Isn’t it amazing watching our children grasp something we’ve taught them? It’s such a reassuring dose of encouragement, and for me, it motivates me to stick with it. But, do you ever feel a little tired from seizing every single little teachable moment in parenthood? It’s a worthy calling, and it really is awesome! Still, because kids are kids, they come fully “un-taught” and we have to provide daily instruction. Okay, moment by moment.
In those preschool and early school-age years, there are constant opportunities to teach about ‘cause and effect’ with our young children. We can see this everywhere, from the toys young children play with to behavior charts in school or home. This concept is a building block for healthy child development because it teaches children about choices, taking responsibility, and consequences.
“When you put away your toys, then we can play the next game”, “because you snuck and ate an entire stick of butter, we now aren’t able to bake the cookies we were excited about”, or a recent one from a friend (can’t make this stuff up and I love it!), “because you were caught drinking water from your fishtank, that explains why your stomach is hurting so bad”. No matter the circumstance, we have constant chances to seize teachable moments.
For all the lessons about choices and consequences – and those are necessary – how much time are we spending looking for moments to teach them about mercy? When we’re zoned in on developing practical responsibility, it almost sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? Still, when our focus is growing godly children rather than perfect performance-driven children, we’re free to find moments to surprise them with mercy. I remember the day my mom used a teachable moment that deserved discipline to help me experience mercy.
I must’ve been around 7, and my brother was a couple years older, and we’d been playing in the medicine cabinet. We were told to stop, and we did for a short time, only to begin again. You know the mom-vibe? The kids are too quiet, there must be something going on? That’s what she thought and she was right. When she came into the room, we’d greased our hair down with every single cream, ointment and gel in the cabinet. Picture Neosporin ointment. Yep, all of those thick kinds of products. Gone. We whipped our heads around and knew we were in trouble. Hilarious now to even think about, but to my 7 year old mind, it was serious.
She brought us into the bedroom and stood us side-by-side to have “the talk”. “Do you know why you’re in trouble?” “Yes”, we replied, “we disobeyed.” She then took a minute to explain, again, cause and effect, and how our choices created consequences. We knew, we agreed and we were ready for our consequence. She told my brother and me to close our eyes – which was quite strange – but what 7 year old with Vasoline drenched hair is going to question it? Her lesson was simple, and so profound. She gave each of us a kiss on the forehead.
We were astonished. I was speechless. In the midst of those years when it felt like we were often being talked to about good choices and bad choices, she used that moment to surprise us with mercy. Yes, the disobedience warranted discipline but her approach to demonstrate mercy helped us understand Jesus in a practical way.
That lesson was branded in my heart that day and has remained my entire life. As funny as the circumstances of the story are, that decades old lesson makes me a better mom, a better friend, and better women.
Now, that doesn’t mean all structure and discipline gets tossed aside. Quite the opposite. Our children need our guidance about developing godly habits and healthy choices.
They’ll learn to make good choices by practicing making choices, not by watching us make choices for them.
With that, though, comes the certainty they’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s vital they grasp the concept of consequences because, well, that’s real life, and we want to raise well adjusted kids. So we strive for order: cause and effect, choices and consequences, personal responsibility. But, mercy. Mercy is real, too, and it’s life changing. It’s mercy that allows us to rise again after we’ve blown it.
If there’s one thing I want my children to learn while they’re young, it’s God’s promise that “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)
While we’re looking for teachable moments in our child’s life, let’s remember to look for mercy moments, too. It may just be a way their tiny hearts get to experience the love of Jesus and stays with them for the rest of their lives.
Let’s ask God to show us moments where we can help mercy come alive.
“Nurture your child so she can thrive:
We don’t water a flower if it blooms;
we water it so it will bloom.”
– Naomi Aldort