“...I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5, NLT).
There are people who don’t agree with the above scripture verse. Some are offended by it. In general, children are seen as innocent, because they usually are. They are innocent of having the understanding, wisdom, and self-control that a more mature or experienced person often has. Because of this, children are not usually held accountable for wrongs they do until they are “of age.” However, in another sense, children are not totally innocent. They can willfully choose to do what they know is wrong. I believe that’s what this scripture verse is referring to.
I’ve shared about my first lie and some of the orneriness that accompanied it. As a young child my natural inclination was toward resistance—which at that time came out as a willful rejection of what I knew or had been taught—right or wrong. Though, at the same time, I was not usually resistant toward my father. Following are some examples.
Even while some things I did during my preschool years were fairly innocent, they were sneaky, and I knew I was being sneaky.
In one instance, though my parents were also home, I was supposed to mind my grandma. This was the one (and only) time she came all the way up from Arizona to be with us.
I crept into her room while she was still sleeping one morning. Near eye-level, I was repulsed seeing her dentures, glasses, hearing aids, and I think a wig too all there together on her nightstand. So this is what they’ve been hiding from me.
Then, I learned she would be babysitting us for a few days while our parents were away. I wondered what I might get away with when someone couldn’t see or hear what I was doing.
Something I’d always wanted to do, but had never dared, was to make and eat as much strawberry Jell-O as I wanted. This would be my opportunity.
The first morning I could, while my grandma was still asleep, I went into the kitchen and got all the packages of Jell-O that we had (three or four packages). I took them into the back yard and began to fill a large, metal washtub, that I knew was there, with water and all the Jell-O I had confiscated.
I stirred and stirred, but the Jell-O wouldn’t gel. I thought maybe I just needed to wait a while, so I tried that too in short spurts. I think at one point I even counted to one hundred, waiting.
That’s were my grandma found me and spanked me good for wasting all that Jell-O. I was so heart-broken when she poured it all out onto the lawn that the spanking felt like nothing. She was the one wasting all that Jell-O!
I was also very upset that this person who couldn’t even see or hear without help should find me out. And though I had been looking forward to my parent’s return, now I wasn’t so sure.
My parents also ended up chastising me—a little—while my grandma was there, but I overheard them laughing about it later. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t get over all that Jell-O being wasted. It bothered me for a long time. I wasn’t happy with my grandma and wasn’t sure how I felt about my parents.
It wasn’t until after my mom explained how the process of Jell-O making works, and I saw I was the one who had wasted the Jell-O, that I could forgive that grandma and understand my parents better.
Some might blame my later childhood behavior on the circumstances of my life and the mistrust I “rightfully” held. But what does a closer look reveal? Can any of us “rightfully” do wrong? Even as children we have a choice. I always knew I did.
Even before I was in kindergarten, I mainly chose not to trust (anyone but my dad), not to forgive, not to believe, and to let my curiosity, also sometimes meanness rule me at various times. I wanted to test what would “really” happen.
When my sister and I came down with the chickenpox (I was four or five years old), my mom asked us to stay away from my baby brother, out of his room, and especially out of his crib. (We liked climbing in and out of it, just because we could.)
Of course, I didn’t believe my mom and I only complied when my mom or dad were around. The first chance I got, I sneaked into my little brother’s room and defiantly climbed into his crib, while he wasn’t in it. Later I incited my sister to do the same, while he was in it. She got caught, but I didn’t.
She got a spanking. I lied when my parents asked if I had been in my little brother’s room or climbed into his crib. And, of course, this made me feel even more alienated from my parents and now from my sister. I loved them, and I began to feel like there must be something wrong with me.
Of course, my little brother also eventually got the chickenpox. When he did, I felt even more remorse for my actions, but not enough that it deterred my willfulness.
Another time while I was still preschool age, my mom secured a promise and gave my younger sister and I the huge trust of staying out of a bag of pellets (I think it was a bag of lawn food) she had just purchased, while she quickly ran back into the store for something she’d forgotten.
Instead, I dared my sister to eat some, and pretended to eat some myself so that she would eat some “too.”
