It's hard being a parent. Here is the part I struggle with: setting limits, allowing consequences to in fact follow from poor choices, and not allowing the frustration of the moment to cloud vision of my heart. Sometimes I wonder if God struggles too as He relates to us. As I read the stories from the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, I see God continually showing His people the right way to live. And then I see them continually making poor choices. The one that gets me is the story of Amaziah, a king of Judah who scripture says, "He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart" (II Chronicles 25:2). God helped him gain an amazing victory over his enemies in battle. But instead of turning to God with a heart full of reverence and gratitude, he falls away, way far away! Scripture records just how badly Amaziah responded to God's help:
Now after Amaziah came from the slaughter of the Edomites, he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up as his gods, and worshiped them, making offerings to them. The LORD was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, "Why have you resorted to a people's gods who could not deliver their own people from your hand?" But as he was speaking the king said to him, "Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be put to death?" So the prophet stopped, but said, "I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my advice." II Chronicles 25:14-16
Now that is definitely a parental low moment. When I take the time to read how blatantly the people of God acted like anything but the people of God, I understand why God had to take such drastic measures to get their attention. The Exile makes perfect sense in that context. It was a particularly long (70 years worth) time out. God removed His people to Babylon, taking them away from their beloved Promised Land so that they could understand the heart of the Promiser better. I get it.
It's still hard to live it. As a parent there are times when I have to do the hard thing. Sometimes the only way to a child's heart is to remove the promised land so that he can truly see the heart of the promiser. Last night we had one such moment. Our middle son, who is usually the one who is quickest to obey, has been having some issues lately. Instead of doing what we ask, he has been responding with an adamant "No!" Then he tells us how he is going to do things instead. We have struggled with how to respond. But we know that if we don't respond we do him a greater disservice in the long run. Last night we were going to see a Christmas program that Tim's sister and brother-in-law were performing in at their church. We asked Isaiah several times to put on his church clothes from the morning. The tee-shirt and shorts he had on were hardly appropriate for a rainy December night. Each time his response was "No!" Finally Tim said, "We'll have to let him think he's gonna have to stay here." (Please note, we knew all along he wouldn't stay at home. He just needed time to understand that his choices have consequences.) So we all got into the car while Tim explained to Isaiah that he was going to have to stay at home since he wouldn't get ready to go. There were many tears and protests. Tim went in to talk to Isaiah while I got into the car. What awaited me there took my breath away.
Noah, our oldest, sat in the back seat, his hands folded in supplication, tears streaming down his face. He looked at me with pleading eyes and begged, "Please don't make Isaiah stay home by himself, please don't make Isaiah stay home." My heart melted at the sight of my oldest son pleading for his brother; this child, who would at any given moment torment his younger brother for whatever small infraction, was begging me to extend mercy. As I took Noah in my arms, I explained that we would not leave Isaiah, but that he needed to learn there are consequences to the choices he makes. Noah settled down, and we had a little talk about wise choices and poor choices. Pretty soon Isaiah joined us, dressed and ready to go.
The whole episode moved me in ways that are hard to articulate. I just know that Noah's pleas for Isaiah touched something deep within me. It made me think of the miracle of Christmas, a Savior's heart, and a Father's mercy. The words to the second stanza of the beloved carol "What Child Is This" say it best:
Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: For sinners here, the silent Word is pleading:
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne, for me for you:
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary!
This is Christ the King, the One whom shepherds guarded and about whom the angels would sing. This is the One who left the splendor of heaven to join us in our broken, imperfect world so that He could show us a better way, so that He could put Himself in our place, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus pleaded with His Father for us. From the heart. With His whole self. Joining us in our humanity, bearing in His broken body the full consequence of our sin, and ultimately rising again so that His power could be made perfect in our weakness. When it was impossible for us to overcome sin on our own, He overcame it for us, and extends to us the gift of living in His love and victory if we will only accept it.
No wonder God loves Jesus so much. I can't imagine what it was like for God watching Jesus willingly enter into the dregs of human sin and suffering for us, so that we could be free and forgiven. I just know what it did to my heart to see Noah intercede for his brother. The sweetness of that gift is so beautiful. I am grateful for it. It shows me how beautiful is the gift of Christmas, how astonishing the gift of Easter, how amazing God's gift of redeeming Grace.