Fred Meyer is our local grocery store chain. And the mean man is actually a woman (though my 5 year old thinks it’s a man). Fred Meyer earned all of my grocery business two years ago when I discovered their Playland, a glassed in area at the front of the store where a nice staff person (they always are REALLY nice, gentle people) will watch my boys for free for an hour while I do my shopping. Seriously, who wouldn’t do that?!
My Fred Meyer experience had been quite pleasant until about two weeks ago. Another boy was in Playland as well, and he and my son went into a playhouse. The other boy came out with a bloody lip, and no grown up saw what happened. The Playland attendant called me and the other parent to come back. By the time I got there, my 5 year old was sobbing hysterically in the corner as the towering grandmother (whom he thought was a man) repeatedly called him a liar. She wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t shut up. And I had a strong response to her, basically telling her that she was about to cross a line and not to say another word. Finally, my son calmed down enough to admit he was responsible for the boy’s lip (he apparently threw something without respect for the consequences). I made a large arc around the grandmother to get to the mother (who was in much better control), and my son apologized to the boy and offered help as much as he could in a grocery store in that charged situation.
Once I calmed down and stopped yelling at the grandmother in the mirror in the car as we drove on to preschool, I marveled at her response. My boys have been hurt by other kids at preschool or nursery before. My boys have also inadvertantly hurt others in front of their parents. And Luke has deliberately hurt Ethan in front of me at home (and vice versa). There is a stark contrast in available responses. One response relies on shame, humiliation, and fear and then labels the offender as a “bad boy.” The other response recognizes the sin and seeks to repair it. But the sin doesn’t define you. And any humiliation you feel is the result of your own understanding of what you did wrong, not what others project onto you. The second reaction is my natural one now, though as I look back at my life, I’m not sure it always would have been.
Of course, apart from Christ, this is all moot. It is only in Christ that I can boldly tell my son, “You lied, but you are not a liar.” He needs to own up to his lie. He needs to correct his mistake. He needs to learn a different way for dealing with situations that tempt him to lie. And yet, in Christ, he is not defined by his lie. There’s no need to explain it to the evil grandmother (yes, I said evil — I’m still mad at her and am working on that). She definitely doesn’t understand grace and her continued utterances of “bad boy” and “liar” to my 5 year old even as he apologizes to her grandson whose mother thanks me for bringing him over reflect just that. Good grief, lady — you’re 60 years old and outweigh him by 150 pounds. Can you not tone it down a BIT? Her lack of grace was just a symptom of something bigger that has likely ruined every relationship she has.
It’s haunting to hear someone accuse your child the way that woman did. I am so thankful for the gospel lens I have in Christ that enables me to see this through God’s perspective. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins. Our sins hung upon Him on the cross. And now we wear Christ’s robe of righteousness. He paid for our sins, and His righteousness was then credited to our account. Now God disciplines us (not punishes us) to train us in what people who wear Christ’s righteousness are supposed to look like. In heaven, I am clothed in righteousness. Sanctification is God changing our clothes on earth to reflect the ones we are already wearing in heaven. John Stott calls it “A New Set of Clothes” when he addresses sanctification in his commentary on Ephesians. Those old clothes don’t fit you any more. Those old acts don’t define you anymore. You are a new and different person. You acted like that. Now act like this.
I have had some very angry moments thinking of my 5 year old’s accuser. But as I step back, I remember we all have an Accuser. And truth be told, just as my 5 year old deserved aspects of that accusation, so do I. But God steps in and stands between us and our Accuser. I love the glimpse into the heavenly realm given us in Zechariah 3.
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments.
As Satan accuses God’s child, God stops the Accuser in his tracks and not only does not hear Satan’s accusation but further rebukes Satan by clothing Joshua in pure garments! Oh, praise God for His glorious grace!
I did a little of that myself. My son did wrong. He needed to own up to his mistake and correct it as best he could. But his accuser was out of line, and I made it clear that she was not to say another word (this is all very much not my nature, mind you). Now I see this experience, referenced in our house as “the mean man at Fred Meyer” (I’ve given up trying to convince the boys it was a woman), as a tool to talk about what does and does not define us in Christ. It makes me ponder ways to deal with my boys’ sin the way Christ has dealt with mine. Accusation, shaming, and humiliation are tools we must put away for good. We are working to teach restoration and repentance, to teach who we are in Christ and what wearing His righteousness looks like on earth. I am not an expert on this, and I fail to make the connections regularly. But I’m moving toward thankfulness (almost) for the mean man at Fred Meyer for spotlighting to me the difference between Satanic accusation and gospel centered discipline and moving me to appreciate God’s defense of me against the Accuser. To the praise of His glorious grace.