The Discipline of Not Freaking Out

By Jessica Wolstenholm

A few months ago I attended a parenting workshop at my church, during which a mother of adult children shared her favorite tips. There was no particular order to them—it was simply a list of pointers she wished she had known early on—but one of them stood out to me:


Don’t freak out.


She was referring to how we respond to our kids. When our children confess a sin, a mistake, or a lapse in judgment, we should do everything we can not to freak out. Otherwise, we will discourage them from confiding in us in the future. Instead, we should do our best to remain calm, to listen, to be slow to speak, and slow to become angry. By not freaking out, we will communicate to our kids that they can trust us with their deepest shame and fear.


I thought this was such a valuable piece of wisdom, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how biblical it is. Jesus was not shocked or awed by peoples’ sin, probably because he already knew it. In John 4, for example, Jesus encounters the woman at the well, and while the disciples “marvel” at their interaction, Jesus is not surprised a bit. Instead, he speaks very plainly to the woman: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (v. 17-18). No drama. No fanfare. No condemnation. He simply acknowledges what he knows, and the woman senses this distinction. She doesn’t cower in fear and shame. Instead, she skips into town shouting, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (v. 30)


Consider also the sinful woman in Luke 7, who boldly anoints Jesus’ feet. The Pharisees are scandalized by this brazen act of devotion, grumbling, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is” (v. 39). Jesus, on the other hand, isn’t scandalized at all. Instead he explains, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” Once again, not a single feather ruffled.


And perhaps the most famous story of all, the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Rather than join the mob of angry Pharisees, Jesus quietly writes in the sand, before stating, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Another calm, cool, and collected response.


Time and time again, Jesus responds to sin, even hidden sin, without a hint of shock. That’s not to say Jesus was promoting a squishy faith in which there are no consequences for sin. Instead, it communicates three important truths:


1.     God already knows. Trying to hide our sin from God is as foolish as Adam and Eve hiding behind leaves in the garden. He sees all of us, and is not surprised by any of it. We cannot shock the Lord.

2.     God’s love does not stand on the flimsy foundation of our good behavior. It’s easy to believe our acceptance and embrace depends on the day, and that’s part of our motivation for hiding. If God only accepts us and loves us when we’re good, then no wonder we hide our junk! But Jesus’ cool demeanor is about much more than his personality; it’s about communicating to sinners that they are welcome in his presence. Otherwise, they wouldn’t come.

3.     Our sins are covered in Christ. Our sins have already been crucified, which means we do not need to re-crucify them—not in ourselves, or our children. Even if our children have not yet placed their faith in Christ, his cross reminds us of God’s definitive response to sin, which was not condemnation, but self-sacrificing substitution.


Jesus’ discipline of “not freaking out” is encouraging for believers. No matter what we’ve done, we can approach God with confidence in Christ. No matter what it is, we can come to Him and ask for help.


That is great news, and it’s also a model for parents. If our perfect Parent is not astonished at our sin, if He doesn’t freak out at our mistakes, then Christian parenting must surely look similar. We will, of course, never parent as well as our Heavenly Father, but we can certainly point to His way of doing things. Whether it’s us, or our kids, everyone needs a safe place where we can be honest about our sin, without feeling judged or condemned. There is no greater sense of security than being fully seen, and fully loved, and who better to communicate this than parents?


As a mother of toddlers, I suspect this will be much harder in practice than in theory, so in the mean time, this will be my prayer:


Heavenly Father, help me to parent like you. Give me the strength, the discernment, and the self-control not to freak out.