..but I wasn’t the worst kid.
This is a statement that most of us can probably look at and tack on to the history of our youth when we think fondly about it. Sure, some kids were worse than others, and then there are some we’d probably chuckle at saying, “that wasn’t even close to being bad.” Either way, none of us are angels, and if we were lucky we had parents that disciplined us for our own good and loved us for our best good. This is a story of that best good and how my mother displayed that to me.
My mother always loved using “reverse psychology” on me. At least, that’s what she called it. Here is a brief description:
“Reverse psychology is a technique involving the advocacy of a belief or behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what actually is desired: the opposite of what is suggested. This technique relies on the psychological phenomenon of Reactance, a person has a negative emotional reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against.”
In hindsight, I don’t think this is what she was doing because it was done after the fact of my badness was on full display and not before, though, I suppose it was done in the hope that I wouldn’t do it again. As I think back on it, what my mother didn’t know was that she was displaying mercy and grace in a way that was greater than anything I had learned in my 9nine years of catholic school, including time spent as an altar boy and working through several sacraments.
I was 11 yrs old, and usually stayed out of trouble, which is a nice way of saying, I didn’t get caught. But there was this one time that I got into what should have been a heap of it. My friends and I often found “adventure” in many forms. Swimming where we shouldn’t, jumping where we ought not to, and exploring buildings that were closed. This last one is where this particular story centers around.
We had as a backdrop to our childhood an old abandoned hospital building. Curiosity being what it is and a child being what they are, we did our best “goonies” routine and ran headlong into this building like it was the greatest adventure you’d ever seen. Our first inclination, from an idea one of us had, was that there was money to be made! The copper pipes throughout the building would net us a fortune! Well, for a bunch of 11 yr olds anyway.
It sounded bold and daring when I think back on it, but that idea quickly disappeared as we entered the eerily quiet halls of the hospital. It was still daylight, but it didn’t remove any of the trepidation I had. If memory serves me right, my friends had been through the building before, and this was my first trip in. It was an old building, with long hallways separated by swinging doors with glass windows above them and every room adjacent to the hallways had doors made up partially of frosted glass with room numbers painted on them. That’s where the “fun” really began. Debris of varying size and weight all round cried out to us, daring us, begging us to be thrown. Who were we to deny ourselves the fun of random mayhem?
I don’t know who threw the first piece of junk lying around, I just know it wasn’t me, because y’know, I was bad, but I wasn’t the worst kid. Whoever let that first piece fly, shattered a window between the halls of the gutted out building. The sound echoed throughout. It was frightening and exciting all at the same time. I’m sure we waited to see if anyone responded, though probably not very long. Feeling a false sense of security rising up in us and me specifically, I was now sure that no one could hear us in the outside world. We quickly got busy breaking as many windows as we could. You could hear the continual high-pitched sound of windows being smashed to pieces. I wasn’t sure how long we were in there, but it was long enough for the echos of breaking glass, we were sure could not be heard, to cause a neighbor to call the good officers of the NYPD.
Plodding comfortably through this kingdom of broken glass, any nervous feelings I experienced had long since gone. How quickly they came back as I suddenly found myself looking down the barrel of police officer’s gun. I’m not gonna say I remember this with perfect accuracy, but two things I think I can say I recall for sure about that incident. The first is that the minute the officers confronted us with guns drawn, one of us hit the ground, FLAT! It may have been me, but I know it was one of us. The second is that I recall the gun shaking and it made me consider that one of these officers holding a gun was nervous. A nervous man pointing a gun at you is not a healthy situation, whether its an officer or not. No one tried to run, and though I can’t remember any of the words, I’m sure we begged for leniency. I remember one of my pals was a little too comfortable with the whole thing. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t his first ride in the back of a police car. Either way, we were on our way to the 120th Precinct.
I don’t remember much more about the precinct other than being behind bars for a short period of time. I’m sure questions were asked and information was given and by the time my friend’s mom picked us up it was pretty clear nothing else was going to happen from the law enforcement aspect of this “adventure”. That drive home was scary. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t look forward to the confrontation and as I walked though the door. I’m sure if a person could look as sheepish as possible, in that moment it was me.
This is where it happened, mercy and grace, together. It didn’t really dawn on me that’s what it was until very recent. I had in my head, “reverse psychology” for so long, that it wasn’t until I began to hear more and more about the grace of God did I realize, this is what I got that day, IN HEAPS!
I got home and it was just me and my mom, I’m sure she yelled at me and read me the riot act. I’m positive it was a “real good talking to”. You’ll have to forgive me, but I just don’t remember what she said in that moment. What I do remember was my own reaction to what she said and it was in a rough approximation, “THAT’S IT?” All I got from my mother was a “talking to.” She even let me go back outside. She assumed I had been traumatized enough by the whole thing. Who’s mother does that? She gave me more mercy than I deserved in that moment and even more grace than I ever expected. More than 30 years ago, my mother was an example of the same kind of mercy and grace that was displayed at the cross of Christ.
I deserved to be punished badly. I deserved a beating and to have everything but my breath taken from me (I’d argue, maybe even that as well). My mother’s wrath in that moment was held back, even more, my father’s. Unless someone told him when I was an adult, my father probably went to his grave never knowing of my “arrest.” My mother showed me mercy. I didn’t know that’s what it was then. But I know now, and it didn’t make sense. Neither does that cross Christ hung from. Every look at it reminds me of how I should be taking the nails, how I should be getting punished. My mother showed me great mercy in holding back her wrath, and my father’s. I’m sure even in that moment, she bore the pain for my sins in the same way it hurts us as parents to see our own children make mistakes we wish we could rescue them from. Despite that display of mercy from my mother, My Father in Heaven showed me the greatest of all mercies. Holding back every punishment I deserve and putting it on His Son for me.
Even more than mercy, she showed me grace by giving me something I didn’t deserve, freedom. Again I ask, who does this? Who says you’re still free to do whatever you want. I actually felt like I had more freedom. I think I stayed in my room anyway thinking it was some kinda of trick. My mom let me screw up, BADLY and said, “ok, try not to do it again” and sent me on my way. I didn’t deserve freedom or “LIFE”, but that’s what I got. I was given what I didn’t deserve. I was treated as if I did nothing wrong. Nothing was held against me and IT AMAZED ME. That’s what Christ gives us, mercy AND grace at the cross. He tells us we are righteous though we don’t deserve it. He tells us we are his bride though we deserve no groom. He tells us we are clean though we feel like scrubbing still. He gives us a robe white as snow, that we smudge and dirty daily and he lets us know its still clean.
It may be thirty years too late, but I appreciate this lesson. I love this lesson. I love that God uses all things for His great pleasure and our good, even if it takes a little time for it to sink in. Its not a perfect analogy, but neither are the movies, books and other things people like to use to try to connect God to the real world (as if he needs it).
I know in that moment, 30 years ago, my mother showed me a picture of mercy and grace. 2000 years ago, the greatest picture of mercy and grace you will ever see was displayed at the cross when Christ died for our sins and gave us life in him. We didn’t deserved it, and to this day, we still tend to take it for granted. More mercy still, and more grace still, and always more we’ll need.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I pray that God continues to display that same mercy and grace to you always.