Last Friday wasn't an unusual day except for the fact that my normally always-complaining child amped up his complaining to legendary heights.
We started the day with a tennis lesson, which is fun and active and led by a coach who knows how to get kids playing quickly and well. It was sunny outside and the courts were dry. Really, what was there to complain about?
He found it. It was too cold/tennis balls were too slow/his arm hurt/the sun was in his eyes/he just wanted to be home playing Legos and by the way, why aren't we home playing Legos???
Coupled with the complaining was rudeness directed at our coach, which earned him a couple of laps around the court during the lesson. By the time we got into the car, I was having to talk myself down from the angry parental lecture ledge, knowing his heart was not in a place to hear me anyway.
We drove across the busy road to the grocery store, and as I parked I gave him and his sister typical mom instructions: "I'm just running in for a few things. Do not ask me for anything while we're in the store. Just a few things. Got it?"
I bet you can guess what my complainer did next. I'm pretty sure we hadn't even passed the gumball machines before he was begging me for a quarter for the gumball machines. I was seriously going to lose it with this kid, but I took the high ground and kept quiet. I prayed and asked God to help me not lose my cool.
Having grabbed the few items I needed, I gave complaining boy and his sister permission to head over to the gumball machines while I checked out. Nice of me, wasn't it? Apparently not. My discontented offspring grumbled all the way to the row of machines-that-dispense-junk, adding a few "I wish I had a quarter" statements in for good measure.
As we left the store to head to the parking lot, the discontent one excitedly informed me that he had turned the mechanisms for each and every machine and, "LOOK!" A shiny green gumball lay in his hand. "I didn't even need a quarter! The machine gave me one for free!"
What kind of a lesson is that? Be an ungrateful grump and get a gumball? I shook my head and wondered what exactly God was doing and then, right there in the middle of that grocery store parking lot, it hit me. I turned to my complainer and I said,
"Son, you do not deserve that gumball." His face dropped as he contemplated the possibility that I was now going to take the candy away from him. "You have done nothing but complain this morning. You were disrespectful to Coach Weber and you completely disregarded the instructions I gave you as we left the car. But that gumball? It's God's grace in your life.
We are all as discontent and self-focused as you have been today, and that's exactly why we all need Jesus. Do you see? Jesus didn't give us what we deserved. He gave us the gift of forgiveness and life and grace. He gave us the gumball when we deserved to sit out and stew in our sin.
When you are ever tempted to think that you are the center of the world, remember the gumball. You've been given forgiveness for your sin and a gumball of grace and eternal life on top of it."
It didn't take an angry mom lecture to turn the heart of my complainer that day. I always thought it would. I spent two decades of parenting thinking that if I pounded my kids with the law, they would straighten up and do what I and God wanted them to do. But that's not the way it works! It's the gospel - the good news - the hope of Christ, the totally upending truth of what He did for us - that grabs our hearts and squeezes them tightly and turns our heads toward Him.
I saw it clearly in my son. His eyes widened, his shoulders relaxed, and his need for so many things he thought might make him happy that particular morning slipped away in the blinding light of grace and mercy.
Is it a formula? Nope. There aren't any. But it's the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and it is more than enough!
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