Gray Leggings and Grace

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. —Psalm 103:12 HCSB

It all started with the black leggings.

The elementary school my children attend has a policy when it comes to shorts. It’s a policy I wholeheartedly affirm—if the shorts are short the kids wear leggings. Because the stores only seem to carry what I call “shorty-shorts,” my nine-year-old daughter has quite a collection of stretch pants.

One day, Caitlyn came home from school with a tear in the knee of her black leggings.

Not a big deal. Not unusual, either. My kids are not allowed to play on electronics during the week, so that means when homework is finished, they head outside, not to be seen again until dinner time—a lifestyle that takes its toll on their clothes.

I commented on the sizable hole, and asked my daughter a simple question: “Honey, why don’t you go put on another pair?”

“I can’t, mom! They all have holes in them and the pink ones are too small.”

Further investigation on my part confirmed this to be true, so the next day I stopped by the store. All stretch pants were on sale for ten dollars, so I picked up two pairs—one gray, one black—and headed back to the house.

After school, my daughter squealed with delight. “Gray ones! Thank you, mommy! I’ve never had gray ones before!”

Smiling at how easy it was to make her day, I began to prepare dinner. Moments later she returned, proudly modeling her two-hour-old, brand new pair of gray leggings. Then she raced off to play. “Not so fast,” I hollered. “Come back inside and change your clothes.”

“Please, mommy, can I please please wear them this once? I won’t tear them, I swear!”

“Caitlyn, those are school clothes. If you are going to be running around outside I want you in play clothes.”

After a minute or two of listening to a stream of “I promise” and “we’re playing inside,” I relented. “But Caitlyn, listen to me. Look me right in the eyes.”

She turned back around, her sweet grin reaching from ear to ear.

“If you ruin your new pants I will not buy you new ones.”

With an “I love you” and an “I promise,” she raced out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

Not twenty minutes passed before I heard the door creak open. “Mommy?”

“Hi, honey! I thought you were over at Jocelyn’s house.”

“Well, um, I’m going back over in a minute but I wanted to come tell you the truth.”

I looked up from the salad I’d been preparing.

“I swear I didn’t mean to, mommy.”

I held my gaze on hers.

“I swear I didn’t mean to, mommy!”

Against my specific instructions, she and her friend had decided to ride scooters. Caitlyn had run into a bush, caught her leggings, and torn a large hole in the derrière.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.

—Psalm 103:13–14 HCSB

My two children respond to discipline differently. My playful Nick is the one to push as far as he can against the boundaries. Caitlyn, my little rule-follower, needs only a sharp glance to keep her in line.

I expressed disbelief first, then disappointment, and watched as my little girl crumbled. What followed was unexpected. My daughter spiraled down into a self-defeating state of self-loathing, crying that she hated herself and that she could “never do anything right.” An hour later she was still sobbing in her bedroom, absolutely inconsolable. In part, because she had been very excited about the leggings, but also because she has a tender heart that longs to please.

I pulled Caitlyn onto my lap and held her tightly as she cried. Finally, I turned her face toward mine, wiped her tears, and kissed her wet cheeks. “Sweetheart,” I said softly, “you are nine years old.”

“I should know better!” she yelled, her voice hoarse from crying.

“Caitlyn, listen to me. You are nine years old. Mommy expects you to make mistakes.”

Tightening my hug, I continued. “I am never surprised when you make mistakes. But I do expect you to learn from them. Now you need to make a choice. Are you going to let this one little thing ruin your entire night, or are you going to take what you’ve learned and make the right choice next time?”

A few more minutes of snuggling and she ran off to play with the cat.

I did not buy my daughter a new pair of pants. I love her too much to do that. I care too much about her long-term character to keep her from the sting of the consequences. Mistakes are the best teachers we have. But here is what you and I must always remember:

Our failures are a teaching tool, not a prison cell.

The prophet Micah describes our Heavenly Father as one who delights to show mercy, who casts our transgression into the sea, never to be retrieved.

It would have been easy to show condemnation, to reprove and punish her for disobeying. And sometimes that’s exactly what a child needs. But I encourage you to be open to grace, to use situations like this as teachable moments that give hope and shine light into your child’s heart.