A week or two ago I was at home with the girls after school, and they got involved working on a craft together at our dining table while I zoned out playing a video game for a while. I didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but they had paper, scissors, crayons and markers, and they were getting along extremely well. In fact, they were cooperating so nicely that I called out to them a couple times to praise them for how well they were playing together. Frankly, I was slightly (and very pleasantly) surprised at how smoothly things were going with just a minimal amount of supervision from me. It was just what I needed that afternoon, and as I blasted aliens (or whatever) I was feeling very blessed.
So later, when the family gathered together at the table to have dinner, Janet and I were aghast to find literally hundreds of dark green ink marks deeply staining the wood surface of the table, covering roughly a quarter of the surface area. There is absolutely no way imaginable that they didn’t realize at some point what was happening to the table.
They know the rules about working at the table, because we’ve had these rules for years, ever since they’ve been able to hold a crayon. They have special placemats that they are required to use anytime they are writing or coloring at the table. We remind them often, but for the most part they’ve been pretty good about it. So if there were just one or two or even five or ten ink marks on the table, I could chalk it up to youthful forgetfulness that they quickly corrected as soon as they noticed what was happening. But no… There are so many marks covering such a large portion of the table… They had to move around to different chairs at the table, and it must have taken at least 30-40 minutes to make them all. It’s just not possible that they didn’t notice that they were writing all over the table. So, in other words, they did notice, but they just didn’t care and continued damaging the table on purpose. And the whole time this was happening, I was blithely unaware and complimenting them from just 20 feet away. I should add that this table is kinda special because it was passed down to me from my Grandma. I guess maybe it’s not a particularly nice or expensive table, but it’s special to me because it came from her. This fact has also been explained to the girls in the past many times as we have encouraged them to always use the placemats.
Needless to say, Janet and I were angry and very disappointed. In fact, I felt betrayed. At some point, probably right away, they had to recognize they damage they were doing, and they just didn’t care. I had thought they were playing contentedly, and even complimented them on it, and they simply continued. My trust was badly broken. I packed up all of their craft stuff — crayons, pencils, pens, coloring pages, paper, scissors — and I put it all in a box in the hall closet, which is the place where confiscated items go when the girls lose privileges. We had a short, sullen meal together, and then pretty much immediately after that we sent them straight to bed. No stories or bedtime songs, but they each still got a hug.
The next day I was still feeling kinda pissed off, and frankly I wanted them to know it. I wanted them to understand that they had blown it big time, and this one wasn’t going to just blow over and be forgotten so easily. So as soon as they got home from school I sent them straight back to their room, with the stern admonition they had better not make a mess in there as well. I suppose partly I just didn’t want to deal with them, but I also needed to get some reading done and I wanted some peace and quiet.
The reading was for a Christian Apologetics Book Club that I’ve been doing for the past 13 years with some good friends, in which I’ve read some very interesting books (as well as a few lame ones). That day, I was just starting a new book, titled Three Free Sins. My initial thought is that it’s a stupidly provocative title, because of course sins are never free. You might not be the one who pays for them, but they certainly aren’t free. I think the author probably believes that as well, but he wants to make a point about God’s boundless grace, and I suppose the publisher thought that a stupidly provocative title would sell more books.
So anyway, there I am, sitting on my sofa 20 feet away from my green ink stained dining table, still feeling angry and hurt and maybe even a little bitter towards my darling daughters, and I’m reading the introduction and first chapter of a book about grace called Three Free Sins… The irony is totally obvious, right? But the truth is that it didn’t even occur to me, at least not right away. I was nodding in agreement at what I read, but it was sort of abstract, totally compartmentalized from the reality of the situation in my home. But some time later, just as I was about to finish the chapter, Elizabeth calls from her room, asking if she can come out to use the restroom. Yes of course, I say, the last thing I want is another mess to clean up.
Then, instead of heading straight back to her room a few minutes later when she’s done, she wanders out to the sofa where I’m reading and gently asks me, “What are you doing?”
What a ridiculous question. Why can’t she just go back to her room and leave me alone? But politely I say, “Do you see this book I’m holding? What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Yep… And you should be getting back to your room.” She hesitates.
“What is your book called?”
BAM. The irony hits me. In the face, like a brick. “Well… Uhhh, it’s called Three Free Sins.”
She sits on the sofa next to me and snuggles up close, like there’s nothing in the world wrong between us. “What is it about?” She sounds genuinely curious.
I can tell God has a sense of humor, and he’s laughing at me. Sigh… “Well, it’s hard to explain. I guess you could say it’s about grace…” I trail off helplessly, because I know exactly what’s coming next.
“I don’t really understand what that means.” This, coming from my daughter whose middle name is Grace. How can I explain this to her and keep feeling the angry-hurt-bitter feeling that I feel? I cannot. And when I really think about it, why would I want to?!
OK, I give up! Thank you, God, for reminding me to keep it real.
I can’t remember exactly what I said to her as I tried to explain the concepts of grace and forgiveness. I don’t know if they were golden words of wisdom or just some mumbled nonsense, but in any case I have a feeling that the whole incident was really more about teaching me than teaching her. She’ll learn about grace in time — if I model it — but I figure she’s not likely to retain much from a two minute conversation. She’s barely 6 years old, and obviously I still struggle. I just keep thinking about the way she snuggled right back into my lap… I hope that never changes. At any rate, fortunately after much scrubbing Janet was able to reduce the worst stains to faint green smudges. Whatever. This whole incident can be a freebie for the girls, and if the cost to me for an object lesson about grace is merely an ink-stained dining table, so be it.