Yesterday, in the midst of our usual chaos of homeschooling and breakfast and chores, Jubilee asked for help applying glue to a piece of construction paper. When asked why, she replied, “Because I need to glue it to the wall.” Uh, no. Tape was suggested as a viable alternative and I told her that under no circumstances was she to use glue to hang anything up.
Fast forward several hours. I am rearranging the magnets on the fridge to get them out of Romeo’s reach when I discover that a piece of purple construction paper is stuck to the refrigerator quite solidly. I pull it off to see that it has been glued there. I call Jubilee in and ask her if she glued it there after I told her not to use the glue to hang things. She says yes with a look of shame. I put her in time out to give myself time to gather my thoughts.
After her time out was done, I brought her into the kitchen and required that she stand with me as I tried several different things to remove the paper from the fridge. I first had her try scraping it with a plastic scraper, but she was not able to make progress at all on her own. So I took over, but made her stay with me through the process. By this time, she had gotten sad because she sensed my frustration and wanted me to be “happy” again. I periodically took time out from the task to hug her and explain that I was frustrated that the paper was so hard to get off. I told her that she was going to pick up all the tiny paper shavings that had fallen to the floor as I worked. She again looked very sad and with tears in her eyes asked, “Will you help me pick them up?” My first instinct was to say no and to launch into another diatribe about how she made the mess by disobeying me and I was already doing most of the work and blah, blah, blah, lecture, lecture, lecture. Then I took a deep breath and looked at that sweet little concerned face and said, “Yes, Jubilee, I will help you pick them up.” She look a bit relieved and then asked, “You’ll help me because you helped make the mess?”
An onslaught of surprisingly deep thought ran through my head at that moment and I realized I had the opportunity to teach my little girl a lesson about grace and mercy. My response was, “No, I’ll help you pick them up because I love you and I know you don’t want to do it because it feels hard. So you have to do it, but I will be here with you and we will both clean it up.” She nodded and fell hard against me for a very vigorous hug, and the parallels between my own heart and this situation began to form in my mind.
The definition of mercy is undeserved favor. In the simplest sense, Jubilee did not “deserve” my presence or my help in cleaning up the mess she had made. . .but because I love her, I was able to look past that “fact” and be there with her to help her through something that was hard. Even if the difficulty was the consequences of her own actions, still I love her too much to leave her to sift through those consequences on her own.
I do not deserve the mercies of God. I have made many messes over the course of my life, some in ignorance, some in disobedience, some in selfishness and some with good intentions. Where would I be today if God stood by, brushed off His hands at me and declared, “Well, you MADE the mess because you didn’t listen. Good luck cleaning it up!” But because of His enormous love for me, that has never been His response to my mistakes. Sure, as I’ve grown from a baby Christian into a more mature one, He has let me own more of my consequences, but He has never just left me alone to pick up the pieces. And more times than not, all it takes is a little effort in the right direction on my part before I feel His hand intervening to “help” me in sometimes almost imperceptible ways. . .but sometimes miraculous ones.
So in this journey through brokenness as I learn to parent my children in a way that is also discipling them for Christ, may I learn to respond more and more often with, “. . .just because I love you.” Because that’s the character Jesus wants to build into them as well. And children learn from what they see. And my prayer is always that they can learn from my failures. . .but a little more often these days, they are learning also from my example. And that feels good. And is well worth the pain and the turmoil of deep changes in my heart and mind. Because they’re worth it.