After a quick weekend out of town, I had a list a mile long to complete – including getting groceries, getting a handle on some work, and trying to put some order into the constant chaos that is our house. My oldest was home with me, but he is usually pretty good at keeping entertained and letting me get work done as well. So, I figured I could be ambitious with my list and get it all done before the day’s end. Once we finished groceries and a doctor’s appointment, I settled in with piles of laundry and dishes to do. All was going well for a while… and then I heard a little voice say “Hey mama,” so soft I almost couldn’t make out the words. “Mama, you could play this game with me if you like.” I breathed deeply and said “Okay, honey, in just a minute.” Fifteen minutes later, I heard the same voice from somewhere behind me say “You know you could build with me if you wanted to… there’s a spot right here on the ground next to me.” At the same moment, however, the laundry dinged and I found myself saying “Ok, just let me get that laundry switched real quick.” Thirty minutes and a few distractions later I hear “I guess you don’t want to build with me” said very matter of factly from his six year old lips. Oops. “No, son, I do. I just… well, how can I help?” I sat down to work with him for a few minutes, placing one foam piece of a puzzle together and helping him find a few more he was missing. After about five minutes, he seemed to be deeply involved in his puzzle again, so I got up responding to the sound of the dishwasher ending it’s cycle. This pattern continued all day on repeat – I’d give him what I envisioned I could – 5 or so minutes here and there – and then get back to work.
At the end of the day, he brought one of his cones of Easter candy to me and said “Do you like this candy, mama?” I nodded. “Well, you can have a piece if you’d like and you can even pet a chicken if you like.” I bent down and hugged him saying “Wow, honey. Why are you being so generous?” He quietly replied “Because mama, you’ve done little nice things for me all day. You deserve it.”
I hugged him again tightly and told him how much I loved him as I contemplated the words “you deserve it” uttered from this little boy’s lips with such complete sincerity. I found myself wondering “Do I really? Do I really “deserve” it? He asked me a million times to play with him and I could only give him minutes here and there. Was that enough to deserve his grace and his love?” Here’s the problem with these thoughts though – they imply that a busy mom who doesn’t drop everything at every request of their child does not deserve their child’s love and respect. They also presuppose that my son’s feelings of love for me were somehow wrong or ill-placed. Finally, they presume that I have to earn his love and his generosity. As I thought more about his kindness, I also considered what I want him to learn about generosity and grace. There is a quote I recently came across by Thomas Merton that says: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Maybe I could have stopped a few more times to play with my son that day. Maybe because I didn’t stop I was a little kinder to my family later on with our house a little more organized that evening and the subsequent week. Regardless, I hope that demonstrating freely given generosity to my sons has, in turn, helped them to demonstrate a generosity freely given to others. I hope that loving them not because they deserve it but just because I do has shown them that they can never do anything that will make them unworthy of my love.
Still, I wondered about the time I didn’t spend with my son that day, even until God sent me one gentle sign a little later that night. I was preparing the bath for my two younger sons when they came home, and one of them ran in to give me a big hug. “What’s up, buddy?” I said. “Mom, I’m just so happy that you flatted my sheet and my blanket.” I what??? I thought. It took me a few minutes and a little back and forth to determine that “flatted his sheet” meant he was glad I made his bed. Then, the other brother ran in and said “Mom, why are my sheets flatted?” (seriously these twins are as much alike as they are different, even in vocabulary) “I washed your sheets today!” I told him. He smiled big and said “Mommy, I’m so thankful you washed and flatted my sheets!”
May we discover a way today to be unexpectedly generous to another person – regardless of whether or not they “deserve” our compassion and our grace.