Barely a month ago, I wrote some surprising new thoughts (for me) about mercy and the Bible. Today I’d like to revisit that theme and consider how I apply the biblical principles we discussed in that last mercy post. I want to find examples of mercy I’m working on showing to my children.
It’s not really enough to simply tell myself, “Self, be more merciful to your children” (praying for God’s help, of course), and then go on my way without really thinking about what being merciful looks like. So I’ve been paying attention this week to how I interact with my children.
I’ve discovered that learning to show mercy involves a lot of trial and error. Sometimes I think I’m showing mercy, when later I decide that I needed to approach the situation differently. Sometimes I’m too harsh, and I know after the fact that I should have shown mercy. I don’t think there’s any way around getting it wrong sometimes. If I don’t practice showing mercy because I’m afraid of being an indulgent parent, then I end up not applying a direct command from God and I’m too harsh. That’s not being merciful as God is merciful. If I show mercy willy nilly, without considering why I’m showing mercy, then I run the risk of misrepresenting God, too. For your consideration, here are a few examples that have come up in the last seven days or so.
- We were working all morning. I had told the children we would stop and take a break once their rooms were clean. They were about three fourths done when friends came over to play. Wouldn’t mercy let them stop for a break early? (I did forewarn them that when friends went home, we would get back to work.)
- After a morning getting after one child for leaving toys and clothes wherever she lost her train of thought, I noticed she had left her plate at the table after lunch. Instead of calling her to get it, I figured she had heard enough of my corrections that morning, and put it away without commenting.
- Son worked on his homework paper marginally diligently. At some point, he started working more faithfully. When all was said and done, I told him how happy that I was that he had been faithful. My first inclination is to point out “Except for….” or not consider what he did do, because truthfully, he was distracted about as much as he was not distracted. I think it must be mercy to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” when the job wasn’t perfect.
- I had opportunity to not bristle when a child (as if on cue) asked what I was making for dinner and then in the next breath declared the meal undesirable. I can be kind— my reaction is to say, “Tough. You can go to bed without supper if you don’t like it.” A kinder approach would be to say “Wait until you’ve tried it”
- Son couldn’t find his AWANA book. I made the choice to help him look (even though he wasn’t looking very thoroughly).
- On the way to feed the dog, my daughter told me that her brother was eating something in bed. I asked him “What are you eating?” After a long pause, he said, “M&Ms.” I then reminded him he’s not allowed to do that, sent him to put away what he hadn’t eaten, and considered the matter closed. Right now, I’m working more on transparency when I ask them what they’ve done. (I realize that transparency doesn’t completely eliminate consequences. Adam and Eve are a good example. But at this point, I think I’m trying to separate two virtues (telling the truth, and not doing wrong in the first place).
- Mostly I’ve been challenged to help them when they didn’t deserve help, walk them through schoolwork that they could have done without me, praise them for imperfect work, and pick up things that they have left out. As I consider the examples I’ve collected, I realize that I don’t always extend this mercy (perhaps then it would not be mercy). Perhaps showing mercy needs to have a purpose in mind. If I picked up the paper plate left on the table because I was too lazy to take the time to teach my child, then perhaps I’d just be an indulgent parent. If I picked up the paper plate because I sensed that this morning my children had already been tested to their limit, then perhaps the purpose makes the act merciful.
How about you? What have you done in an attempt to learn to show mercy to your children?
[PS This is an old post, but I still am thinking about mercy! I recently put all the mercy lessons together in one post here.]