Dad’s gonna kill me.”
She replied in the affirmative.
With that confirmation, I could no longer hold back, and started sobbing full-throttle.
My dad was a lifelong tradesman. He installed commercial sound systems, and he was very big and very strong. I knew he wouldn’t actually hurt me, of course — he never laid a hand on me in anger — but he was Dad, and I was afraid of his reaction. He would be home from work in an hour or so.
It seemed to take forever as I watched the clock, not knowing what else to do. I didn’t feel like playing. I didn’t know how to clean up that much-shattered glass on a carpet. Worse still, the bookcase was visible from the front door. It would be the first thing he noticed when he walked in the door.
There was no hiding it. I was dead.
I watched as his truck rolled up to the driveway and slowly backed up toward the garage. I decided the best I could do would be to soften the blow, rather than just hide and wait for him to see what had happened. So as he came in, I rushed to meet him at the door. I blocked his progress so that I was between him and the bookcase.
I had to say something.
“Dad, I did something really stupid.”
His eyebrows rose. “Okay, what did you do?”
“I was pretending, and I was swinging my bat in the house, and I broke the bookcase.” There was no hiding what I had done. Best not to compound it by lying. I stood aside and pointed at the shattered window, waiting for the blow to fall: for him to yell, or to throw his things down angrily, or even just to look at me with disappointment.
It never came.
“Joel,” he said, nodding, “you’re right. That was pretty stupid.” (He didn’t sound angry. He didn’t look angry. I might live after all!) “Let me put this stuff down, and we’ll clean up that glass and then go to the hardware store for a new window.”
That’s what we did. I had to help him clean up the glass shards, I accompanied him to the hardware store, and then I helped him install the new pane of glass. Instead of being killed, I spent about an hour and a half working with my dad.
He never brought it up again, ever.
I made a stupid mistake and expected to be punished harshly. Instead, it remains one of my favorite childhood memories of my father.
But it’s more than just a touching story. After I became a Christian, I began to understand that my Dad had demonstrated some very important things about God on that day.
Confession is a normal and necessary part of the Christian life.
When I broke the bookcase, I knew I couldn’t hide it. Even when I was trying to block my dad’s view so I could talk to him first, he was a foot and a half taller than me. I couldn’t prevent him knowing any more than I could fly to the moon.
When I admitted what I had done, I had been crying for almost an hour. I was scared. He could see all those things in my face. He didn’t need to punish me. If I had lied or tried to hide it, I would have been punished for that far more than for the broken window.
You cannot deceive God. He knows what you’ve done — all the good and all the bad. But trying to hide only creates distance in the relationship. The apostle John tells us:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
God does not fly into a rage when we sin.
Every parent expects their children to break something at some point. People make mistakes. But every parent used to be a child. And adults understand that children are still learning and developing.
Jesus was fully man and fully God, and he knows what it is to hunger, and thirst, and tire. He knows our weakness, and he lives forever to intercede for us before the Father.
…let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)
We participate in God’s work within us.
Even though my dad didn’t punish me for breaking the window, there was still work to be done. The glass had to be cleaned up off the floor, and a new pane had to be installed.
I could never have done all that work myself, and so I needed my dad to show me. But more importantly, I spent time with him.
Let them construct a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern… (Exodus 25:8-9)
God wants to be with his children, to be near them and dwell with them. God’s people did not know how his sanctuary should be built, so he gave the Israelites a pattern, a design for how to build the tabernacle. They did not know how they should live or how to honor him, so he gave the law to Moses, to teach them.
God is always at work within the hearts of his children. When we confess our sins to him, he invites us to participate in his work. We cease resisting him and begin to work with him.
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
We cannot rid ourselves of sin and make ourselves like Christ. But God wants us to be with him and work with him. He has shown us the pattern for living and invites us to walk in his ways.
God’s love and mercy cause us to love him.
This episode in my life could have been a bad memory: one of a stupid mistake, of punishment and anger, tears, hurt, and all manner of negative emotions. But because my dad showed grace to me, it remains one of my most cherished memories of childhood. I can look back on that incident and say, with full confidence, that my dad loved me and, no matter how disappointed he may have been about the broken glass, I was way more important to him than that bookcase.
That’s how it feels when we have been forgiven by God.
I know the sin in my life all too well. I know its crushing weight. I know the fear and the paralysis of the thought that I will never be better, never be good enough. And the knowledge that God himself paid the price I owed fills me with wonder.
My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought — my sin, not in part, but the whole / Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more / Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul! (Horatio Spafford)
We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)