Think Outside the Bag

My son went to school without a lunch one day this week. It wasn’t that we didn’t provide food or didn’t care whether he ate.

He left his brown-bag, home-made lunch in his chair at the kitchen table. We made the lunch. It was his responsibility to take it with him to school.

I saw that lunch when I returned home after driving my 8th grader to school. I put it back in the refrigerator and, after a brief confab with his dad, determined to leave it there.

Thus began a hard lesson: sometimes we have to go hungry in order to learn. Pain is a powerful teacher. We seldom forget what we learn the hard way.

My son needed a nutritious lunch that day in particular. He had a full school day ahead immediately followed by a tough soccer game with him playing striker. Because he’d also left his wallet he had no money to buy lunch. 

I had breakfast, said a prayer and drove to the office.

You might think I’m a horrible parent. You’d be right. (There are times when I wonder why God ever entrusted me with children!) But this was actually one of my better days. That left-behind lunch became one of the things I pray for – a teachable moment!

You see, our son isn’t a “morning person” and routinely forgets things. We’ve tried to teach him a get-ready-the-night-before process, but he prefers to do things his way. (Don’t we all, even when our way doesn’t work?)

I could have driven the lunch to his middle school. I’d delivered something a day earlier. Soccer team photos were scheduled; my son forgot his uniform. He phoned. I drove it over.

Our rule is one Parent Delivery a year. After that, you’re on your own. It doesn’t matter whether it’s forgotten homework, sports equipment, allergy meds or ortho devices. Our theory is children learn more by working through the problems they create than they do by being rescued continually by well-meaning parents.

The lessons have been hard – for him and for us: zeros for missing homework and a lower GPA, for example. The feedback has been brutal: “This is all your fault.” “You don’t love me!”

Actually, allowing children to experience the consequences of their actions can be the most loving thing we do as parents, especially when those consequences are small compared to the larger lesson. God deals with His children in a similar way.

The Bible says that Jesus “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” 2 Peter 1:3 He’s made it available, but he doesn’t cram it down our throats. If we don’t use what He’s given, it’s our decision. 

When we lack what we need and become weary, frustrated or broken, God does not say: “I told you so.” He simply says,  “Come to me… . 

God loves us enough to let us learn from our mistakes. As parents, we have to be willing to do the same. It isn’t easy. It hurts to watch anyone suffer when you know the pain might have been avoided.

God would prefer we all learn with less suffering, but we aren’t always willing. So He allows us to experience heartache, disappointment, even failure. Pain has purpose. It can make us teachable.

I am not sure what my son ate for lunch that day. We never talked about it. But he was pretty hungry at dinner that night. And he didn’t forget his lunch the next morning!