Monday, June 28, 2010

The Prodigal's Older Sister

God is really working on me.

It is hot as blazes in Georgia these days, so many an afternoon is spent at the pool. Because my children are new at the whole diving board scene, I tend to hover in the deep end to keep an eye on them.

A few days ago as K was waiting in line for the board another child cut in front of her. I watched as K 'used her words' to tell the child that she had been ahead of her. I also watched as the child shrugged her shoulders and said to K, "So?" while pushing her back with her rear end.

K, who knew I was watching, looked up at me plaintively. I feel like I am constantly wrestling with when to intervene and when to let my children learn to work things out. I decided to just nod my head in acknowledgement that I had witnessed the offense.

With crocodile tears K looked at me and said, "But, Mom, cutting is wrong."
"I know," I replied.

I did a quick scan and noticed that the Mama was tending to another child and had missed the incident. Deciding not to make a big thing out of kids being kids I waited by the ladder and addressed the child as she was exiting the water.
"No cutting, OK? Everyone will get a turn. Let's play nice."
The child looked at me with a great deal of attitude and indifference. It flew ALL over me. So, I behaved like a five year old and added, "Cutting is mean."

It felt good in the moment, but then I was embarrassed. Not because of what I said, as much as because of how I felt. I REALLY don't like injustice. For a grace-professing Christian, I have to admit I can often identify far more with the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, than the open armed father.

As a lifelong 'goodie goodie' I have to really fight Pharisaical tendency to 'rank' sin. Sure, I gossip, embellish, covet, take God's name in vain, fail to observe the Sabbath, rebel, am impatient, ungrateful and unforgiving (and more)...but I don't kill, rape, or sleep around, so I am good compared to most, right? At least I am trying...and when I mess up I feel guilty and repent. (usually)

UGH! My hypocrisy makes me crazy.

I love a great story of grace...I just have conditions. I want the recipient to earn their reprieve based on repentance. I don't want revenge, I just want to see humility. I want to know the sinner has learned their lesson!

"There is danger in being sure of forgiveness before one has become insecure because of one's sin." -Helmut Thielcke

And right in the middle of pondering all this, our lesson Sunday morning included the following passage from Matthew 5:

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
Matthew 5:38-42 (The Message)

I was mulling the consequences of teaching this position to my children. What would that have looked like on the diving board? Should I have encouraged K to graciously let the child go ahead of her, without the need to call her out? (That's what my flesh was crying for. I just needed her to know she wasn't getting away with anything.) Or will that be setting my children up to be victimized and walked all over? Won't they be taken advantage of?

"Duty is ours; consequences are God's." -Thomas Stonewall Jackson

I had another opportunity to test the lesson as we were on our way to pizza Saturday night. The children had asked to play games in the restaurant's arcade. We told them they could if they took the change from their 'spend' jars.

Each child was clutching their quarters as we loaded the car, despite my husband's encouragement to let him hold them until after dinner.
"If you lose them," he cautioned, "that's it. Mom & I will not replace them."
Less than 30 seconds later K was whimpering because she had dropped one of hers in the car. She was already buckled and we were in motion, so we told her she would have to wait to look for it when we arrived at the restaurant.
"Here, you can have one of mine, " P offered.
Just as I was about to put my foot down, my husband intervened.
"P, that is very kind and generous of you, son. Way to go!"
P smiled sheepishly.
"Thanks, P," K beamed.
"But, she dropped it after you warned her, " I whispered in the front seat. "I don't want her to take advantage of P."
"She didn't ASK for it," my husband pointed out, "He offered."

My husband was right. My son was showing kindness and generosity and I almost missed it because I was so tangled up in justice and consequences. Ugh! This stuff gets sticky!

When we arrived at the restaurant, K found her quarter and gratefully returned P's. Meanwhile, I was left scratching my head and examining my heart.


HW said...

One of the hardest lessons for my husband and me to learn as parents was when to rescue and when to let them 'sink or swim,' like with your of your children holding onto their quarters.

It is also hard to watch our children be victims and there is a fine line between turning the other cheek and being victimized. Perhaps that little girl at the pool was better off hearing from you, a mommy, that cutting in line was mean, rather than a bigger kid that might have hurt her. And isn't it always the case that the other mom never sees the incident.

What a great job you are doing with your precious kids.

