My phone rang while I scrolled the timeline, trying to avoid the awkwardness of standing elbow to elbow in line at the BMV at two p.m. on a Friday. Her voice was apologetic on the other end, regretting to be the bearer of bad news. She was calling to tell me that one of my sons had gotten in trouble. It was a little thing that could become a big thing. It was a path that if not diverted, could lead to a trajectory for his life that seized my heart with fear at the thought.
I sat heavy in my seat on the ride home where I knew he was waiting for me and dreading my arrival at the same time. I started out the window and tried to find words as I fumbled my way through best attempts at a prayer for help in navigating the situation. When I walked into our home, I found him sitting in the kitchen with his elbows resting on his knees, and his head hung low. I sat across from him and allowed our eyes to meet in silence for a moment before asking him what happened. And when the tears pooled in the corners of his eyes, I had to fight the urge to be the rescuer.
What I have learned in going through that situation is this: Discipline is more painful for me as his parent than for him as the recipient. Not because he asked numerous times over the next week for his phone privileges back. Not because he fatigued my ears and my will asking "how long?" It's painful for me to inflict punishment because I know that it doesn't feel kind to him. I know this as he sits on the edge of his bed the following Saturday and pleads to go to an event he had been looking forward to all week with all of his peers and social circle. It hurts my heart because I know how important it is to him.
So while it's the hard thing to say, "No. I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that," I remind myself that love without discipline is not loving at all. If I save him and don't allow him to experience the burn of touching the stove, he will likely continue on a path that will hurt him more in the future. He will not learn the crucial lesson at hand. The hard thing is the loving thing. My heart feels the soberness of this wrecking truth: If I in all of my best efforts at being a good parent feel this pain, how much more does God when we are suffering because of our own choices? Does he feel that ache in His heart when His children that He loves more than life experience the discomfort?
"Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer." Judges 16:10 (NIV)
I would say He most certainly does.
There was never a single moment in the aftermath of it all that I didn't want to draw near to my son. Truth is, that car ride home was painfully long. I couldn't get to him soon enough, and not because I wanted to scold him. I think about this as we walk through a crowded field a few days later at an independence day event. He lagged behind, much like my non-celebratory mood. My heart still felt heavy from the week we had faced, and from the concern, I felt over him. Yet, even in the moment of receiving the phone call and even when I was listening to him make excuses to justify his actions and avoid punishment, I only wanted to be near him. In spite of it all, I only wanted his presence and his smile and his humor.
Perhaps our incorrect view of God causes us more misery than anything. Maybe our tendency to hide when we've screwed up is where we get it all wrong. We tend to withdraw and to isolate and to cover ourselves by checking out and distancing ourselves. But we have a Father who only wants us to come closer. He can't get to us soon enough. He is the One who pursued us first. He is the One who loved us even in spite of us. The One who searches us out in our fleeing and our hiding.
My heart absorbs the moment, and the truth for my own life as my husband says this to our son. "You are made for so much more. You are meant to be a voice on the earth."
That's what the Father does when we draw closer. Never shaming or condemning. He never reminds us of all of the ways we have failed or fallen short. Does He allow us to experience the pain of our choices? Absolutely, as a good Father should. But He also reminds us of who we are and what we are made for. Made for so much more. Meant to be a voice on the earth.