[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.] When I was in middle school, I had developed quite a distaste for doing homework. I still found ways to get assignments turned in and have a good enough grade, but I really disliked the possibility of having to do any schoolwork while I was at home and tried to avoid doing so by any acceptable means. Most times, this plan worked well enough for me. Unfortunately, although the homework-avoidance plans I had were the best that my 11-year-old brain could design, occasionally something slipped through a crack in my scheme and caught up with me. And double-unfortunately, multiple examples of such slips happened in the same class.
It was 6th grade History, and after completely forgetting about two assignments, my teacher started to catch on and recognized that I needed some help with motivation, which she was gracious enough to offer to me by making me take a paper home to get signed by a parent that said something along the lines of, "Your son is not doing his homework, and I need you to sign this to make sure you know about it."
This was a different ballgame. I could deal with an occasional incomplete assignment, but my teacher knew that I wouldn't forge a parent's signature. (It complicated any hopes I had of escaping the situation that she went to our small church with us. I could look at her across the sanctuary on Sunday and be okay with not turning in an assignment, but I knew God would be on her side if I tried to do something along the lines of lying with this form.) So, the time came and I had to own up to my lack of study habits and get the paper signed by one of my parents.
I really didn't want to show the paper to my Dad, so I waited until the last possible moment one morning as we were getting ready for school and took it to my Mom. I got a very well-deserved lecture about needing to learn responsibility, but then she wanted to make sure the lesson sunk in and said, "Go show it to your Dad."
Now I was really bummed. I didn't want my Dad to know that I did stuff like not doing homework assignments. It wasn't the first time I'd gotten a responsibility speech from my Mom, so I knew that the news of my shortcomings wouldn't surprise her (which they didn't), but then she laid the double-whammy on me with the speech plus passing off the signing to Dad.
I had no choice. He was working at his desk. I walked up behind him, didn't say anything, and slid the paper in front of him.
He read it, didn't say anything, got a pen, signed it and handed it back to me. Silence.
Unsure of what to make of the gesture, I grabbed the paper and began to walk back to my room. Then he turned around in his chair and stopped me. "Hey," he said. "Keep up the good work."
I'd never laughed like that nor been so happy in all of my 11 years. Soon afterward, I began to do all of my homework assignments- for that teacher's class.
That's been one of my favorite stories to tell about my Dad for a long time. (Thankfully, my Mom puts up with me telling it... it's made its way into several sermon illustrations in her presence and she's always nice about letting me tell it again. I insist there's nothing in it that makes her look like a mean parent.) The story still makes me smile, because it's a great example of how my Dad could use a combination of being quiet, and also doing something unexpected at just the right time.
Even though I've told this story repeatedly, since he died I've begun to wonder about one part of it: Why was I scared to show him the note in the first place? Certainly I felt guilty about what it represented and wanted to hide it from him, but why? How did I expect he would respond?
For all of the years leading up to that day and in all of the years following it, I never knew him to be anything other than gentle, forgiving, and very slow to become angry. So why didn't I trust those characteristics about him when approaching his desk that morning?
I think there is a poor trick we all play on ourselves internally when we mess something up, and somehow that trick leads us to believe that maybe we aren't as loved as we really are. Even though my Dad was always a model of loving me regardless of my performance, somehow that day I thought my relation to him as his beloved son was in some degree of jeopardy. It was as if I thought this one mistake would be too much for him to bear and would use up the last drop in his uncommonly deep well of patience.
...What if God is not mad at you, about anything? What if he isn't waiting to pounce and dole out a punishment for you? What if he has no lecture stored up for you, but is actually waiting for a chance to surprise you with just how far his grace can reach- just how deeply it can touch the parts of you that have become twisted and led you to mess up in the first place? What if God holds nothing against you, but simply and more than anything else, longs to be reconciled with you- for you to smile in response to realizing that he really loves you?
Has he ever dealt with you in any other way than being slow to anger and rich in love? If not (and I'm quite sure he hasn't), why do we expect anything else?