When the kids were little, my husband and I decided early on that a spat on their bottom was acceptable for us. (Please don’t judge!) We came to consensus on some basic rules to make sure we treated the kids well. Rule 1: Never spank in anger; cool down before you administer any punishment. Rule 2: Always spat on the padded bottom – plenty of fatty tissue, clothes, and diapers! And Rule 3: Never more than 3 swats at a time. We loved our children and wanted to discipline them without hurting them.
But this is NOT a blog about corporal punishment.
This is the story of a simple, ordinary spring morning. But that day the usual routine of motherhood took a turn that would bring tears, create a memory for years to come, and teach a precious spiritual truth.
The setting. The third bedroom/nursery of our home. This was the “school room” for our three oldest children and lessons were churning away slowly as I held baby number four and worked with the younger children on their lessons. As I turned to check on the eldest, bliss was shattered. What his particular infringement of the day was is lost to me in the shadows of my memory, but I do know it was important enough that it warranted a, “That’s one lick. You know better. Now get back to your school work on your own until I finish with the girls.” Most days this would’ve been enough and school would have continued on peacefully. This particular day, it was just the beginning.
As I got up to change a diaper and my presence was removed from the vicinity, more chaos ensued. My return and awareness of the childish disobedience going on necessitated the promise of more licks “as soon as I get through taking care of the baby.” But this was still not the end.
Over the next half hour, after a string of other misbehavior, including being aggressive and mean toward his sisters, my firstborn had accumulated a total of 6 promised licks! Six! What would I do?!
While I finished nursing the baby and listening to the reading of the girls, my mind raced trying to figure out how I would handle this. I don’t give more than three licks! Why had I kept promising more? I was so busy with the other three children the situation had snowballed on me. I couldn’t break my word. But I couldn’t give 6 licks either! I had to exercise consistency. I had to teach that I kept my word and that actions have consequences you can’t worm out of, while still maintaining my own convictions that protected my children.
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” Zechariah 7:9
The girls’ lessons were finally finished and the baby put to sleep. As I called my son to lunch, I knew the punishment had to happen right then. So I flung an emergency prayer up to heaven, “Lord, help me know what to do! I’ve gotten myself in a fix.” Should I overlook his mistakes? Punish his mistakes? How could I love this little sinner without endorsing his sin? Because endorsed sin becomes repeated sin.
My son walked into the room, and I sat down before him eye to eye to talk about what he had done before I gave him a spanking. As I took his little hand and gazed into his eyes, the answer to my prayer came – a God inspiration at that very moment! I reminded my child of what he had done wrong and why it was wrong. I told him he deserved punishment, and that I was going to have to give him 6 licks today even though my rule was only 3 licks. He looked at me a bit puzzled. Then I took his hand and began to actually lick his hand with my tongue, counting “One – two…”
I didn’t get any farther before the wails started. You would’ve thought I was physically beating him. He squirmed and cried and begged, “Noooo, Mommy! Don’t lick me!” I managed to give him all six licks, just like I was enjoying a Tootsie Pop, even amid the squirms and tears. When it was over he ran to his room crying as if his heart was broken.
Just recently I asked him if he remembered that event, and his response was a hearty, “Oh yes!” even as a 30-year-old. It was a lesson that stuck, with him and with me.
The lesson I saw in it was a lesson of God’s mercy.
When we sin, we put God in the same position I was in as a mom. I was trapped between owing my son justice, but loving him so much I desired to offer mercy – having to uphold the truth I had spoken, but desiring to show kindness to my beloved little one. And ladies, is that not a glimpse of how God is with us?
God was faced with two equally unappealing options – to be just or be merciful. Be true to His word or be kind. Overlook or punish our sin. How could He redeem the sinner without endorsing the sin? And just like He inspired me to do, God also found a third option, a way around the problem, and it is called The Cross of Christ. By placing the punishment we deserved on the shoulders of His own son, He could obtain justice and still show us mercy at the same time.
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:3-7
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Colossians 1:21-22.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14