“If I come in here again and you two are not cleaning, I will spank you both.” I had told my two younger daughters to clean up their bedroom over an hour before. However, each time I entered with a stack of neatly folded laundry or a wayward toy, they were happily playing amidst the chaos rather than doing as I’d asked. Each treasure unearthed from the colossal mess provided yet another distraction from the task at hand. It was maddening.
Slowly and evenly I continued with steel in my voice. Do. You. Understand. Me? My guilty offspring answered in unison. “Yes, Mommy. We understand.” They scrambled to pick some forgotten stuffed animals up off of the floor as I turned away to focus my attention on my own cleaning duties.
A short time later my eldest approached as I was vacuuming a rug. She looked rather bent out of shape as she began to speak. “Mom, you need to go in and spank the girls. They’re playing again.” I felt a burst of irritation, but I have learned over the years (the hard way) to actually think before I act, so I calmly continued to vacuum as I thought of what to do.
My first impulse was to leave the vacuum running so the little offenders would think that Mommy was still busy, thus they were safe. Then I could creep in and…WHAM! Catch them in the act, tan their little backsides, and justice would be served. But as I relentlessly sucked up cat hair and lint, I had a flash of insight.
What streaked through my mind in that moment was a profound relief that my Heavenly Father doesn’t go around trying to trap me in my sin like I was contemplating doing to my own precious children. Truth be told, I used to think of God that way; as a stern celestial policeman, lurking just around the corner eager to catch me in some wrongdoing. Silly, I know. He sees it all anyway, so there’s no point in being sneaky, right?
My vision of God’s heart was skewed, but I have since learned that my God has the heart of a daddy. My Abba (Papa) loves us so intensely that He sends messengers, warnings, and encouragement to steer us back to His ways. Isn’t it marvelous that it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us? (Romans 5:8)
A wise friend once told me that justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Implementing justice is easy; exercising mercy is much more difficult. And being lavish with grace is a concept that is beyond my comprehension. But limited as I am, it is my heart’s desire to practice mercy and grace at every opportunity with my children.
My eldest was still waiting for justice to be served. “Honey,” I said, “would you please go and warn the girls that I am almost done and that they’d best get to work before I return?” Puzzlement registered in her wide blue eyes. Sadly, I realized that I had passed my brokenness on to her. Being my firstborn, she carries the burden of my parenting mistakes. Extending mercy and grace was not a concept I had mastered when she was young. Like Jonah with the Ninevites, she looked offended at the notion that these young heathens would not be punished. I simply explained that I wanted to extend some mercy to her sisters and she obediently left to warn them.
It is sobering to ponder that how we are as parents will in large part determine how our children view God. We are to reflect His likeness to these young humans until the are mature enough to truly seek Him on their own. What kind of God do you reflect? A God of mercy, or a God of wrath? Yes, our Lord exhibits both, but the wrath comes after He has given people time and opportunity to repent. Shouldn’t we give that same consideration to our own children?
As I tucked my wee ones in that night, I looked around their clean bedroom and smiled. I thanked Jesus that they had done the right thing (finally!) and that I’d had the opportunity to model mercy. I was thankful too that I was able to model it for my daughter who had not always received as much from me. My God is the restorer of broken things and I am incredibly grateful for that fact.
As we approach Thanksgiving Day this month, let us stop for a moment each day and reflect on His mercy and grace.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)
May we be filled anew with wonder at what our Savior has done, and continues to do for us daily.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23a, ESV)
And may this cause us to, in turn, shower our families with mercy and grace as well.