Tears stream down his face as he reaches his arms out to me. Mommyyyy! Huuuggg! Huuuggg!
My jaw, my arms, my heart are clenched. Anger pulsates through my body, and I refuse to oblige. He’s a kid, and I should know better, but in the moment I want him to bear the consequences of his disobedience. I want him to know things can’t be fixed so quickly when the relationship is broken. You get what you deserve, buddy. Grace and mercy aren’t available from me. And yet, he still reaches out. Still he pleads for the embrace.
We go down this path a million times a day, and it takes all those times for me to see beyond my anger, his disobedience, and what’s fair. For a heaven-sent second, everything slows down. His screaming quiets in my head, and I finally perceive what is good and profound through the loud fog of disciplining him. The generosity of his arms reaching out to me first, the relentless desire to reconnect — it’s the gospel, the hospitality of reconciliation.
I couldn’t see it before, but now it’s all I can see. When he resists the separation of timeout and fights to be close to me again, I learn that reconciliation means going further than middle ground. It means not expecting the other person to meet you where you’re at but taking the extra steps to meet them where they are. It means fighting against the internal struggle to choose comfortable and fair and putting aside your pride. It means being gracious and gentle and looking past differences and hurt. It means forgiving, correcting in love, and recognizing the humanity, the imago Dei in each other.
My son is far better at this than I am. He is quicker to say sorry, to let things go, and want me back. He teaches me that reconciliation is generous and requires hospitality. Bridges are built and relationships are mended and matured when a safe space is created, when we open our hearts and invite the other person in. Hospitality is the perfect picture for how we can become reconcilers.
Everyone comes to the table as equals, as human beings who are in need of connection and nourishment. We give and receive food, and our stories become channels through which our souls touch one another.
But someone has to be the first to do it, to take the initiative, and be persistent in the pursuit. Maybe it’s a good thing my son is so stubborn. No matter how many times I’ve held him at arm’s length and yelled at him to go back to timeout, he keeps trying. He pushes his way to wrap his arms around me. He wants to be restored, for us to be made whole.
I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t have to battle it out with him so many times a day for me to keep learning. But each of those moments remind me of Jesus, and how far He reached to get to me. He crossed all boundaries and barriers — from heaven to earth, the holy into the unholy — and went beyond what was fair to reconcile me to Himself. He endured rejection and misunderstanding and death on my behalf. He did the hard and ultimate work of reconciliation so I never have to be separated from Him again.
But I forget it too often. I let anger rule the way I discipline when grace is what I’ve been given and grace is what I should give. Perhaps the timeouts are more for me than they are for him. They place me at the same level as my son and remind me that Jesus gave up everything to reconcile me to Himself, to bring me into His embrace, and therefore, I can do the same for my little one as well.
It hasn’t gotten easier when he disobeys and the disciplining must happen, but I’m quicker to recall what this is about in the first place. It’s about receiving and giving the hospitality I’ve experienced with God. So when he reaches out his arms and asks for a hug, I open my own out to him, and we sit there in the generosity of each other’s love, and we’re made right again.