It’s 3:00 in the afternoon as we merge onto I5 headed home from a long day at school. My girl had burst into my classroom showcasing a proud smile and a perfect grade on her recent History test. It’s moments like these- seeing her joy over a school assignment- that give me butterflies. I used to think only cute boys gave girls butterflies. I never imagined babies grown into high-schoolers could make a mom feel so undone. It’s not the perfect score that pleases me in this moment. It’s her perfect joy. She really does care about her work. She is putting in effort, reaping the benefits of her hard work, and she’s proud of it.
She decides the score deserves a stop for ice cream on the way home and I hesitate. I’m not quick to respond because I need to evaluate the situation. What message do I give her if we go for ice cream because she received a perfect grade? If she had tried just as hard and received a low A or even a C would I still take her out for ice cream? Would she even expect ice cream?
Does she understand how valuable her effort is? That red mark doesn’t always reflect the effort, but the effort- doesn’t it always reflect the heart?
As I’m weighing and contemplating something as simple as ice cream, she’s laughing and telling me all about myself. How she knew I wouldn’t go for it- why would I give her ice cream for something she should be doing anyway… or something like that. And I tell her that her reward for her hard work is the perfect grade. And that’s that.
Until I’m stopped in the hallway by my seventh grader, proudly displaying an almost perfect grade on his History report. He’s excited, she’s excited, and I’m throwing my hands in the air, defeated. Let’s go get ice-cream.
It’s early April here in Oregon, still cold according to my standards, but the sun is peeking off and on and we’ve counted less than nine full weeks until summer break. We are antsy for warm weather and this ice cream trip might make it all seem not so far away.
On the way we contemplate flavors and my son is hoping for cotton candy. I can’t remember him ever not liking cotton candy. He orders gobs of it at the county fair each summer, buys it in little blue bags at the grocery story, and now he spots it among the dozen other frozen flavors. He asks for two scoops and my girl spots one of her favorites, and mine- birthday cake. How do they do it? And who does it? Can I have that job- taste testing icy treats all day and deciding if they truly taste like a birthday cake? Would you really pay me to do that? As usual, I’m undecided, so I settle for a scoop of birthday cake and a scoop of salted caramel peanut.
Since my daughter hasn’t quite mastered driving and eating at the same time, I drive the rest of the way home and begin the merge onto I5. I’m halfway through my top scoop, the one that somehow tastes exactly like a birthday cake, when it hits me- what am I doing? I can’t remember what I said, but it was something like “oh no!” all dramatic like. The kids are arguing about discussing something, important and spiritual I’m sure, when they’re interrupted by my outcry. I’m not supposed to be eating this! I’m fasting today! All of a sudden my frozen treat, our tasty reward, has become the icy enemy. I’ve failed.
But then something happens and again my children are teaching me lessons. Lifting me out of defeat. Blowing encouragement into my deflated soul.
“It’s not like you did it on purpose, Mom. It’s not like God’s mad at you.”
“I know, but I’m mad at myself.”
As I’ve walked through the trials and hunger pangs of fasting and praying, I’ve learned much about myself. Ugly, selfish, frightening truths. And I’ve learned some things about God too.
He’s looking at my heart, which is made known by my effort. And those few successes and numerous failures don’t accurately reflect my heart’s desires. Ice cream is a eat-for-no-reason kind of food, but today it was a celebrate-and-rethink-fasting kind of treat. It screamed- your abstaining from food isn’t what pleases me, rather your desire to sacrifice.
I’m teaching my children that the red letter doesn’t define them or reflect their hard work. I’m trying to show them their value is not in report cards and teacher comments. And I’m slowly learning along the way as well.
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”