Milkshakes & Mercy- When I Bought My Son Ice Cream for Misbehaving
My phone was buzzing like crazy. “I’ve been trying to get him to sleep for three hours.” “He is completely out of control.” “When are you going to be home???” I texted back after each message: I know. I know. I know. My day with my son was (sadly) similar to my husband’s night.
To give you a little perspective into just how bad the night was, I’ll share a snippet from my conversation with my little boy the next day: “I told dad I was going to punch him in the face if he didn’t let me go potty, and I almost went down to punch him in the face because he wouldn’t let me go potty, but then he let me go potty, so I didn’t punch him the face.” When he relayed this information to me, I was one part horrified that my son would dare speak to his father in such a disrespectful way and one part trying-my-very-hardest-to-not-burst-out-laughing-and-spit-my-latte-everywhere. For the record, my son ended up covered in my latte.
I woke up the next morning ready to teach this kid a lesson. He deserved nothing good today. If he fought me, he’d spend the whole day in his room...the.whole.day. I would buy all the other kids treats from the ice cream truck (mecca), just so I could withhold one from him. Yeah, that will show him.
He stumbled in while I was still in bed. I saw his little face, his tousled hair, the broken arm and Spiderman pjs. In a moment, I no longer saw him as a behavior problem I needed to fix. I saw him as my son. My sweet, cherished, oh-so-sinful little boy who needed his mommy, who needed Jesus. I pulled him into my arms: “Do you want to go out with me later to get a milkshake?”
After a morning of double portions of attention and affection, we sat across the table from each other with our treats. We talked Zootopia and karate, and then the night before. Rather than the get-yourself-together-kid lecture I’d rehearsed in bed, I talked the gospel with him. I asked him if he wanted to hurt and be unkind to his daddy (no). I asked him if he wanted to do the wrong thing (no). I asked him why he kept doing the wrong thing then (I don’t know/I couldn’t stop screaming/it was a mistake/he wouldn’t let me pee, so I wanted to punch him in the face).
And I proceeded to explain in four-year-old-words the bad news. That even when he wants to do the right thing, he just can’t do it. That he doesn’t do the good things he wants to do but the bad things he doesn’t want to (Romans 7:18-19, paraphrased). That even when he wants to do good, bad is right there with him (Romans 7:21, paraphrased). Oh my sweet, beloved child: What a wretched boy you are. Who will rescue you??? (Romans 7:24, paraphrased). We got through the bad news. It makes the good news better. It makes the good news best.
Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! The point of this talk wasn’t to ensure bedtime went better tonight. It was to answer loud and clear: Jesus! You’re a mess! You can’t do it on your own, but Jesus can rescue you!
And so he learned about the gospel in a new way. All while he drank his (undeserved) milkshake.
I figure sometimes the mercy of “you don’t deserve this, but I’m going to give it to you anyway” teaches our children the gospel even more powerfully than our lectures or punishments ever could. The good news starts off with the offenses against the Father, the pangs of guilt, and the looming punishment. But it ends with the Father pulling us into His arms and giving a huge helping of what we don’t deserve.
Maybe my son will repeat this armageddon-esque night again tonight. Maybe he’ll cry and scream and threaten horrible/hysterical violence, and I’ll re-think this milkshake-and-mercy parenting decision of mine. Or maybe he’ll go to bed tonight with a better understanding of these words his mom throws around each day...sin, love, mercy.
Or maybe, maybe he’ll do both. Maybe he’ll continue in his four-year-old, out-of-control, lost-in-sin behavior, yet begin to really understand that his mom is there loving him hard no matter what and (so much) more importantly, that The Father loves him hard, that He made the Way to rescue him, and that He delights in giving him what he doesn't deserve.