Nothing scares the willies out of me more than the awesome responsibility of being a dad. No one will ever confuse me with a father of the year candidate: I am too often impatient, too often grouchy, too often wrapped up in my own stuff to be the kind of father that gets essays written about them or wins awards. I make my mistakes, do the best I can to apologize and correct them, and pray to God I haven't done anything to scar my kids for life. ;-) My parents made their mistakes, too; which hurt at the time, but as time has gone on I have come to appreciate the awesomeness of the responsibility; realize they did the best they could given their humanity, and have hopefully built upon the good that they gave me and thrown out that which is not helpful. I only hope God and time will grant such wisdom and perspective to my children.
That having been said, I am not above celebrating when I think I actually, intuitively got one right. My middle son (who is the spitting image of his dad, in more than just physical appearance) was given an opportunity to attend a Boy Scout leadership training. The code of behavior expected at this training was pretty rigorous and unforgiving, even more so than for a typical Boy Scout event, and especially so for a 14 year old with ADHD. He signed the behavior agreement without hesitation.
Now, anyone who has been around me for any length of time knows that I am not a morning person. This appears to be an inherited trait for neither is my son (the spitting image of his father, remember?), and particularly not before his ADHD meds have kicked in. Well sure enough, coming back from an overnight outing, before he had a chance to visit the nurse and get his meds, an incident occurred and my son was sent home. Even though there were exigent circumstances surrounding the incident, the rules were the rules, and he clearly knew what was expected of him when he signed up.
His mom was absolutely furious; I was upset, but more disappointed than mad. Once I was clear on the what had actually transpired, I moved beyond the desire for punishment (although I made my disappointment quite clear to him as well as making sure he was aware of all the people he had let down his scoutmaster, who had recommended him, the scouts in his troop who were to be the beneficiaries of the training he received, etc. and told him he needed to live with the consequences for awhile), his mom saw to it that he made appropriate apologies, and he even voluntarily surrendered the input devices to his computer.
His mom wanted to go one step further. We were scheduled to go to an Iron Maiden concert immediately following the closing of his leadership course (is taste in music inherited?). He had worked hard to earn the money for the tickets and had looked forward to going for months. Mom wanted to ground him from the concert, and he himself suggested he didn't deserve to go. I, brilliant father that I am, saw an opportunity.
I put off telling him he could go until the very last minute (although he told me later he figured out he was going earlier) and we went. On the way we talked about successes and failures in life and how the true test of one's character is not in the amount of successes they rack up, but in how they handle success and especially in how they handle failure. I told him that how he moved on from this failure would tell me more about the person he was and was becoming than the failure itself.
A nice lesson in character building, oh, but I wasn't done. I asked him if he felt that he deserved to have been dismissed from the program and grounded from the concert because of his behavior. He agreed. I then went on to explain how he had violated the rules, and rules are rules. Circumstances don't come into play when it comes to rules. You are either guilty or you aren't; and you should expect the stated consequences to follow when rules are broken. This is the law. But fortunately for us, there is another principle alive in the world, Gospel, which sets aside the law's verdict (though not always the consequences), and allows for forgiveness and life: just because. He was going to the concert not because he deserved to go (which he may or may not have), but just because. And that is how God loves us: just because.
Not perfect, I know. I'm sure you can poke a million and one theological holes in it. But I think he came away with a better understanding of God's love and grace that is at work in the world for those who have the vision of faith, and if so, mission accomplished. As I look back perhaps there might have been an opportunity to talk about "what we deserve" and working for justice and peace in the world. But it is what it is. And the character lesson is not over. Mom joined the cause and we have an appointment on Monday to share with local BSA staff, his experience of the program (which on the whole was not good, his offending behavior being the result of not only his own personal failing, but the understandable outcome of many failings). He is learning the value of becoming part of the solution and not remaining simply part of the problem. A lesson most of us sadly need to brush up on.
There, my son received a lesson in character building and God's grace. And I have written a semi-inspirational, feel good, blog entry. Could this be the start of a trend? A kinder, gentler Unlikely Pastor?......NAH! I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world.