"Mom, can I go outside and play soccer?" my son, Joey, hollered as he walked down the stairs.
"Did you finish folding your laundry?"
"Of course!" He flashed me a big smile as he walked out the door.
Awhile later I went upstairs in search of my laundry basket, only to find it stuffed in Joey's closet — full of wrinkled clothes.
I was livid.
Perhaps Joey deserved to do all the laundry in the house ... for the next 12 years! And while he was sorting and folding, he could be reciting Proverbs 12:19, "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment."
A mother's grace
But then I remembered a similar incident from when I was young. Before school, my mom asked me if I had brushed my teeth. I smiled my best smile and said "Of course!" And I headed out the door. Just one problem: I hadn't touched my toothbrush.
When I got home later that day, I noticed a pink package with a tag that read, "To Erin. Love, Mom." Why would my mom buy me a present?
I tore open the package and found a Christian novel. Inside was a simple note telling me to enjoy the book and then discuss it with my mom when I was finished reading. A few hours later, I knew why she had bought me that present. The protagonist of the story was a young girl who had lied to her teacher about cheating. She told untruth after untruth until everything in her life was more complicated than if she had confessed the truth from the start.
I finished the book — and went to talk with my mom.
She didn't yell at me. She didn't even dole out the punishment that I deserved. We just talked about how God calls us to be honest and sincere and about how a single lie often turns into a web of lies.
The conversation I had with my mom that day was life-changing.
When we sin, Jesus doesn't give us what we deserve. He treats us with mercy. He forgives us. He gently guides us toward what is right, showing us what it means to have a heart that seeks after Him.
Yes, justice is a part of mothering, but we also can show God's mercy to our children. I recognize that teaching our kids to desire to please Him is much more complicated than giving them a list of rules to follow. But when a child has a behavior problem, we as mothers can: 1) stop; 2) consider the situation; and 3) move prayerfully toward Jesus so we don't hinder what He wants to impress on our children's hearts. As we finish the third step, we can ask Jesus to create a desire for His righteousness in our kids. These three simple steps can have heart-altering implications.
Back to that day with Joey. I prayed that my words and actions would help his heart grow tender. The goal was for Joey to learn to desire truth more than convenience.
Then I walked out to the field and called for Joey to come home. As we walked back to the house, I placed my arm around his shoulders and quietly asked him if he had any idea why I was calling him inside.
I felt his shoulders sag beneath my embrace. Then I saw the shimmer of tears.
We walked into the house and upstairs to his room where I pulled the laundry basket out of his closet. Together we folded the clothes, talking about the importance of honesty, about how Jesus calls us to walk in the way of the good and to keep on the path of righteousness (Proverbs 2:20). We prayed. He asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. And then I let it go.
Later Joey commented, "Hey, Mom, I just ... um ... want to say thank you for helping me today. I love you."
"I love you, too, Joey."
Erin MacPherson is the author or co-author of several books, including Put the Disciple Into Discipline.