One of my son’s favorite restaurants is IHOP, where he somehow manages to fit an entire Funny Face pancake into his kid-size stomach in about ten minutes. We went to eat there last weekend at his request, and as soon as our food was delivered, he gleefully started gobbling up his breakfast.
About five minutes later, I heard a child break out into a tantrum at a neighboring table. Their food had been delivered and, though it was precisely what he had ordered, he’d decided it was unacceptable. He was screaming, yelling, banging on the table—the whole nine yards.
His mother attempted to calm him down while trying to keep his younger sibling from joining the fray. Moments later, the boy’s father stood up, picked up the boy, slung him over his shoulder, and calmly walked out the front door, ignoring the boy’s screams and nearly being kicked in the head.
I knew all too well what was about to happen, because I’ve been there (both as the parent and as the child, but the latter is another story or forty). This boy was in for it. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I was sure it would not be pretty.
The father and son rounded the corner and stopped just outside the window opposite our table, where they sat down on a bench. I waited sympathetically for the storm clouds of trouble to break and rain down wrath: about staying calm in restaurants, being grateful that their family had even come to IHOP, enjoying the delicious food that was exactly what he ordered, remembering that so many people don’t have any food at all…I could think of more than several handfuls of topics on the dad’s list.
But the father only wrapped his son tightly in his arms and held him close. They sat there for several minutes, the dad waiting patiently for his son’s sobs to slow. Once the tears stopped altogether, they sat a little longer before getting up to walk around a bit.
I’m not sure if any words were exchanged; as near as I could tell, the father gave nothing more than simple grace.
When they came back into the restaurant, they were both all smiles. They passed our table and sat down at theirs, and the whole family finished the meal, smiling and laughing quietly together.
I wonder what we would be able to accomplish if we all treated one another with this kind of compassion. What would happen if, when someone tailgates us and then cuts us off in traffic, we assume they’re heading to the hospital and pray for them rather than fuming and griping for the rest of our drive? What if, when natural disasters occur, we immediately send assistance rather than shaking our heads about how people should have known better than to live where such things occur? What if, when a relationship is broken, we close ranks around those who are hurting rather than spending our time speculating on all the sordid details?
Let me be clear: the examples I just gave came to mind because I don’t do them on a regular basis. The reason I nearly started weeping in IHOP that day is that I very rarely demonstrate such grace—not to my son, not to others (especially while driving), and not to myself. I always seem to be running just a little short, and I wish it was otherwise.
The truth is, though, it is otherwise: our access to grace is unlimited. James 4:6 says, “He gives us more grace” (NIV, emphasis mine). God continually pours out grace on us, more and more. We need to take the grace that overflows from him, be willing to receive it ourselves, and then pass it along to others.
We have a Father who grants us mercy after actions infinitely worse than angry tears over pancakes. Thanks be to God.
Photograph © Harry Knight, used with permission