Last night I had a new heartbreaking experience as a father. I had to look my crying son in the face as I knowingly, and lovingly, broke his heart.
This story starts Sunday afternoon. My wife, Ali, came home from church with a cupcake for our oldest son, Emerson. He loves cupcakes. He rarely gets them, so he was understandably excited. We told him he could have the cupcake as soon as he ate his vegetables, which consisted of two carrots. Those two carrots stayed on that plate all day Sunday and all day Monday. Every time Emerson would ask if he could eat his cupcake we would respond, “as soon as you eat your carrots you can have your cupcake.” And still the carrots would sit.
Once Tuesday rolled around, Emerson’s vegetables had been exchanged for new ones. And still they sat. They sat on a plate on the edge of our table all day with a cupcake reward sitting just a few feet away. But they were never eaten.
Once Tuesday evening came, my wife and I were amazed at this display of willpower, because – this is an important fact – Emerson loves eating carrots. He had eaten carrots every day the week before, but that was before carrots became a condition of obedience.
Dinner on Tuesday night became our familial Rubicon. We told Emerson that at dinner time, he had to eat his vegetables (this time two pieces of squash and one piece of zucchini) in order to get his cupcake. Ali and I were so hopeful he would get to eat his cupcake. But we were worried, because we also told him we were throwing away the cupcake after dinner if he did not eat it.
All dinner we anxiously encouraged him to eat his vegetables. All dinner he would put them in his mouth and then take them out. All dinner he would talk about his cupcake. All dinner we would repeat the precondition to his cupcake. But when the end of dinner approached, the vegetables still sat on his plate. He was begging to eat his cupcake, we were begging him to eat his vegetables. When we gave him a final choice between eating his vegetables or throwing away his cupcake, he chose to throw away his cupcake.
Ali and I were heartbroken. We know how much he loves cupcakes, and we desperately wanted him to have it. But not at the cost of his obedience. His obedience and willingness to follow are worth far more than a single cupcake.
So I got him down from his high chair, and he followed me into the kitchen where he saw me pick up his cupcake. He cried. He stomped his feet. He screamed. He begged. But he would not bend his will.
So I reached over my frantic son and slowly dropped his cupcake into the trash can behind him. It was a heartbreaking night all the way around. And it taught me a few random lessons I want to share.
- Frequently, the things we try to avoid are the things which lead to what we want. We want strength, but don’t want to endure pain to get it. We want patience, but we are unwilling to learn it by waiting. We want victory, but we avoid fighting for it. We get so caught up avoiding the trees that we miss the forest.
- God desires for us to be blessed and happy, but not at the expense of our devotion to Him. I have known many Christians who rightly believe God desires them to be happy, but they wrongly pursue sinful courses to achieve temporary pleasure. Following their own will, they miss out on God’s greater desire for them – holiness.
- God is not pleased when his children suffer, even if it is for their good. There is a very dangerous tendency to elevate God’s determination towards His will over the emotion He feels for His children. I am confident my decision to throw away the cupcake taught Emerson multiple valuable lessons, but it broke my heart to watch my son miss out on his blessing. God loves us in the present, not just in the future where we have become what he desires.
- To the degree we focus too much on temporary pleasure, we probably focus too much on temporary pain. My wife and I talked about the cupcake episode for almost an hour. Emerson woke up this morning and embraced his new day without a thought towards his lost cupcake. Many of us should learn to do the same.
When we trust God as our Father, we can be sure our joy will be made complete – even if we have to eat our vegetables in the mean time.