"My mom's not guilty!" My toddler's voice rang through the courtroom where I was contesting a traffic ticket. We had everyone's attention, and the normal flow of activity abruptly stopped.
Standing before the judge with child and toys trailing from my arms, I was almost overcome with embarrassment. Deep down, though, my heart was touched by my little boy's unquestioning vote of confidence.
The kind and understanding judge helped me recover gracefully, and we concluded our business. Although years have elapsed since that day in court, this child's protest of my innocence still reverberates. He was too young to have known whether I'd driven faster than the posted speed limit. His certainty came from his love for me. It was impossible for him to see me as guilty.
Over time, the words "not guilty" have morphed from a heartwarming protest into a model of viewing myself and others, especially my children. This perspective finds its basis in the Bible, in the spiritual description of God's creation as "very good." Here man, both male and female, is made "in the image of God" and accorded a lifetime guarantee of goodness.
This account stands in stark contrast to the matter-based account in Genesis 2, where creation is not "very good," and man's loss of innocence is the defining event.
As a parent, I've found that it's vital to think about what these accounts mean for my family and all humanity. The Genesis 2 description can make it seem as if parents and kids alike are set up to fail. And with the proliferation of psychological analysis and therapy, it's becoming the norm to trace all kinds of errant behavior to one's childhood experiences.
Genesis 1, on the other hand, offers not only hope of regeneration but the conviction of present perfection. It's not just a sunny philosophy; it's a practical truth that heals both a nagging sense of regret over mistakes and an inclination to repeat them.
Guilt-free parenting really amounts to honoring the goodness that's innate to every one of us. It's easy to see it in infants and very young children, as we found during a two-year period of fostering newborns. It's sometimes more challenging to see it in adults, especially when looking into the remorse-filled faces of their young, unmarried birth parents.
As we took on this work, we found that our best caregiving came when we affirmed the spiritually based innocence of everyone involved. This prayer made clear that each of us was the offspring of one Father-Mother, endowed equally with purity and goodness. The real nurturing going on was God's tender affection and approval for His entire creation.
Our prayers had happy results: the babies sheltered in our home had an unusually high rate of harmonious placements back with their birth families. The error that caused their plight, and the regrets that came with them, were emphatically reversed.
Parenting is still a work in progress for me and my husband, especially when problems with our own kids seem daunting. But prayer has given us faithfulness and conviction – the very qualities of our son's ringing defense of me – to continue asserting their uninterrupted wholeness and goodness. "Not guilty!" is our firm defense of their childlike nature, and ours. This assertion never excuses wrongdoing, but releases us forever from both its attraction and its effects.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, spoke from a mother's heart when she wrote: "Beloved children, the world has need of you, – and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 110). Parents and kids alike are God's "beloved children," bound in a relationship of mutual blessing, with no regrets.