Two children plus one favorite toy on equals trouble. No, this is not the beginning of new math word problem. But it is a scenario that leads to disruptions in families every day. Two children each want the same toy. In this case, this toy was a recent gift from Grandma. On this particular morning, Andrew is the first one to claim possession. Lydia knows this means that she will not be able to play with this toy for at least several hundred years. So Lydia, with tears welling up in her eyes, goes off to find Mom to inform her of this great injustice.
Mom, of course, is busy trying to get the baby settled down so that she can get to the other things she needs to do. Since this is the fifth time this week this situation has occurred, Mom is ready with a solution. Holding on to the baby, she escorts Lydia back to the crime scene. She asks the children who had the toy first. Andrew triumphantly answers, “I did!” Mom then asks if both Andrew and Lydia had cleaned up after breakfast and made their beds, since those two things were prerequisites to beginning playtime. Both said they had. So then, Mom says that since Andrew had the toy first he can play with it first. But, just to keep things fair, she reached into her pocket and produced an egg-timer and informed the children that when the timer ran out, it would be Lydia’s turn to play with the toy. Instead of this plan being met with joy and appreciation for Mom’s wisdom, Andrew responded with indifference, and then he announced that he was going to play with another toy. Lydia wailed that that was the toy she was going to play with while she was waiting for her turn with the disputed toy. Right at that moment, the baby’s diaper filled to capacity and he began to fuss. Mom looked at the egg-timer in frustration as it showed 4 minutes was left until it was Lydia’s turn.
In this instance, “Who had it first?” proved not to be a helpful question. This type of question is based upon the assumption that being fair is the underlying principle for settling disputes. However, in a sin-cursed world populated with sinful people, attempting to establish what is fair is often an exercise in futility. Suppose you were to ask God to treat you fairly, based upon your actions and thoughts. In this case, fairness is the last thing any Christian would want. Jesus was unfairly declared guilty for my sake. So, no, you would not want God to treat you fairly.
The next question is this: why should we expect fairness to motivate our children? Fairness has to do with justice. For humans, justice is achieved through one of two ways. The first is that we are treated as our sins deserved and justice is served. The second is that Christ was treated as our sins deserved, and justice was also served. Christ paid the awful price the justice required. This is the good news of the gospel. Making fairness a cornerstone of your parenting obfuscates the gospel message. Human fairness and the gospel don’t mix.airness and the gospel don’t mix.
Now, let’s go back to Andrew and Lydia. This time mom has a different perspective. Since mom had observed the understandable reality that both children desired this toy, she found a few moments when the baby was sleeping and spent some time with her two older children. The three of them sat in the living room. Mom was holding the treasured toy. She asked Andrew and Lydia what was so special to them about this toy. After listening to their answers, she said “So, you both think that this toy is a good gift from grandma.” They both nodded their heads enthusiastically. Then she said, “Do you remember when we talked about where good gifts come from in family worship?” Both children agreed that good gifts come from God. Mom said, “That’s right!”
She went on to say, “Psalm 72:18 says that God alone does wonderful deeds. So God is the one who is really responsible for bringing good things into our lives. I know that Grandma bought this toy and gave it to you, but God is the one who determined that you would have this special toy.” Mom then asked her next question with a big smile and an almost playful tone, “Do you think that God brought this toy to you because you are both just so good and wonderful all the time?”
Both children looked up a little sheepishly and acknowledged that they were often less than wonderful. Mom continued, smiling, and said, “That is absolutely right. God does not give us good things because we are good, but because he loves us. So how does God want you to play with this toy? Does one of you deserve to have the toy more than the other?”
Again , both children answered that they did not deserve the toy more that the other. Mom then said, “We know that Jesus wants you both to have a good time playing with this toy. So let’s see how we can begin to do just that. Let’s pray and ask God for wisdom in playing with this toy, wisdom that will let him know that we are thankful to God and to Grandma for giving you this special toy. Andrew, you pray first.”
After praying together, Andrew and Lydia then thought of some fun and creative ways to use the toy together as well as individually.
Now, before you accuse me of living on another planet, this way of handling this situation was no accident. Mom and Dad have given much thought to making the Gospel an integral part of their parenting. They had prayed and planned about how they would handle situations when desires for new toys would tempt their children. These topics had been themes at family worship and other discussion times. Jesus and his love were part of the everyday discussions in this home. The benefit for Andrew and Lydia is that they are being raised in a home where fairness is not the bottom line – the gospel is. They are being prepared to live in a world where life is not always fair. They are learning that the lovingkindness of God is better than fair. They are learning practically that the question should not be “Who had it first, ” but “Who loved first?”