The remorse came instantly, but the damage was done.
"Caleb," I said, trying to get through to him between sobs, "what has to happen now?" I had told him, only moments prior, what would happen if he continued to let out those earth-shattering squeals in the car. And now he was going to have to repeat it.
"I have to be punished," he replied. The tears streamed down his face. "But I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry, Mommy."
And he truly was. If Caleb is one thing, he's sincere. And when he's sorry, he's really sorry. The flip side of that is that when he's not sorry, well, he's just not sorry. But when he is sorry, it's the sincere sort of heartfelt sorrow that lets me know he really does regret his misdeed, that he really wishes he could go back and do the right thing.
I told him I was glad he was sorry. And I told him I forgave him. Because in this family, when someone is truly sorry, we forgive them.
But there are still consequences for our actions. And disobedience has to be punished.
This was Caleb's fate, and he and I both knew the punishment was coming when we got home.
I didn't want to have to punish him. I had hoped he would heed my warnings and stop when I asked. But self-control doesn't come easily to this one. And letting my kids get away with things is just bad parenting. It may be easier, at times, to ignore their wrongs, but it's not good for them in the long run. The loving thing to do is to discipline their disobedience. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
Two words flashed through my mind as I reminded myself of all the reasons why I would have to follow through with my promise to punish his disobedience.
But God what?
"Mommy?" Caleb's lip quivered as he tried to get my attention. "I'm not going to squeal in the car anymore."
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)Oh, I get it, Lord. This is going to be one of those moments. One of those aha moments where I get to teach my kids something, but really the lesson is for me. Okay, God. Go ahead. I'm going to open my mouth now, and I'm looking forward to what you have to say through me.
"Caleb, can you stop crying and listen to Mommy for a second?" I waited until I had his attention, and consequently, the attention of all the kids who regularly watch to see how consistent my parenting is.
"Caleb, I can tell you're truly sorry for disobeying. And I forgive you. And Caleb, I'm not going to punish you when we get home. Instead of punishment, you're going to get mercy."
I gave it a second to sink in.
"Caleb, what has to happen when we disobey?"
"We have to get punished," he answered, a little hesitantly this time.
"That's right," I told him. "Mercy means we don't get the punishment we deserve. So I'm going to show you mercy, and I'm not going to punish you for disobeying."
"What are you going to do instead?" he asked. He's wise beyond his years, I realized.
He understood, in that moment, that if his disobedience wasn't going to result in punishment, it was going to result in something else. And he wanted to know what that something was.
"But where sin increased, grace increased all the more..." (Romans 5:20)So I explained that when God shows us mercy, it means we don't get the punishment we deserve for our sins. I reminded him that we all sin, and we all deserve death, and we deserve to be separated from God because of our sin.
But God loves us, and when Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment we deserve. So God doesn't punish us, I explained. He shows us mercy.
And even more, I explained to my now-captive audience, God shows us grace, His free and undeserved favor. He rescues us. He promises us eternal life with Him. He makes us part of his forever family, and he calls us His children. He made us, and He loves us, and that's why He died to save us. And when we tell God we're sorry for our sins, He forgives us, and He shows us His mercy, and He shows us His grace.
"I'm glad for that, Mommy," Caleb piped up.
"Mommy," Abby interjected, "that's great grace!"
It is, I agreed.
For the record, we made it home with no further squealing. And I think Caleb and I learned a good lesson today.
We sin a lot, but we have a really great God.
And he gives us a very great grace, indeed.