Every Thursday morning, Jonathan puts on his boots and heads over to Mrs. Smith’s house to take out her garbage and recycling containers. It’s a job he’s had since Mr. Smith died over a year ago, and things changed. Mrs. Smith walks with a cane, and even though she’s as spirited as a much younger woman, it’s hard for her to do some things on her own. Jonathan lives to help others, but he’s given up telling Mrs. Smith not to pay him a dollar every week to do the very thing he loves to do for her because she won’t hear it.
The truth is, Mrs. Smith loves my children just as much as they love her, and she can’t resist taking every opportunity to show them. A little candy tucked in here or a package of cookies sent home there—even though her budget has been tight since she became a widow, Mrs. Smith delights in finding ways to spoil her “grand-neighbors.”
One day, Jonathan came back from garbage duty lugging a jug of apple juice. His siblings rushed him at the door, eager for a glimpse of the prize. The twins jumped up and down and the girls cheered. Apple juice is a rare commodity at our house. The kids have become accustomed to drinking kefir water and kombucha tea, which I make in abundance, but juice…that’s something to celebrate.
“Can we have some? Can we?” They begged. It’s hard to say no to children who are hugging a carton of juice. Besides, breakfast was almost ready so the timing was perfect.
“Sit up at the table!” I said, and five bodies scampered enthusiastically up to their places. Faith had already put the skillet of fluffy scrambled eggs on the table. She had made them, all by herself.
“You’ve gotta try them!” She beamed. She was so proud and she’d done such a great job, I decided to serve the eggs before getting the juice. Everyone was happy with this arrangement, except for Micah.
“I want apple juice, Mommy,” he said.
“I’ll get it, Micah. Just a second. Why don’t you eat a bite of eggs while you wait?”
Micah looked at his plate and wrinkled up his face. “I don’t yike it,” he sulked.
Faith looked offended. “They’re good, Micah! Try a bite.” Everyone agreed. Faith was becoming quite the little chef.
“I want JUICE!” he stated again with fervor and banged his spoon on the table.
I stopped with the eggy spatula in mid-air. “Micah! That is not how you talk! I will get you some juice just as soon as I’m done. Now, eat your eggs.”
The other kids were making short work of Faith’s breakfast. “Mmmm!” Paul said as he gobbled up his share. “It yummy!” Paul could eat his body weight in eggs.
Micah pouted and wouldn’t eat a bite. “Micah,” I said sternly. “If you don’t eat your eggs, I’m not going to give you any juice.” I opened the jug and began filling glasses. I didn’t even water it down. It was like Christmas.
Micah refused even to taste his eggs. He pushed his plate away and said, “I only want JUICE.”
“I am not going to give you juice when you talk to me like that.”
Quickly, he descended into the biggest tantrum we had seen since an unfortunate incident at the dentist’s office. We all watched him, feeling sorry that he was making the choice to behave so poorly. The juice was a delight. It should have made him happy. Instead, he was choosing to be disobedient and defiant.
I gave everyone else their juice, but Micah was too far gone. I made him get down from the table and said quietly, “Micah, I have juice for you, but I can’t give it to you when you behave like this.” He squirmed in my arms and wouldn’t look at me. “I won’t reward you for your disobedience,” I repeated a line he had heard often from me. But instead of melting into submission like the others do, he began to cry, not soft, repentant tears, but hot, angry ones. I had no choice but to send him away so he wouldn’t ruin breakfast for everyone else.
The kitchen was quiet except for the sound of Micah crying in his room. The kids ate their eggs solemnly. “I wish he’d just eat his eggs,” Faith said.
“Then he could have juice!” Kya added.
“He ready now, Mom. He ready.” Paul was always willing to come to the defense of his twin.
But we could hear Micah downstairs, and he was most certainly not ready.
What Micah didn’t know is that I wanted him to have the thing he wanted. I stood there in the kitchen with his cup in hand, ready and willing to give it to him. It wasn’t a question of sufficiency; I had an abundant supply. It wasn’t a question of willingness; I desired for him to have a share of this good gift. It wasn’t even a question of timing; I was ready to give it to him now.
It was a question of obedience.
As much as I wanted Micah to be happy and to enjoy the good thing we had been given, I would not grant him happiness at the exclusion of obedience. I loved him too much for that.
From his behavior, I knew Micah thought I was being mean and unfair. What he didn’t know was that my heart was breaking for my son, who had taken a good thing and turned it into an idol. He had taken a privilege and made it a right. He began to demand something he had already been freely given, and instead of producing joy and happiness in him like a good gift does, it drew out his selfishness and anger. His heart was tight and closed, hardened by stubbornness and defiance.
Just like mine.
I listened to his tantrum and I couldn’t help but think of the many times I have behaved the same way. How often have I railed against my Father, demanding what is not mine, idolizing gifts without thought for the Giver, thinking I deserve something I have not earned, giving ultimatums like a person who has never tasted grace?
Just like a child.
In my stubbornness, I forget the truth about God, who says he’s my Father. I wondered if his fatherhood of me is about more than just his unconditional love, which I hold close even when I’m being particularly unlovable. I wondered if it’s about him standing in my kitchen, waiting to give me good gifts that I’m too stubborn to accept on his terms. I wondered if it’s about him letting me press into his power and riches and glory, if I’d just turn around and go to where He is, instead of running headstrong in my own direction and expecting him to meet me there. I wondered if he’s ready, like a good father, to give me everything I need for life and godliness. I wondered if he’s waiting for me to stop feeling sorry for myself so he could show me how he’s already conquered, already victorious, and already willing to give me everything I need.
I wondered what kind of Father God would be to me if I’d simply let go and obey.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Mt. 7:7-11