A while back, Bret was in his office studying and I was solo on duty with the boys. I tend to let them run roughshod through the house, especially if they are playing well together. Ok and even more, if they are playing well together…without me. So the house was trashed from top to bottom, but they were really doing great.
Then they started up their basketball game.
Basketball is used loosely here. This version involves jumping off furniture and slamming into the door that the nerf hoop hangs on. Mid-flight, a plastic wiffle ball is thrown toddler style (aka crazy) somewhere in the vicinity of the door.
I’m not sure what happened, but one brother pushed the other’s button, as brothers do. Next thing I see is a little boy on his brother’s back, with his mouth about midway down brother’s spine. Screams from the oppressed quickly follow. I see what happened, or almost anyway.
I called the offender over and asked if he bit his brother. He immediately begins to cry, frantically screaming against the discipline he knows is warranted when we hurt others. But I can’t get him to focus and answer me on if he actually bit. Tears are streaming and desperate angst pours from his sweet little body. And he finally answers my question.
I’m holding his hands gently, face to face. He answers me, “No.” Eyes down.
“Buddy, did you bite him?” I ask, lifting his quivering chin to raise his eyes to mine.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed this so clearly, but I can see and feel palpable shame radiating off his scared face. Like, see it.
His eyes are like a puppy when they are in trouble, trying so hard to keep from making eye contact. Sweet boy, you’d better learn some new tricks, ‘cause you are not good at this game.
I ask twice more, and his “no’s” are growing more confident. Which is interesting because he usually caves. He is a truth teller, like his daddy. As I’m watching, I see the shame and fear mix with an odd resolve.
“So if you didn’t bite him, why was he crying?”
“Because he bonked his head.”
“Ok. Then why were you on his back with your mouth open on his shirt?”
“Because…I was kissing his ouchie,” he says resolutely. And my heart breaks.
I’m not saying this is first untruthful thing my son has said. But from my memory, this is the first lie he has made up. And for some reason, it feels heavier. I know there will be many more. And many things worse over the years of being parents. But there is something about this one that causes me to stop and take notice, and roll my thoughts over today.
Oh how alike my toddler is to me. Or I’ll take a risk here…us. He so badly wants to avoid discipline or punishment that he will do whatever he can to protect himself. So number one is self-preservation.
And number two, he really believes his actions can be bad enough to make me reject him.
Not just the behavior. At his tender age, he has learned that doing wrong, or sin, is something potent enough that it has hard consequences, and might even damage this love his mommy has for him.
Now I’m sure those are not cognitive thoughts of his, but I can read it like a book on that little face of shame and fear.
And I relate. Man do I ever. I have spent some serious time here. Years even, of self-preservation and cover-ups. My methods involved running, hiding, burying my guilt and shame. Specifically sprinting from faith and God. I was so afraid that if I was found out, I would be rejected. Or worse, maybe I already was.
After his discipline was over, of course, compounded and refocused on the lie, we hold him. We tell him we forgive him. We love him all the same. Nothing will change that.
And I can hear my Father in heaven’s voice, in mine. This biting and lying business. It both matters much and it doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter. I love you all the same.
And I remember the coming home. The return to that faith and God of mine I had my back turned to. It was painful because I had real mess to contend with. Real sin and shame.
But I also remember being held. Being told I was forgiven. That my sin matters much and not at all. That He loves me all the same. Nothing will change that.
“…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19