He had found a key, somewhere outside buried in the back yard, he said. And it was old and rusty and its lock was somewhere long gone, unremembered. “What does it open?” He asked earnestly.
“I don’t know, something useless,” I say back without much thought because I am irritated and overwhelmed and have things to do and I don’t feel like fielding a Q & A session from a curious six year old who wants to know the answers to life’s biggest and smallest questions.
He asks, “Is it the key to your heart?” I snort mockingly, as if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and my impatience directs me away and I never do answer his question.
Our days look like this often, my hard heart exposed by the big blue eyes of a troubled boy. He’s not a good listener. He likes to wreck things. There are holes in my walls, bent curtain rods, little dents all over my piano, stolen dollar bills, hidden car keys, broken Christmas gifts. And I think somewhere deep inside that this is the punishment I suffer for taking on the care of a battered and bruised, pint-sized soul.
And my reactions look the same every day: first thing in the morning, I am frustrated; minutes after getting off the bus later, I get angry; when I’m fixing dinner I start to yell, then apologize half-heartedly and make up; five minutes later it’s back to time-out, patience is lost all over again; by evening just before pick-up time I walk away from innocent questions pretending not to hear because I am bothered and tired and unforgiving. I do not understand this child and I do not know how to fix him.
When the nights come, and this boy is home with his caregivers to dream his small boy dreams, I lay awake, guilty of rejecting a child and I know it. I ponder these things and they burn a deep hole in my heart where I push away and decide against the promises of God, because it is all just too much.
Anger is ultimate spiritual dysfunction.
But yesterday — blessed, precious yesterday, praise be to God — something changed and yes, a breakthrough of Niagra Falls proportion floods the gates of Heaven and I am changed and new as I stand there under the cross, expecting the worst but receiving the best. This whole thing enters the scene with no announcement and catches me not with my guard down, but with my guard up higher than it has ever been before. That is the beautiful work of Christ, that our thickest pride is our fortresses weakest spot.
There is yet another incident, a serious one, where rules are broken — real laws, actually — and I must deal with this child who is operating at a damage level far above his years. I feel the familiar rise of bitter tasting anger, the heat creeping up to my face, the thoughts rushing madly through this mind.
But when I open my mouth, expecting condemnation from the snakes writhing around ready to strike down and make sure it is known that he does not understand what is right and I guess he never will. But what comes forth is the calmest voice, not my own, from the depths, speaking the Truth to this child, sharing with Him the Gospel of Grace, and telling him that Jesus died for him on that cross so that little boys didn’t have to live a life full of rule breaking and angry parents and running from the law. Jesus forgives him for those mistakes he makes, always and forever, if he decides he wants to be forgiven.
And he looks up at me with eyes of confusion and I know he can see the Spirit because this is not the babysitter full of self-absorbed rebuke and anger he is used to. God stirs his heart, I see it in the twisting of his lips and the tears that swell, dripping slow drops onto the kitchen floor.
And I prayed harder for that boy’s salvation than I have ever even prayed for my own. The Lord poured tears down both faces as we huddled on the bottom step and they melted into one stream between our laps, healing waters pooling in our hearts.
The love that overcame was a beautiful thing, and it was all I could do to kiss that boy all over and to tell him until my voice was dry and cracked that he was so desperately loved, not only by me but by the living God who knows Him inside and out, like a familiar t-shirt. And those big blue eyes, glossy but vibrant, looked up at me, and in one flash of expression he shared with me the troubles he shuffles around this life wearing, like a pair of two-sizes-too-big shoes. I’m not sure that boy has ever been held like a baby, even when he was a baby, and so I picked up those lanky limbs and he crawled on my lap and I held him like he was just born.
And when he started to feel silly, and saw the truth that there was no more anger in me waiting to come out, he ran away free and he was off and playing trains and jets and had a hop in his step full of forgiveness, peace that passes understanding. I stood up with that same hop, knowing that this boy has a long road ahead but man alive, so do I, and praise be to God, I was forgiven, too.
Eight months of blessed and consecrated struggle, the thorn in my side, and three weeks before the school year is over and my freedom draws nigh, God delivers me into real freedom in only the way He can, and shows me that in all my ignorance, this boy has been the key to my heart and love abounds where forgiveness is needed deep.