Gregory Jantz, Ph.D.
When you royally mess up, there is a heavenly punishment and there is earthly punishment. God’s taken care of the heavenly punishment through Jesus, but you will probably still have your parents to deal with on earth.
Different paths have different ideas about punishment. I remember growing up and being so worried about messing up. It was weird, though, because the bigger I messed up, the more understanding my parents seemed to be. When I messed up with something small, I’d usually get hammered. There were some occasions, though, when I messed up in a huge way and had to tell my parents. I was afraid and thought I was going to be grounded for the rest of my life. Instead, I didn’t get punished nearly as badly as I thought I would. Oh, I still had to deal with the consequences, but my parents didn’t pile on a bunch of punishments — at least not as many as I expected.
God doesn’t pile on a bunch of punishments, either, but he does allow you to deal with the consequences. Sometimes consequences can seem like punishments because they are hard to do and accept. Even though consequences and punishments can seem alike, don’t be fooled into thinking they are.
- Some people get mad when dealing with the consequences of their actions, thinking those consequences are punishments.
- Some people feel like dealing with the consequences is a form of punishment and unfair because it doesn’t feel good.
Going to a store manager and admitting to his or her face that you’ve stolen something is hard to do, but that is not a punishment; it’s a consequence. Going to the store manager isn’t unfair. You stole and you need to admit it and return what you stole; that’s fair. Just because consequences are hard doesn’t mean consequences are unfair or a punishment.
As a teenager, you’re getting older and your parents are the adults around you will allow you to deal with more and more of the consequences of your actions. So things you were never asked to do as a child to make things right are now required of you. That can seem unfair, but it’s not. When you are asked to bear the consequences of your actions without a parent stepping in to shield you, that is a parent’s way of saying you’re growing up and able to accept more adult consequences.
What will God do if you really mess up? Love you. He doesn’t stop loving you because you mess up. And because he loves you, he allows you to deal with the consequences. The whole point of putting you through the consequences is not to make your life miserable. God wants you to go through the consequences because he wants you to learn the truth.
The truth is, when you mess up, you cause pain for yourself and others. Sometimes the pain is small, like if you break a neighbor’s window. Windows are easy to fix. But you can mess up in some very big ways as teenagers, ways that are much harder to fix and cause you and those you love much more pain. You need to understand the truth that messing up is painful so that you’ll be careful and think twice before you act. And when you do mess up, because you will, hopefully you’ll remember the truth and realize the pain comes from what you’ve done, not from God.
God is all about second chances, third chances, fourth chances, and gazillionth chances. He’d rather you and I didn’t need to many chances because that would mean less pain in our lives, but he knows we’ll still need chances. And when you and I do mess up, he’s ready to forgive and keep right on loving us. I’ve messed up royally in my life and not just as a teenager. Knowing that God forgives and loves me helps me pick myself up, admit I’m wrong, face the consequences, and try to do better the next time.
Here are several things to consider when you’ve made a mistake and want to make it right:
- Talk It Out — Is there something you’ve done that you know is wrong, but you have kept it to yourself? Are you ready to admit what you’ve done to a parent or other adult? If so, do so. If you’re not ready to admit what you’ve done to a parent or other adult, what do you need to have happen before you’re ready to tell the truth?
- Act It Out — When you mess up, don’t pretend you didn’t. God knows you did; you know you did; other people know you did. Admit it, face the consequences and try to do better the next time, knowing that God hasn’t stopped loving you.
- Think It Out — Think back to something you did wrong and what happened because of it. What was a consequence and what was a punishment? Was either the consequence or the punishment unfair to you? If so, why? If not, why not? Write your response.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.