All of my children shook their heads and looked at me innocently. “I didn’t do it, Mom,” they each said.
“Do you know who did?”
They looked at each other and shook their heads again. “No, Mom.”
Someone was lying. I held the uprooted seedlings in my hand and stretched them out for the kids to see. “One of you pulled these little plants out of the dirt. Which one of you did it?”
Again, all five children claimed innocence.
I had my suspicions, given the nature of the crime, but I could not tell for certain. The only thing I knew for certain was that one of my children was holding onto a lie and betting on the protection of the pack to keep it hidden.
“I’m sorry,” I said to all of them. “One of you is lying to me. Until that person decides to tell the truth, you will go up to your beds and stay there. No books, no toys, no lunch. If it takes until the afternoon, you will also miss gym class.”
Ten saucer-eyes stared at me. They adore gym class. I felt sorry that all five might miss it at the expense of the one. But what could be done? I couldn’t let that child get away with hiding a sin behind his siblings.
The children trudged upstairs. I could hear them talking. The Grand Inquisition was going on across the two rooms, but no one was budging. A chorus of, “Well, it wasn’t me,” echoed through the living room.
Ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Lunchtime came and went. I ate my leftover salmon and salad in silence so I could hear the second-guessing in my head.
Parenting stinks sometimes.
Finally, I called each one of the children to me. I held each one’s hands and asked him or her to be honest. Four of them were. One of them wasn’t.
“One of you is being very selfish,” I said. “You are letting your brothers and sisters be punished along with you because you love yourself and your lie more than them.”
“Maybe it was the kitten,” Paul whispered sadly.
Obligingly, I inspected the little seedlings for evidence of feline foul play. There wasn’t any: no bite marks, no cat hairs, no spilled dirt. Each seedling had been extracted carefully and placed across the dirt like a little corpse. I could only wish our kitten would be so considerate.
I sent Paul back upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom to cry.
I heard a gentle knock on the door. “Mom?”
It was Kya.
“Mom, what would happen if someone who didn’t do it said they did so the others wouldn’t have to be punished?”
I gulped. “Well, Kya, that would be a very hard thing, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah. But would you let me, if I decided to do that?”
I thought for a second. “Yes, I would,” I said slowly, fresh tears springing up in my eyes. I didn’t want to let her. I wasn’t sure I should let her.
“Okay,” she said. “I was kind of thinking that’s what Jesus did.”
She nodded slowly, fear swimming in her eyes. “So I think that’s what I should do.”
Sweet, gentle Kya, who loves her siblings with a loyalty that surprises me sometimes, was willing to take the punishment she did not deserve in order to spare the others. She was even willing to suffer for the betrayer, the one who did not care enough to spare her from the same thing.
It was so unfair, so agonizing, so beautiful.
It was the gospel lived out in the curly-haired visage of my middle child.
“I think,” said Jonathan, when he heard of her plan, “that Kya is a lot like Jesus.”
It’s not that she is saintly or without faults. She suffers from the same humanity as the rest of us. She did not want to take a punishment she did not deserve. I could see her wrestling with the weight of it. She would be the guilty party. She would be the one who uprooted her mother’s plants. She would be the one who would suffer while the real offender got away with it.
It was not just.
It was not right.
But in her mind, it was worth it to suffer for a sin she did not commit in order to free her siblings from punishment.
That’s what made it so beautiful. She chose pain in order to grant freedom.
And oh, how the gospel filled our home the moment that blotchy-faced little girl looked up at me and said, “Take me instead.”
Some people like to think that Jesus did not suffer when he took the punishment for us, or that his sacrifice did not come with the agonizing submission of his own will to something he was not naturally inclined to do. They think, perhaps, that Jesus felt less than the rest of us, that his sense of justice was toned down by an extra-human dose of empathy.
We looked at Kya’s tears and we knew that wasn’t true. Jesus actually, truly suffered for us. He agonized over his sacrifice. He wrestled with his flesh before he laid it down.
We rob him of the sacrifice when we allow ourselves to think Christ’s holiness anesthetized his humanity. We steal away the awful beauty of the cross when we believe that it didn’t cost him as much as it would us, that somehow, his sacrifice did not come with the same ripping of the soul that it would have if we had offered ourselves.
He suffered under flesh and with flesh and he of all people knew the disparity in the sacrifice. He felt it.
The miracle is, he did it anyway.
He chose pain in order to grant freedom when he stretched out his arms, looked up into his Father’s face and whispered, “Take me instead.”
I looked at my child and felt a great uprooting in me, the kind that should come in light of that kind of sacrifice. Someone stood in for me, and crushed him.
I have forgotten.
I have been indifferent.
But by His grace, I have been reminded in the curly-haired visage of a little girl who said, “Take me instead.”