Our little Ben has been working hard to try and earn his way to the water park.
It started at the end of last school year. There was a reading program - if they logged a certain amount of time reading, then they'd earn a pass to the water park. We tried and encouraged and cajoled. He just didn't do the job necessary to get the water park pass.
Tears. Disappointment. Frustration. A second chance.
We made a deal with him - if he could stop chewing his fingernails for a long enough time that we actually had to clip them because they were so long...then we'd take him to the water park this summer.
Well, we're down to the last few days of summer vacation....and those fingers are chewed raw.
He tried - he really did. There were a couple of fingers that needed to be clipped, but he just couldn't stop completely.
What to do? The water park is sort of an annual tradition around here (admittedly, it was not wise to gamble like this). And the other kids...should they suffer because Ben didn't live up to his end of the bargain? And ME! What about me? I want to go to the water park! :-)
Instead of taking a hard line, we decided that this would be a good opportunity to teach a lesson in grace.
"Hey Ben, what was our deal this summer?"
Slumping shoulders. No eye contact. A little tear in the corner of his eye. "That we could go to the water park if I could stop chewing my nails."
"So, how's it going? Do we need to clip those nails yet? Summer's pretty much over, you know."
"I KNOW. I tried my best, but I just couldn't. I don't know why - sometimes I chewed my nails when I didn't even think about it!"
"Okay, well since you didn't do your part, what does that mean?"
"We can't go to the water park."
"That was the deal."
Silence. Pain. Hurt. Frustration - he really DID try.
"Do you know what justice is, Ben?"
"Justice is getting what you deserve. If justice is the rule, then what does that mean for our deal?"
"I KNOW - I can't go to the water park!"
"Do you know what mercy is?"
"What." Flat response, he doesn't want to talk anymore. He doesn't want the reminder...the pressure.
"Mercy is NOT getting the punishment you deserve. If you break a law and you're supposed to go to jail for it, mercy would be that you wouldn't have to go to jail."
Silence ...okay, I guess that doesn't really apply to our situation here. I'm still trying to form these thoughts myself...
"One last one, Ben. Do you know what grace is?"
"Yeah, like peace and gentleness. Like an eagle with it's wings out and just floating in the sky."
"Sort of - you're thinking of the word 'graceful'. I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about grace like what God has for us. Grace is getting something good that you don't deserve."
A cock of the head...thinking, thinking.
"You know we get to go to Heaven, right? But why? Why do we get to go to Heaven?"
"Because we love God?"
"Partly, yes. But also because Jesus did something wonderful for us. He took our punishment so we don't have to have it. He took our punishment because he loves us, because he's merciful and just at the same time."
This is getting deep. I'm losing him...
"So if grace is getting something good - like being able to go to Heaven even though we didn't earn it - how do you think grace might work with our situation? You get to do something even though you didn't earn it."
A sparkle in the eye. A cautious grin. An anxious wiggle of the leg. He's getting it...
"The water park?"
"Yep, Mommy and Daddy decided to show you how good grace feels. We're going to take you to the water park even though you didn't earn it."
"WE'RE GOING TO THE WATER PARK!!!! YAHOOOOO!!!"
Well...If he's this excited about the water park, I can't wait to see his reaction when Jesus himself opens the gates of Heaven for him :-)
PS. Sure this was a good lesson in grace...but now I get to go to the water park! Can't wait to go on the "Avalanche". YAHOOOOOOO!