Our husbands were out of town so my friend, Vicki, and her kids came over for dinner. Hot dogs and hamburgers were on the grill and crispy French fries would be coming out of the oven in twenty minutes. Our kids were playing in the living room when we heard a horrible scream and ran to see what happened. Joshua, my then seven-year-old son, was balled up on our living room floor, screaming, “Andrew bit me!”
I lifted Joshua’s shirt to discover a large, bright red bite mark on his hip. Infuriated and embarrassed, I told Andrew, my then four-year-old, to go to the bathroom and wait for me.
Although taking care of Joshua should’ve been my first priority, my focus zoomed in on what the consequences should be so Andrew would NEVER bite another human again. But I also didn’t want to discipline him in anger, so I took a deep breath and shifted my attention to Joshua. I started a mental list of worst possible punishments: Andrew would eat dinner by himself upstairs and go to bed early, no screen time for a week and none of his favorite toys to play with either. Maybe I should put soap in his mouth too? I knew he’d hate that!
Once I knew Joshua was okay and dinner wasn’t going burn, I walked Andrew upstairs to his room, away from everyone else. I still wasn’t sure what to do, but the Lord reminded me it was Andrew’s heart that needed to be dealt with first. His actions would follow.
Andrew cried the whole way upstairs, and as we sat together in his room talking about why he bit Joshua and better ways to deal with anger, he broke down sobbing and said, “Mommy, I just want to pray.”
Andrew told God he was sorry for biting Joshua, asked forgiveness, and then ended with, “God, please help me never do that again.” Afterward, he looked up at me and muttered, “I’m such a bad person. I do such bad things.”
My anger melted into sadness listening to Andrew’s self-condemning thoughts. I wanted to help him see himself and his sin separately. So I looked into his eyes and said, “Andrew, you are not a bad person. I’ve seen you be kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. But today you chose to bite Joshua because you were angry. Biting is what you did, but it is not who you are. You are a child of God and His gift to me. Although I don’t like what you did, I will always love you!”
As I hugged Andrew, the long list of punishments scrolled through my mind. I knew there needed to be a consequences but should they be everything I had thought of? I whispered a quick prayer asking God to show me. And for the first time in the seven years I’d been parenting, God brought to mind the story of the prodigal son.
I remembered how the father responded when his youngest son repented and turned back toward home. The father ran to his son, welcoming him home and into his arms. As the image of a forgiving father holding his repentant son came to mind, God whispered to my soul: Invite Andrew back to the table.
It took my breath away because I knew it was exactly what Jesus would do. Reaching out my hand to hold Andrew’s, I told him he’d be losing a week of screen time and his favorite toys. Then I invited him to come downstairs to eat dinner.
Andrew told Joshua he was sorry, and they hugged. Vicki and I smiled at each other as we both let out a big sigh. Then, as I opened our pantry to get some paper plates out, I sensed Jesus whispering again to my soul: Serve Andrew first.
I stood there stunned by God’s extravagant grace.
When I got in trouble as a little kid, I remember my parents being mad, spanking me and sending me to my room where I lay in my bed and cried. My tears eventually stopped, but my heart hurt for a while. I could feel my parent’s anger against me. It felt almost like a brick wall had gone up between us. I hated that feeling of separation and not knowing how long it would take for them to let me back in. And I think I assumed it was that way with God too.
That night Jesus showed me the depth of His tender mercy and unreasonable grace. He wanted restoration, not separation and to build relationship, not regret. It brought healing to my soul I didn’t even know I needed. I was never the same, not as a mom nor as a child of God.
No matter what we have done in the past or do in the future — Jesus doesn’t want to push us away. God’s purpose for discipline is to bring us back into a relationship with Him and with others. He is loving, patient, and kind. God forgives, pursues, restores, and He always invites us back to the table, again and again.