Last night, my wife, Beth, had one of those scares that all parents dread. It’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone, but last night it happened to her. She took the girls to Barnes and Noble to get something our oldest needed for school. The kids were roaming around like they normally do, but staying close to mom. At least, the oldest two had the sense to stay close by.
Piper, who is three years old, decided she wanted to go to the car. Off she went without anyone noticing that she had slipped away. A frantic three minutes later, after a store wide “Amber Alert” – yeah, that’ll panic a parent – Piper is found walking around near the front entrance.
“Where did you go?”
“I wanted to get in the car, but the doors were locked, so I came back to get the keys.” Just as nonchalant as can be. Did I mention that she is three years old?
“You went outside?”
Smiling sheepishly, “Yes.”
Oldest child says, “Yep. That smile means she really did.”
Middle child says, “Yeah, Mom. She definitely did.”
Don’t you love how siblings can smell blood in the water? They know when somebody is about to get it.
Well, it goes without saying that we were all very relieved to find her, but she and I had a serious conversation when she got home. There was much sobbing involved. Her. Not me.
But this got me thinking about how odd it is to punish a child while at the same time being completely relieved and happy that she is safe. Many of us have felt that sense of relief when your worst nightmare is not actually happening, but the message must be sent to the child. She has to hear that what she did is dangerous even if she doesn’t think it is.
While scolding her, reminding her that she could’ve been hit by a car or been taken by someone who would do very bad things to her, she replies, “No one could take me. They don’t have a car seat for me to sit in.” Maybe it’s just mine, but kids are often insanely confident because they are completely clueless as to how things really work. Seriously. The child thinks she’s safe because a kidnapper won’t have a car seat!? Maddening.
But this is childish reasoning. We make decisions and assumptions based on limited knowledge. We get angry with God when things don’t go our way. We make rash and stupid decisions because we really think we know what is best and that we have all the bases covered. We want to do what we want to do, and we are pretty sure we can handle anything.
But then God has to bring us back in line, and we think He is angry with us. In a sense we were angry at our child, but it was an anger born of deep concern for her. We don’t hate her, and God doesn’t hate us. We don’t want bad things to happen to her, but a parent must get a child’s attention and teach her those tough lessons. Even when it hurts.