LS said...

right now i feel like i am living in a season where the Lord is teaching me in so many ways that justice is His. i am living in a constant state of injustice and my very "always want justice" personality type, it is excruciating. the other day i was reading in lamentations and was so encouraged by this passage:

"you have taken up my cause o Lord, you have redeemed my life. you have seen the wrong done to me o Lord, judge my cause." -lamentations 3:58-59

while i learned at an early age in sunday school that vengeance and judgment will be executed by the Lord. . .living that truth out is a whole new ballgame when your life suddenly becomes one big injustice. . .

what a great post and reminder!

Michelle said...

I have been a lurker on your blog for 2 years now. I hardly go a day without reading what you've posted. I think it's because you verbalize so well exactly how I feel a lot of the time. It seems that I struggle and agonize over the same things that you write about. I appreciate the time that you put into your blog and that you allow others to read it ,too.

Laura said...

Reading this makes me scared! My daughter is 3 and my son is 1. I know that it won't be long until we are dealing with the same sort of things. Thanks for being so candid with us! All of us moms have these same kinds of struggles or will have them.

Teresa @ Grammy Girlfriend said...

A very hard lesson to learn...and an outstanding post....Love your blog

Anonymous said...

Very familiar thoughts!

You should read, "When Sinners Say 'I Do",,

- not just for marriage.

Mindy said...

Unfortunately I tend to relate to the prodigal at times but more often than not, I'm the older brother in that story.....

never am I the forgiving, open armed father......I've so much to learn still from My Father!!!!

in HIM-

The Flukers said...

I so relate to that struggle! Have you read Prodigal God by Tim Keller? Amazing book for older brothers (sisters) like me!

Laura said...

I have been struggling with a decade old issue with my sil. Usually I can let it go, but lately I have been feeling like I am tired of being the bigger person. It is a yucky feeling in my heart, but one I am having trouble letting go of.

Thank you for sharing your struggle as well. It is nice knowing that someone I feel has so much grace goes through real life moments just like me.

The Bouldins said...

Lovely post. And so true.

I'm such a rule follower, and it is hard to see others "get away with" not following the rules. Especially when it is against my child.

I second the Prodigal God suggestion and, in response to your "ranking sins" comment, suggest Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges.

Raising children sure feels like a balance beam sometimes, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and growth on the journey!

D said...

it's near impossible to overide the "mother bear" instinct God gave us. I'm afraid my response would not have been as godly as yours in the pushing incident.
We all have something to work on.

Courtney said...

OH man. I can so relate to your heart (and thanks for sharing so openly and honestly) here. You are not alone in being the student from our Savior as you try to be the teacher to the children. I've been told in the sharing honestly and the searching that we are "on the right road" :)

dee said...

I had to chuckle when I came to comment as I noticed that you are storing this post under multiple "categories". Isn't that exactly what you are referring to? Things do get sticky -it is not always black and white. But, you do a great job of peeling back the layers. Your chidren are blessed.

Renee said...

You are obviously doing something right if your little P is doing something so sweet!

Tara said...

Oh, wow! You and I sound like two peas in a pod! I cannot stand to have someone (especially a kid that is wronging another kid) think they are getting away with it. My heart needs a major overhaul in this department.

And I also have a child like P. My youngest is the sweetest, most sharing child I know and her older sister likes to push the limit. But I've learned that teaching a child to be genuinely kind is harder to do that to teach one to not take advantage.

Renee said...

You are so humble and honest. Thank you.

j... said...

your transparency is commendable--& i too find myself wanting "justice", seeking earthly consequences for those i feel wronged by. it is TOO HARD to just "let go & let God". and i'm working on it too.

i wanted to share with you that it is interesting you brought up Matt. 5. i listened to a sermon by Pastor Tim Lucas from Liquid Church in NJ (wonderful, wonderful sermons ALWAYS) about that very verse and the fine balance we walk as Christians not being walked over by the World (or little girls cutting in line) but responding with grace & offering "our cloaks too" should someone ask for our shoes. I learned something new from the sermon: read the verse again (NIV is best)--still today in Middle Eastern culture the left hand is considered unclean. do you slap someone's right cheek with YOUR right hand? you BACKHAND THEM! so when the verse says "let them slap your other cheek, too", it means let them hit you again, but tell them the second time to "hit you like a man", to look you in the eye & slap you instead of treating you like a servant who is backhanded in discipline.

anyways...i thought you might find it interesting...considering that it seems to difficult to teach children to be confident without being pushy.

thanks (always) for your honesty & insight!