July 4, 2009

A Cloak of Mercy

My son had a rough day at the pool. Like his mother, he’s not a big fan of crowds (e.g., public pools), so his cup was half empty before we even left. He never did find his swimsuit, and in the search for it forgot the sunscreen and was certain he had just signed his death warrant. At the pool he managed to lose his goggles and drop his ice cream cone in the same 10 minutes. He was done. Finished. Finito. And he was spiraling toward that no-coming-back kind of out-of-control. I was in a bind. Natural consequences are great teachers. Most of what had happened was avoidable and we were clearly in the middle of a teaching moment. I tried to look away. But the public spectacle he was making of himself could have had long-term social ramifications. I thought I’d be doing him a favor by removing him from the premises. I’m embarrassed to admit that not one of my motives was compassion as I tried to figure out how to handle him and the situation.

 My daughter knew how. For a good ten minutes all I saw of her was a pink snorkel as she combed the bottom of the pool for his goggles. While he huddled under his towel, she asked me through chattering teeth and purple lips if she could use her allowance to buy him more ice cream. Her heart was laid open as she tried with everything she had to save her brother from his grief, and she helped me cross over from teacher to comforter.

 I’m not saying this is always the right response. Sometimes not saving a child from pain today is a gift that will prevent a thousand pains tomorrow. But sometimes, just sometimes, a cloak of mercy is the better gift -- like the one our Father in Heaven wraps around us when we think we’re done, finished. finito. Embraced in the comfort of His protection and undeserved compassion, we can stand up and face another day. Hopefully we won’t forget the choices that got us there, but with His cloak of mercy wrapped around us we heal, wiser and stronger and very certain of our one, true Comforter.