By Shawn McEvoy
Never brag on a four-and-a-half year-old.
This past Saturday, my wife and I could not have been more proud of our son, Jordan. He had been invited to a good friend's birthday party at a local YMCA, where they have a rock climbing wall, and the party was going to be Jordan's first chance to try it out. He'd been gearing up for it all week, even telling the stylists at the hair salon that he was going to get to climb a wall - just like Spider-Man. He also opted out of a post-haircut lollipop, completely on his own, rationalizing that because he'd be eating cake and ice cream later that day, he didn't want to have too many sweets.
Anyway, his mom had in her mind that the party was from 3:00 to 5:00 on Saturday afternoon. But as Valerie drove into the parking lot, she saw people leaving. Uh-oh. Yep... the cake was mostly eaten, the presents were being packed, and Nathan's birthday party had actually been from 1:00 to 3:00.
How would you expect the typical four-year-old boy to react to the news that he had just missed the whole party?
Well, when Val got down on her knees and looked him in the eyes and told him what had happened, he threw his arms around her neck and hugged her. He said, "I love you even when you mess up, Mommy." Nathan's mom invted Jordan over to their home to watch Nathan open his presents (they hadn't done this at the party) and play. Jordan eagerly accepted. To my knowledge, he didn't even have any cake. But when he came home, he told me this had been, "the best day ever," as it had also included going to the gym and to get a haircut with daddy that morning, and now he was going to get to watch some football.
It was his mom who was beating herself up, but the boy was as calm and pleasant and forgiving and full of joy as ever.
That night, at a fellowship for our Adult Bible class from church, some friends asked about the kids, and we told the story of Jordan's day. Jaws dropped. I went to bed feeling like the world's most blessed dad.
Then came Sunday morning.
First, Jordan decided he wanted neither a shower nor a bath, though he needed one. This may sound normal to you, but this boy generally loves getting clean. After we got him dressed he was fine. In the car, he informed me he didn't want to go to church. This wasn't unusual, as it was just a statement, one he has made before. But when we got to the church parking lot... he WOULD NOT get out of the car. When we finally got into the education building... he WOULD NOT go into his class. He was in between crying and screaming. Where did this come from?! We pulled out every prayer and parenting trick we know. Ultimately, we presented our son a choice, and made it clear: go into the class, which would be fun (it always is! He always has loved it and participated and knows the Bible stories), or - go home with Daddy and face not only a spanking but an entire day in his room, without watching football with Dad, without his toys, without his games. He said he couldn't choose. We told him he had to. He chose option B, one that would literally be, for a boy of his age (and for his parents to carry out as well), Hell on earth for a day. My son, the same one who had mused to me the day before, "I think Heaven is going to be just great," the same one who had wowed us with a positive attitude and forgiveness beyond his years, was choosing, essentially, Hell, the worst possible day we could give him.
But we did give him one more chance. And another. Valerie went into class with him. He screamed. The teacher tried to soothe him with "Mommy's coming back" talk, but this was no separation anxiety issue. This was, for whatever reason, the day my boy decided to exert his will at any or all costs.
I honestly feel bad in some way that we still put him in the class - not only for disrupting it but because we so didn't want to see him suffer the consequences of a choice we WOULD have carried out because HE had chosen it. We just knew he'd be happier going forward with class.
So that's where I am right now - in my own Sunday School classroom in the same building as Jordan, at 9:23 a.m., writing this on my laptop (which I only have with me because I take the notes for our class) since I was too bothered to go sit in the service. Nobody else is here yet. But even before I have actually "had church" this Sunday, I have learned two huge lessons:
1) Inconsistency, thy name is humanity. Jordan sure is his father's son. If there were one thing I lack that I would prize above all other things in my life it would be consistency - of actions, thoughts, behavior, character. To not go lax on a health plan the moment people start to notice and give me praise. To not raise my voice or let the wrong word slip a day or two after studying how the man of God should speak. To act like I believe the things I say.
A good friend in college was once asked by a young friend what he thought it was most important for the Christian to achieve. "Consistency," he said. I overheard that... and it has stung like a barb in my brain ever since, as I knew the only thing I was consistent about was being inconsistent. Honestly, it's what I sympathize for my wife most about - that I am not sure she can count on my action or reaction to ever be what she expects, or the same from one situation to another. And oh Lord if that doesn't sting again seeing the same potential in my son. But then there's the flip side: is Jordan really behaving like me, or have I for too long behaved like him? I think that's more likely. And eye-opening. Perfect Christian with spot-on answers one day, sheer rebellion the next. Great in a crisis, raging at petty things. I've been living like an almost-five-year-old for most of my life.
2) That age-old theological question about free will and Heaven and Hell and God's role in sending people to one place or the other? It plays itself out all the time, I see now, in people of all ages. I love my son to no end, but no matter how we tried to "share the good news" with him, he was "hell-bent" to choose utter torment... almost just because he could. At the same time, we loved him so much that we were determined t make sure he knew the consequences of his choices and actions, give him extra chance after extra chance, and in the end help him find the right way.
I didn't relish what I was willing to let happen if my son had willed it. But let it happen I would have. And rightly, so will our Father, if his children - who are by nature completely inconsistent - insist on their own way.
Jesus was marvelously, amazingly consistent. No wonder He is the model, He is the way, He is life, and the only hope we have to avoid a hellish eternity.