My daughter was recently baptized. Since then, she has been sad and crying every day, feeling so guilty and questioning her every decision or thought or word out of her mouth as to whether it is sin. She knows even just one small sin, even a little lie, can keep her from heaven if she doesn't repent. She prays to God and asks forgiveness, but finds no comfort or peace. She confesses things to me all day long. I don't want to downplay this as it shows an extremely tender and intuitive heart for her age, thoroughly examining and going over and over conversations or actions afterward in her head to be sure she has not sinned, but I don't feel much of what she is thinking she may have done to be actual sin and I can't seem to stop her from thinking so negatively, thinking thoughts and feeling she is so wicked.
My question is, is this normal and how can I help her find peace in the Lord?
Behavior like this is not unheard of in varying degrees. At the far extremes, it is called scrupulosity. Not that I think your daughter has scrupulosity, but I think it will help you to see how far it can go and why. See: I have OCD-Religion and obsess over bad thoughts. Is there anything you can do to help me?
It is not unusual for preteens and teenagers to become obsessive about some things. It is one of the possible side-effects of the process that causes the brain to wire itself during adolescence to change a person's thinking from a child's way to an adult's way.
It is possible that your daughter has turned things around. She sees salvation as coming by perfect law keeping; thus, God becomes a God looking for any excuse to keep a person out of heaven. But the Bible tells us that God is the opposite. He is trying to save us, despite our flaws.
- ""Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!"" (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
- "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3-4).
- "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).
It does not mean we have an excuse to stay in our sins. God still wants His people to come out of sin. Yet, we have to understand that sin is something every Christian struggles against his entire life. "If we say that 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. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 1:8-2:1). God isn't expecting perfection, so He has provided a way that we can gain forgiveness when we do stumble. What God is looking for are people who strive to to be righteous.
Confessing our sins doesn't require us to discover and admit every minute infraction we have done. When we realized that we had not acted as we ought or neglected to do something we should have done, we own up to our fault and then make changes to live better in the future. We confess what we know we did wrong and God forgives us of all our unrighteousness.
Another possibility, being new to the faith, is that she hasn't built up her confidence in her salvation. The book of I John is about the Christian's fellowship with God. Repeatedly John tells us how we can know we are in fellowship with God:
- "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (I John 2:3)
- "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (I John 2:5)
- "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (I John 3:14)
- "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God" (I John 3:18-21).
- "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (I John 3:24).
- "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (I John 4:13).
- "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (I John 5:20).
I John 3:20-21 is particularly important. Perhaps you can make it her next memory verse. Even when we may not feel saved, we can know we are saved because we are doing what God wants us to do, we love God's children, and we have confidence in the Holy Spirit's promise of salvation. Sure we might slip up once in a while, but when we become aware of the problem, we correct it because as a child of God we cannot stand to abide in sin. When our feelings and our knowledge lines up, then we have confidence.
As she grows in her faith, her love for God, and her faith that God loves her, her fears of failure will diminish. "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (I John 4:16-18). Thus, my final suggestion is to study the nature of God, so she can better understand who she now serves. See: The Lord Your God is an Awesome God!