I was traveling recently with some friends, sitting in the backseat for a five-hour drive home. The two in front were discussing families, kids, and were essentially solving the problems of the universe. I’m lucky to have wise friends.
At one point they talked about the need to teach responsibility, particularly when it comes to money but in other areas as well. The one with older children has parented with more deliberate wisdom than I ever have, and I listened with interest and admiration as she described how she handled their family finances as a single mother. She has been careful and conscious about teaching consequences. “They have to earn things,” she said. It was a consistent theme.
As I sat silently agreeing with her in my mind, a thought quietly surfaced: What if God only gave you what you earned?
This thought did not diminish my sense of agreement or change my admiration, but suddenly the bleakness of how my life would look if I only had what I earned tightened my throat. We happened to be traveling through beautiful red rock country, with towering cliffs and sage-studded lower ground. As I stared out the window, the impossibility of grace—the thought of what I would have to do to earn something even as simple as a glimpse of that vista—settled with a leaden heaviness. Sometimes the goodness of God can feel so crushing.
“Entitlement” is a bit of a buzzword in parenting. But as we drove, I wondered if the motes of entitlement in the current view of childrearing have blinded me to the beams of entitlement in myself. Because as it turns out, I expect a lot.
I expect to wake up in the morning and be able to walk. I expect to wake up, period. I expect hot water for my shower, cold milk on my cereal, the car to start, buildings to be cool (or warm), shelves in the store to be stocked, consistent internet service, a working dishwasher. And if any of these expectations fail, I am every bit as grumpy as a two-year-old who didn’t get a fruit snack.
I am entitled. And perfectly thoughtless about it most of the time.
There are times in my parenting when I feel like I have become the unforgiving servant. Over the years, I have begged God for mercy over vast amounts of foolishness, sin, and pain. And after tasting the grace that enables me to abide my own guilt, I then turn to my children and demand stringent acquiescence to rules regarding such insignificant items as Legos on the floor or being home by curfew.
Is it possible that the pattern of Levitical law preceding the higher law is a road we all have to travel? Is experiencing punishment and strictness a prerequisite to appreciating grace? While these questions may hang heavy over me at times, they don’t seem to bother God much. Although He has told us that culpable blindness will provoke harsh judgment, it does not preclude Him from sending both sunlight and rain upon the just and the unjust. Our obliviousness to the grandeur of waking up each morning does not prevent Him from lending us breath.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve found a greater desire for my parenting to mirror the householder who hired the late laborers, to live “the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it,” especially when those people are my children. I want to extend the joy of grace without fear of cultivating entitlement, to be trusting enough to offer milk and honey without money and without price.
I want to offer to them what has been offered to me—a life full of crushing goodness beyond what I could possibly earn.
I want the diligence and discipline of my friend (and the resulting sense of responsibility in her children) to be coupled with wanton and wild forgiveness. I want my children to sense the abundance of mercy while having some understanding of the depth and cost of it.
I’m not sure what I want is possible. But I hope it is.