My mom didn’t notice the hole in the bag until later. Once she did, she asked us both if we had eaten any. I hadn’t actually eaten any. My mom, understandably, had a hard time believing me that I hadn’t eaten any. But she finally did. My little sister ended up in the emergency room having her stomach pumped, just to make sure she would be okay. The pellets had some poison in them.
I did feel horrible about my deception and getting my little sister to eat some of the pellets then. I felt worse about that than betraying my mom’s trust. It did give me some pause. I learned about poison and didn’t try anything like that again.
Another thing that “proved” my wrongness to me as a young child. Sometimes I would feel strangely moved by love songs that were on the radio or stereo in our home. I remember hiding in the curtains because of how one song, especially, made me feel. I wanted to savor it, but at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to see me feeling what I would have called nasty—lustful, sensuous (though I could not have described those feelings at the time). Afterward, I’d feel dirty. And again, like I was some kind of alien. Still, I was attracted to music that made me feel nasty.
Meanwhile proof continued to accumulate, demonstrating that something in me was just not right. Some bits of evidence were weightier than other corroborations.
There was a little girl on our block who was very pretty. She was an only-child and her mom always dressed her in cute, stylish clothes. She had big violet eyes, naturally long dark eye lashes, and long, blond curly hair that was always nicely brushed and fixed with hairbands, barrettes, or braids. She was younger than I was and very fine-boned and frail-looking.
One day she rode by on a brand-new tricycle telling us all about it. I immediately hated her with all my heart and wanted to do something to hurt her.
I shut down my conscience and began threatening to push her over. My little sister, who was with me, was also convicting me that I was wrong just by being there, by staying back and expressing dismay at what I was doing.
I hardened my heart even more and gave the little girl a push. She was able to keep herself from falling over completely, but she started to cry, “Momma, Momma,” and began to ride back home.
After the little girl began crying and calling for her Momma, I ran off and hid in our backyard. I was very convicted by my conscience of wrongdoing, but it did no good. I steeled myself to ignore it.
I don’t think my little sister dared tell on me, but the little girl did. Later, when confronted by my parents with this, again, I lied. Again, I saw that something in me was not right.
It began to be a thing I didn’t want anyone else to know about. It was something I needed to hide.
Even when it came right out in the open. When several children, including my siblings, saw me throw a dirt clod in uncontrolled anger at a neighbor boy who was provoking me and saw his resulting bloody nose. Even when the boy’s parents had to take him to the doctor to get his nose to stop bleeding and called my parents about it. I denied it.
I knew I shouldn't throw the dirt clod. But at the same time, I honestly didn’t think it would give the boy a bloody nose when I threw it. There must have been rocks in there I didn’t know about. Still feeling justified in my anger, I denied throwing the dirt clod—even while knowing my parents must know that I had. It was terrible!
What kind of monster was I? I didn’t seem to be like other people. How did my family end up with someone like me? I was repulsed by myself—though not with anything near the intensity or hatred that came later in my teens.
Though I did these kinds of things in the “innocence” of my childhood, I knew as soon as I did them that they were wrong. There is no doubt, knowing I had done them greatly affected how I saw myself in relation to God and to others.
Though God doesn’t mean for His standard to be used this way, and I was "only" a child, a pattern had begun. Some of my natural propensities were becoming things that could and would be used against me for many, many more years by the enemy of my soul—a spirit called Satan—and by myself.
The other and better half of the truth—the grace of God through Jesus and any good traits that I had were hidden from my eyes. God's Spirit and heart were not in me. I didn't have the ability to truly change my mind about (repent of) wrongdoing. God's mercies were NOT “new every morning” for me and my attention was NOT mainly on how I could use the gifts and talents I had for good. I had no notion of any of this.
Instead, my focus tended to be on the evidence that was there and accumulating. What I was “seeing” was one-thing-at-a-time bringing me to believe, more and more—especially as I moved into my teen years—no matter how I tried to repress it or hide it—that I was different in a bad way. I was a freak. Unloving and unlovable.