I'm about to indulge in a parenting brag, so to maintain balance, I'm going to admit something embarrassing. I have a hard time keeping up with my children in crowded public places. You know that terrifying story most families have about temporarily misplacing a child? My family has... more than one. I think my problem is an unfortunate mix of ADD and optimism. I assume they're where I want them to be, and I'm chronically distracted.
Now, let's move on to something more flattering. This story is from a while back. I felt like things were off with one of the boys (I'll call him H). He had been distant and surly for a while. I couldn't decide if he was just going through a phase, but something seemed off. Chris and I decided to make a particular effort to spend time alone with him. We each pursued him on our own. One night Chris was playing a WWII board game with him. Things were not going well for H. His army was in a hopeless spot, and he started to get very upset. Watching this scene go down, I was immediately annoyed. My first instinct was to say,
Hey, bud. Your father worked a very long, hard day, and then spent a couple of hours playing this game with you because he loves you. Do you think your attitude is showing him that you appreciate this?
But a soft voice in my heart, one that I've come to recognize as the Spirit of God, said, "Slow down. This is a time for mercy." So I brought H a bowl of chocolate chips and said,
When my men are facing imminent slaughter, chocolate always makes me feel better.
The attitude slipped away; he smiled and resigned himself to the destruction of his army and the loss of the game (in Household H there is sometimes mercy in relationships but never in board games), and the evening ended well.
I'm not saying there's not a time to be on a kid like "white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snow storm"* - actually my 3 year old could use some more of that action, as evidenced by the whining situation around here. But there is a time for mercy, for withholding what he deserves, justice, not out of weariness or laziness or distraction but because it is the right thing for his soul.
But how do you know when it's right to choose mercy over justice? You don't. It has to do with his soul, and that is a thing of God and not of you. All I can say is that when I'm in a place of pursuing God there is sometimes a subtle, whispery leading that is not there when my life is crowded with too much food, too much TV, too much time spent mentally nursing personal grievances.
And the stakes are high. One of the reasons I remember this scene so well is because of what happened afterward. Just a few days after the chocolate board game incident, H came to us with something serious. It's something we needed to know, and I don't think we would have ever discovered it if he hadn't volunteered the information. I believe the reason he felt safe enough to come to us is that he had been pursued mercifully that week. It makes me wonder what we've missed over the years through laziness and self-involved anger.
So, I realize this post is shamefully braggy, but I'm not going to apologize for my arrogance. To the children out there who need mercy this week, I pray that you find it. To the ones who require something much less pleasant (ahem, Rand), I heartily wish you get what you need as well.
* Major Payne