A couple weeks ago, I got lost in a conversation about grace with a few friends of mine. The basis of the dialogue was simple… what’s the difference between grace and forgiveness?
There were some quotes thrown out there, and we talked about them. There were some opinions thrown out there, and we talked about them. There were some opinions disguised as something else thrown out there, and we talked about those, too. We explored definitions and perspectives and it was all very interesting.
And then life did what it does and moved on.
Which brings me to the following Saturday morning.
My wife was gone for the weekend and I was playing Mr. Mom. The goal was to spend a few hours on Saturday cleaning the house so when Mom got home, there was that nice little sparkle. The kids are kids, though, so hours spent cleaning on Saturday morning are somehow entirely nullified by five minutes of Legopocalypse while Dad is… indisposed.
Some behavior patterns emerged throughout that Saturday morning. (I’m gonna pick on my kids here a little bit, so if you’re not ok with that go read something in Readers Digest.) Emma woke up with something of an edge that particular morning. It was a ten-minute battle to get her to brush her teeth. And that was before she threw Andrews toothbrush in the garbage can. Breakfast consisted of Andrew eating three waffles while she refused to eat anything.
I opted to let them watch some cartoons while I jumped in the shower. Emma manipulated Andrew into watching something he didn’t want to watch by promising him candy that she didn’t have.
When it finally came to cleaning time, Andrew cleaned diligently-ish while Emma consistently shoved stuff under her bed, into her closet or into drawers that were already full. I heard her yell out to Andrew to “Come here.” And he did. And he said, “What, Emma?” And she said, “Oh, nothing.” And he would go back to cleaning. Five minutes later it was like a bad rerun when he fell for it again. The third time, I had a chat with her and she played dumb.
Later, I heard him go in to her room to talk to her and as soon as he started talking, she started singing gibberish at the top of her lungs. He got mad and stormed out.
A little bit blown away, I stood in the hallway with a broom in my hand. I finished sweeping and moved on to the bathroom and I heard a similar thing take place a few minutes later. Andrew yelled “Emma!!” and stomped back to his room.
This time, I took action. Emma and I had another chat about how to treat your brother, etc. (For those keeping score at home, we’re at 4 chats and no morning snack.)
I finish up the bathroom and inspect the kids’ rooms. Andrew had done a great job and is playing with some toys. Emma had, shall we say, less-than-desirable results. I gave her a list of things to do to finish and then it was time for a late-morning beverage for me.
Downstairs, I poured a glass of water, sat on the couch and immediately heard obnoxious singing followed by an immediate yell and more stomping. I was just up there less than 60 seconds before… what could possibly have taken place that quickly?
Andrew was crying and trying to stomp down the stairs without sustaining bodily injury and he finally crawled up next to me on the couch. Amidst sobs and not a small amount of snot, he wailed, “She did it again.” On top of the singing, this time she threw in a twist and stuck her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes.
I hugged him and we talked it out for a moment. I then went to the stairs and yelled for Emma to come downstairs. We had a long, dramatic conversation that felt a lot like déjà vu. As penance, Emma was going to have to serve Andrew for the rest of the day and she lost all rights to choose (read “be in charge of”) any activity that both of them were going to do. She knew there was just one thing left to do.
Andrew was still sobbing and little, shiny streaks still marked where tears had fallen. His knees were pulled up to his chest and he was hugging them with every ounce of strength he had.
Emma walked over to him and said she was sorry.
In the blink of an eye, he reached out to her and pulled her toward him in a monster hug.
“It’s ok, Emma.” He said with a small, forgiving smile. “Just don’t do it again.”
It was wrenching. It was a whole morning of torment erased in a smile and two words. It was crime after crime after crime and then complete absolution in a way that only a 6-year old can do.
If I’m being honest, it was something that I don’t know if I am capable of. Even though I have seen it and I have been witness to it. Even though I can tell you about the power in that moment, I don’t know if I could repeat it. It was amazing.
That’s what grace looks like.