A dear friend came for a visit recently to spend time with the family and me in the lead-up to Christmas. She hung out with the kids and noted their individual personalities. Though distinctly different, she also keenly observed that all three children seem to be equally preoccupied with the concept of fairness. When dessert was doled out, she remarked that they all became very concerned with the exact, precise amounts that each person received. Most people don’t approach their taxes with such painstaking deliberation. In fact, she picked up on a recurring theme in our household.
I don’t think my children are odd birds in this case. The issue of fairness seems to be a common concern among most kids. I remember sizing up Christmas gifts when I was young, measuring exactly how much my brothers got verses my own pile of booty. If I figured on the lower end of the gift scale—oh what a blow! A greater injustice could not be imagined.
As loving parents, my husband and I are acutely aware of our children’s concern for fairness, and so we usually go out of our way to ensure everyone gets the same amount, as much as humanly possible that is. But recently on the commute home from school, my middle son began to lament some serious injustice that he had been dealt. He was making a case that he had been grossly mistreated in some transaction and was describing his perceived victimization. You’d think he had a Harvard Law degree. His legalistic claim is too silly to describe in detail, but suffice it to say, it involved an ostrich egg and a Rubik’s Cube. I impatiently listened to him describe how maligned he felt at our egregious oversight when I could bite my tongue no longer—he’d caught me on the wrong day—I blurted out, “Do you think God’s fair?”
He pounced on that. “Yes! Of course, God is fair!”
I smugly retorted, “Well, he’s actually not. What about the Israelites? God’s CHOSEN people. How fair is that? To have a favorite people? That doesn’t seem so fair to me. What if we decided your sister was our favorite?” Did I mention he caught me on a bad day?
“And how fair is that your friend James has a severe case of ADHD and has a doubly hard time completing his homework? Is it fair that I’m short and Aunt Therese is 5’10”? Or what about that homeless guy whose parents may have been drug addicts?” Silence from my pint-sized attorney.
As we continued the drive in eerie quiet, I experienced short-lived satisfaction in verbally besting my son. It’s hard to get too excited when your opponent is a precocious 8-year-old. Short term win for mom, a long-term loss for my son’s emotional stability. Now was my chance to clear up the theological can of worms I had just opened up and prevent serious couch time with a therapist down the road. “It’s true. God doesn’t really seem fair. He gives some people great burdens and others seemingly light loads. Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. But honestly, many very good people suffer a heck of a lot more than ever seems fair.” I reminded the kids how unfair it felt when their 17-year-old cousin was diagnosed with life-threatening leukemia. Or when a family we know from school suffered the death of their newborn.
A quick peek in the rearview mirror revealed utter confusion. Yikes. Where was I going with this? “Ahem. But gratefully,” I began. “He’s not fair when it comes to his forgiveness or his mercy. He never tires of loving us or forgiving us. Never. No matter how far we run from Him, or how badly we’ve sinned against Him, He is always waiting with open arms. The worst crime can be forgiven by God, but that’s not the case for our own government. You commit a crime and are honestly sorry, you don’t get a pass from the court system. God, on the other hand, is lavish in his mercy. What other parent forgives a grave sin and a piddly offense with the same gusto. His love is so abundant, in fact, it baffles our common sense. That’s when His lack of fairness seems to really work in our favor.”
As is often the case when I set out to teach my kids a lesson, I end up learning more about my own life. It certainly wasn’t fair that God’s own son faced death on a cross. Yet I constantly expect fairness, always comparing my life portion with others. “Her kids are so well behaved in church. They have such an amazing house. Why does he make so much more money than I? She doesn’t look like she’s had 7 kids and I look I’ve had 10!” When we spend our days trying to meticulously seek fairness, the way my kids measure their desserts, we won’t find it. In fact, it makes us resentful and bitter. God’s plan for us is deeper and more mysterious.
In Matthew 20’s parable of The Workers in the Vineyard, the landowner hires people. Some start early in the morning and others are brought to the work site at various times later in the day—some as late as 5 o’clock! Can you say, “slacker?” God’s response makes me as indignant as my 8-year-old:
“…each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
And there you have it. God has a plan for each and every one of us, a generous, loving plan. He’s just trying to get us across the finish line. Some will come to it very early, others will make the half-court shot just in time to beat the final buzzer. Some get a big old pile of cake, brownies and every imaginable confectionary delight. Some wind up with a thin slice of Christmas fruitcake. Really?! Fruitcake and they’re eating fudge?
But we all EQUALLY share the unimaginable, extravagant promise of salvation. This Christmas season, I will try to choose gratitude for His boundless generosity. I will forget fairness and eat my just desserts. If only I could get my kids on board.