Let’s hope it sticks.
Many of my friends are currently in the Philippines on a missions trip. They’ve left their wives and children behind in order to serve God and see Him work in another part of the world. Being the remaining husband, I’ve done what I can to mow lawns, kill spiders, discipline kids and the like.
Today, I took the boys to the Smith’s to mow their lawn. I was intentional in giving the directions that I did to the boys prior to our arrival. There was the, “We are going to help our friends and I am going to mow their lawn.” And, “Each of you need to be a blessing while I’m mowing the lawn.” Along with several other Fatherly advices.
Sure enough, as I’m almost done, I see Mrs. Smith smiling to get my attention and our two oldest sons sitting on deck chairs. I shut off the mower and get the news from the Referee, “I was on the phone with your wife when all of a sudden I saw punching and head-locks and fighting and so I thought I should break it up and your wife agreed.” I gave them the death-stare and told them to sit there until I was finished.
Five minutes later, I had put everything away and told the two offenders, “I want both of you to not make a sound and walk very quietly to the suburban. If I hear anything it will not be good.” And off they silently went.
I rounded up the smaller two – the surprisingly well-behaved smaller two, and headed for the suburban. I didn’t know what to say, but I knew that we’d had about two thousand long discussions about how we don’t hit our brothers and we don’t be mean to our brothers. I began remembering a sermon I’d heard from Matt Chandler where he recalled his childhood and how miserable it was that his dad made him do all this menial labor, but how now he’s a hard worker thanks to his dad’s discipline. Then it hit me – rather than wasting my time on another discussion and rant about how we are to love one another, I’ll make them work so hard they’ll hate that they ever misbehaved.
So, we drove in silence – not because I was angry or steaming. Actually, I was fine. I wanted to take advantage of this moment and build the suspense. Finally, I spoke loudly and clearly – my best Fatherly voice, “You two know how you are supposed to treat each other. I have talked to you numerous times. Rather than talking for no reason, I’m going to make you two work so hard when we get home. You will not eat dinner until you are done, and I hope that it is raining.” Silence fell on the convicted.
As we drove the rest of the way, I was trying to think of something so ridiculous that they’d have to spend the rest of the evening to accomplish and that they would be just exhausted if they did finish. I decided on having them weed the garden. Now, our garden is about 50 feet by 50 feet – it’s huge and full of weeds. I knew they would hate it and that it would take them forever – it was perfect.
We got home and I told the oldest two to put on their boots and meet me in the garden. The came dejected as all get out, and I gave them their punishment. I didn’t tell them to weed the whole thing, just a specific corner that had the most weeds anyone has ever seen – about 10 ft. by 15 ft. area. And, to my surprise, they quietly went to work. I told them I’d check back later and I went inside to get dinner.
Soon enough, the oldest came in to use the bathroom. As he came out he asked, “Dad, can I use a knife?” I asked “Why?” to which he responded about as sadly as he could, “Because I want to kill myself…” I told him to get back out there and get back to work, but I was impressed with his one-liner that he’d obviously been working on the entire walk up to the house.
They began coming in periodically, exclaiming how impossible it was and how it looks like they haven’t done any work at all. I told them to get back to work and I’d be down there in a little bit.
As I rolled the garbage cans out to the end of the driveway it begins raining those huge drops that only seem to come down in the spring. It was perfect. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. I thanked God for sending the rain and for making this experience perfect for my boys.
Sure enough, I met them near the door as they were coming up to make one more plea for mercy. However, the eldest spoke first revealing his still rebellious heart, “Guess what Dad? Everyone sins!” I looked at them in the pouring down rain and said, “Are you done?” As they choked back sobs they said almost in unison, “No. It’s impossible! We’re soaked and it’s going to take forever!” I said, “Well, let’s go see how much you’ve gotten done.” And I took off in front of them praying the whole way, “Lord, help me know just what to say. What do I do? Do I keep them out here working in this downpour? I will. I’ve got no problem with it.” And then I started to see the connection between the “impossibility” of them accomplishing their weeding and the impossibility of us cleaning ourselves up before God. I realized how perfect it was to compare this impossible task with the seriously impossible task of them obeying me and obeying God and loving their brothers apart from them submitting to God and allowing His Holy Spirit to work in them. It was perfect.
As we reached the garden they followed me as we walked in the downpour all the way to their pathetic little corner. We stopped in the mud in the middle of the garden, rain pounding on us, and I said very plainly, “Yeah… it looks like you’ve still got a lot of work to do, doesn’t it?” They nodded. I let some seconds tick by and more rain soak further through our t-shirts. “This looks like you guys needs some help. I mean, you’ve been working awhile on this and it doesn’t look like you’ve done much.” I asked, “Do you know what this is like – this impossible job of weeding this area? This is just like how it seems when we try to work hard at doing the right things and making ourselves right with God. We can’t do it. We are not good enough. We cannot love someone well enough. And you two certainly cannot love each other by yourselves, can you?” Their eyes were overflowing with tears, it really seemed like they were getting it. I kept rollin’, “That’s why we need a savior. Just like you guys can’t finish this job by yourselves, you need me to help you finish it. More than that, you need Jesus to help you love as He loves you. You need God’s Holy Spirit to give you the power to serve your brothers.” They were losing it. I was almost losing it. It was just too perfect. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” They nodded between sobs. “I love you guys very much. God has given me the job of disciplining you to obey God and me and mommy. You’re right, Austin, everyone sins. Mommy sins, Daddy sins, you sin. And that’s why we need a savior. If we were capable of being good enough, then Jesus died for nothing. We are not good by ourselves. But God loves us very much and has made a way for us to be His children and to follow Him. You guys HAVE to start asking God’s Holy Spirit that lives inside you to help you – because you CANNOT do it – you cannot.”
I knew my time of relevance was dwindling in the rain, so I wrapped it up and had them apologize to each other. And I told them that if they’re ever going to hit or be mean again, they’ll find themselves weeding the garden. We came inside, changed our clothes, and the boys ate their dinner with grateful hearts.
I’m not expecting angels from here on out, but I did pray (and continue to pray) as we walked back from the garden that God would use this day to open their eyes to their need for Him. That it would be a marker in their lives of understanding what God has done for them and that He would be drawing them to Him, and that they would see Him for the Treasure that He is.