When my middle child, Devyn, was sixteen and had just passed his G1 license (beginners) he and I were out practicing his new driving skills. We had driven around town and then pulled into No Frills, a local grocery store. I pointed to a spot where he could park, and he pulled in, but he misjudged how close he was to their bumper and ran into the back of a parked car…he was devastated.
We went home, and he went in the house with his head hanging. In my mind he had made a mistake, in his mind, the world had ended.
Vance and I have tried to allow our kids to make mistakes without going off the deep end on them. Especially, if it was an error, they didn’t mean to make. When I see small kids panicking over spilled milk, it’s usually a sign someone in their family exaggerates the little things and maybe it has lead to a spanking. We have all been guilty of overreacting to childish things our kids have done.
I had learned when Devyn was young that he really took to heart my words and actions when I disciplined him since he had a tender heart. One day he came to me with the brand new, handcrafted crokinole board a friend had made for us as a gift. “Look, Mommy, what I did for you.” I turned around to look, Devyn had taken a permanent black marker and with messy, child-like printing had written all the scores on the crokinole board. I was mortified and was about to lay into him with angry words. Then I looked at his face … it was filled with pride. My heart softened, and I hugged him and told him he had done an excellent job!
If you want to have a wake-up call over what really matters in life or what is worth losing your temper over…have a child with autism. If you continually think a clean house is a high and lofty goal to accomplish each day, have a child with autism. If not getting eight hours of sleep each night ticks you off, have a child with autism. If you want to eat your meals sitting down, in a quiet setting… you get the picture. All the things I just mentioned won’t be a priority to you anymore if you have to deal with autism each day. Somehow it helps a person see life through a different perspective than most.
My goals each day are simple: Make food for my family and get the laundry done. I try to get those done each day. If I make a long list of goals to accomplish there is a good chance they may fall by the wayside. Autism comes before all my goals, and so do people. Autism has taught me this lesson over many long, hard years. If someone in my family needs me, I want to be able to set aside all my earthly goals and meet the needs of the people I love instead. What are painting walls, scrubbing floors and making gourmet meals compared to meeting the needs of someone I care for?
I always ask myself if the goals I am going to accomplish will make a difference in the kingdom of heaven, and usually, they don’t. That doesn’t mean I set everything aside and neglect it, I just shift it down on my to-do list, and try to get to it later.
Having a crokinole board that is perfect… matters how? That’s right, it makes no difference in God’s Kingdom what my crokinole board looks like, but giving Devyn grace and love, allowed him to see God’s loving nature through me.
When Devyn was about six years old, I had packed all the kids into the van to go do some shopping. We had five kids under the age of ten at the time. I pulled up to the curb, and the kids hopped out. Devyn thought we were going to the store I had parked in front of and ran up the sidewalk to the building. He realized partway there that he had stepped in wet cement. The door flew open, and a man in his sixties started yelling angrily at Devyn. I grabbed Devyn and protectively hid him behind me, and glared at the man as he ranted about his wet cement being ruined and called Devyn names. My mother-bear nature came barreling out, and I wanted to rip him limb from limb. Finally, I said, “It’s only wet cement, do you really want to ruin a child’s self-esteem over wet cement?” He seems to lose his steam at the moment and shut the door to his store as he shook his head.
Devyn talked about that man for a long time after. I wondered if the nasty man had gone home with some regrets that night. After all, he had only left a small sticky note on his wet cement instead of a proper sign.
Children who are allowed to make mistakes without punishment will go on to take more and more chances and risks than kids who are fearful of being punished for small childish errors. Seeing Devyn the day he ran into the back of the car, with his head hanging, made my mother heartache for him. Later in the day, he came home to a large container of candy gummy worms on his bed and a sticky note from me, telling him we all make mistakes and not to be too hard on himself. Punishment is not always the answer, sometimes the answer is grace.
As hard as I tried, there were still times I rolled into bed at the end of a long day realizing I had overreacted to something one of my kids had done, and I always felt horrible when I had time to think about it. In the morning I would find the child and apologize. Children are very forgiving, and an apology goes long ways in helping them to not hold onto bitterness.
Our children can view God as the man in the sky with the big stick ready to pounce on them whenever they fail, or they can see him as a loving father who cares about them no matter what mistakes they may make. We are reflections of God to our children. I have never had God severely punish me, but have seen his grace over and over again in my life as I made spiritual mistakes … too many times to count. Each and every time I was able to run into my heavenly father’s arms and find forgiveness. Sometimes there were consequences to my actions, but never harsh words, shame or guilt.
Devyn is a grown man now, and I have never heard him use harsh words on someone, he is still tenderhearted and compassionate, and his driving skills have improved tremendously. I wonder what kind of man he’d be today if I had been a mother who laid into him every time he failed or made an error. I could have been that mother, had God not shown me so much grace himself.
Last night Devyn was over for dinner and at one point his brother Kyle, who has autism and is twenty-seven years old, was asking for something. Devyn ran upstairs to see what Kyle needed and took care of Kyle’s needs without being asked. This makes my heart thankful for having been compassionate towards Devyn when he was small and also proud of the man he has become.
Can I encourage you today to offer grace to your children as often as possible and save discipline for offenses that are purposeful? Apologize when you are wrong. It’s never too late. Even if your children have left home and are grown … they may give up the bitterness they have harbored towards you.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Believing and hoping