The Punishment

I stomped out of the room in frustration.

The things that were running through my head were a tired dialogue of anger and blame. “I am so sick of it!” “Why does he keep making bad choices?!” “Why can’t he get it!?!”

It was my son. For the millionth time that day he had done something unkind to a sibling and I had had it.

No more!

So I marched his butt to the kitchen and put him to work.

“You can start with the dishwasher. Empty it. Load it. GET TO WORK!” I screamed as he stood there staring at me with anger in his own eyes. I could almost feel his contempt.

I sat down and started making a list of chores. You know… those chores. Clean toilets. Clean out trash can. Empty diaper bin. Organize the tupperware cupboard. The stuff that no one ever wants to do.

I created it with a hint of glee actually. Just thinking back on my attitude at that moment is shameful.

In my mind, he needed to be taught a significant lesson in how we treat others. What he had done was so unacceptable. I thought about his behavior just moments before and how he had lashed out at an undeserving sibling who was now crying in the other room. I was going to punish him!

The list grew and grew until it had 10 items on it. I read the over again and knew it would take hours,  it might not even get done tonight. But he was going to pay for his behavior.

I called him over and showed him the list.

“You will do everything on this list! And you will do it with a smile on your face and not ONE complaint!”

He glanced at it, saw line after line of words and burst into tears and angrily stomped his feet. His fists were clenched. Our frustration levels were matched!

“Lord help me!” I said it out of habit I think.

But then it was…”forgive him.”

I want to say I “heard” God say that, but in truth I didn’t. That’s not how God works in my life… I don’t “hear” Him, even though I would really like to. It’s more like I get ideas, or thoughts, and when those ideas are checked against His word, then I know that they can be honored. In that moment I knew forgiveness was necessary, but there was no way in heck I was going to let him off the hook.

I started to read the list to my child, one by one, and watched his anger and frustration grow.

There was that thought again… “just forgive him”.

I stopped mid sentence and looked at my child. He was battling anger and defeat and his eyes were squinted as if trying to block me out.

“This is your debt for your actions,” I started out. For some reason, I was inexplicably calmer now… but still trying to carry out this punishment.

He looked at me and I looked at him.

The next words seemed to come from somewhere other than me. “I forgive your debt.”

His demeanor changed instantly and I think it startled him. His eyes opened wide and he just stared at me… ready for a punchline. But there was none.

I reached up and held his shoulders. They were relaxed. Soft. Small.

“I forgive your debt. I love you. I will do the chores.”

It’s hard to explain what I saw in his eyes. They were big, round, filled with soft tears. He hugged me and I him. He didn’t let go for what seemed like forever and I could feel the soft sobs and the wetness of his tears.

“I love you, mom.”

He held on for a moment longer then turned away. For a split second, I felt every feeling… shame with my anger and desire to punish, sadness that I had yelled, regret.

Then came the gratefulness. The complete and utter certainty that I would never have been able to model forgiveness had I not been witness to it myself. Read about it. Known the ultimate example of it.

Humbled, I sank to the ground and sobbed. And prayed. And let the tears fall onto tired, clasped hands.


The prayers tumbled forth and I thanked God for loving me so much that He took on MY debt, even though I didn’t deserve it. And thanked Him for humbling my heart at a moment when my son needed it most. When I needed it most.

And just thanked Him for loving me. For loving my son. For using that moment to teach us how to be more like Him. For forgiving us.

It’s been weeks now and while we are still learning the best way to grow up in this crazy, fallen world, something has changed between us. It’s like, he knows me now.

While I expect there will be more trials in the future, the foundation of our relationship has changed and seems to be forged in a beautiful trust.

Thank you, God, for knowing our hearts so intimately that you seek to teach us in the best ways.

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