He stared up at me, and the worry on his face was evident in the semidarkness of the auditorium where our family had gathered to watch our oldest daughter play The Star Spangled Banner on her electric guitar, Jimmy Hendrix style.
“Mommy,” he whispered, his voice cracking, “I forgot to bring home my planner for you to sign. I ran down to my classroom to try to get it when I went to the bathroom but the door was locked. I’ll have to mark my chart tomorrow.”
I reached out to rub his back. “It is ok, buddy. I won’t be mad. You are usually very responsible. We all forget things sometimes.”
“But I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to the AR party.” (The party to reward the children who have achieved their reading goals.)
“Baby, your teacher isn’t going to keep you from the party just because you forgot your planner this once. She wouldn’t do that.”
“But, Mommy,” he groaned, “She’s not here! And we have the meanest substitute ever!”
I looked at him for a moment, and I knew that eventhough it was unlikely that this woman was in truth the meanest substitute ever, that my son was certainly in a place of vulnerability- that horrible darkness where we’ve tried our best, failed, and look around to discover that there is no mercy to be found.
I took his hand, “I’ll help you.”
He looked only slightly less worried, but nodded before returning his attention to four six grade girls singing Adelle’s Rolling in the Deep.
The next morning, I announced that there was no need to ride the bus because I would be driving. I needed to help Gabe with something.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“Well, I’m going to walk down with you. We will go in the room together and I’ll sign your planner.”
“She’ll catch us,” he said. “She’s really mean.”
“I’m not afraid of her,” I joked. “I’ll do my pushups before we go so that my muscles will be big. She’ll won’t say a word.”
A smile broke through the worry…
Awhile later, we made our way down the hall. He rushed ahead of me to check the door, but it was still locked.
“It is ok,” I said. “Just sit there in the line as usual.”
I sat down in a chair by the door to wait, but not for long.
I motioned for him to be calm and quiet. She walked past us and I smiled good morning as Gabe stared wide-eyed. I don’t think he was even breathing. His eyes darted back and forth from me to her as she opened the door and went inside the classroom. I held my hand up to silently motion for him to wait a moment. Then, miraculously, she walked out of the door and right past us in search of her morning coffee. I let her get halfway down the hall, and then…
We were in the room and at his desk in a flash. He grabbed the planner. I already had a pen in my hand. Before she had time to reach for the creamer, he was back in line. Mission accomplished.
I glanced over my shoulder at my boy as I headed for the front door. He was beaming at me, and it hit me-
He knows I’m on his side.
And that is the difference between a strict parent and a legalistic parent. It is good to be strict. My kids know that I expect them to be responsible. I have made it a rule not to run up to the school to deliver forgotten supplies, but occaisionally a good, responsible kid makes a mistake and finds themself in need of a little grace. I believe that when those moments come, if we stubbornly hold to the law apart from grace, we misrepresent Christ. In doing so, we place a roadblock between their heart and His, for He never despises us in our weaknessess. He meets us in them, and then walks us home.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis proposes that a “small sin” can be just as devastating as a “big sin” such as murder, because the true question is whether or not our hearts are close to God, not what is keeping us from Him.
I want my kids to draw close to God. I want them to love Him. I want to parent in a way that encourages them to draw near. For that to happen, I must represent God well- the God who is always and forever…on their side.