Last week, I was studying the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I noticed while studying it that both the prodigal son and the older, righteous brother feel that the sins of the younger son are so great that he doesn't deserve any mercy.
I recognized from this parable my inclination to think that we need to 'deserve' mercy and earn it, rather than be given it as a gift from a loving Heavenly Father and His Son.
At the same time as I was studying this parable for my Sunday School lesson, I was also trying to hold a firm stance with our older kids about finding a summer job. They had been super busy and had not had much time to look. I was worried they would get into summer mode and spend their time relaxing and being with friends and never get a job at all. So Rich and I told them that they would lose their driving privilege, except to look for a job, once the school year was over.
One evening last week, I suddenly realized that Katie would finally be able to drive friends one day before school gets out (which is when the mandatory one-year waiting period required in California would be up.) I also realized that she would immediately lose that privilege because she had not yet found a job. We talked about it, and I explained my position: she needed the consequence of not being able to drive in order to motivate her to look for a job. It would be painful, I explained, but it would be worth it.
It all made perfect sense to me, and I went to bed feeling like a good parent for holding firm despite internal pressure to give in.
That night I had a very vivid dream. I was going to the temple, but I had forgotten to bring my temple clothes. So the nice temple workers were trying to help me gather what I would need to participate in the temple session in time. I had arrived a bit late, and so we were rushing. They gathered me shoes from over here, stockings from there, a dress from some place else. When we finally got everything I needed, I noticed that Katie was with me. We both began to rush down a long hallway, trying to reach the temple session in time.
Just as we were getting closer to the room for the session, the doors closed. We missed it! I couldn't believe it!
Then, a voice came in my mind. "Well, these are the consequences of your actions. You didn't bring temple clothes and you didn't get here on time, so you miss the session."
I then woke up from the dream. This dream felt pretty real to me because I am usually late and rushing every where I go, especially the temple. I always pray like crazy, and it always works out.
Several times, I have come to the temple without a recommend or have been unusually late getting there. Yet every time, Heavenly Father finds a way to show me mercy. The time I left my wallet at home, it just so happened that our Stake President was right in front of us and vouched for me.
It was very clear to me that this dream was to remind me how much heaven gives me mercy in my life, as well as to jog my memory about trying to show more mercy to my children as well.
I knelt down to pray and was reminded how hard Katie has been working in track. Also, how she was offered a job but had to turn it down because it would have forced her to give up running track. Also how obedient and good she had been about obeying the law not to drive friends, even though everyone else around her breaks that law. Also how she had not even complained about the threat to lose her driving period, even thought she had been counting down the days to be able to drive friends.
I felt so dense for not realizing all this before. I also felt pretty unappreciative for what a good daughter we have, and I felt like we had been inappropriately harsh. And I felt very sheepish.
Let's just say that Rich and I decided to modify our position a bit. I mean, looking for a job is probably more under their control than finding a job anyway, right? And I went right downstairs to tell Katie how much I appreciate her obedience to the law and her hard work and to tell her how much I love her.
Why is showing mercy in parenting so hard?
Maybe it's because I don't want our children to make the same mistakes I did. Maybe I see things from a perspective of looking back, and I want them to do it 'just right' to save them the pain of learning the hard way. Maybe I forget what it's like to be a kid, or maybe I expect more from them than even from myself. Maybe I'm not very patient.
Maybe I'm learning.
I think it is of note that the person showing mercy in the parable of the prodigal son is the Father. The Savior didn't hide that comparison or make it hard to figure out, did he? He made it plain as day. The Father always shows us mercy. He always offers up forgiveness with open arms. Are there consequences? Sure, but they are always buffered as much as possible, especially as we try to do our best.
Here is my favorite quote from Sunday's lesson:
Referring to the parable of the prodigal son, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "I ask you to read that story. Every parent ought to read it again and again. It is large enough to encompass every household, and enough larger than that to encompass all mankind, for are we not all prodigal sons and daughters who need to repent and partake of the forgiving mercy of our Heavenly Father and then follow His example?"
Ah, to learn to follow His example...thank goodness for a persistent Holy Ghost.