Friday, January 14, 2011

Pay back, cowboy style

A few days ago, the kids and I made our weekly pilgrimage to the grocery store. We parked, and began to trek through the parking lot. Just ahead of us, a man and his son walked towards the double automatic doors. The boy looked to be about twelve or so. He was given the job of following behind and pushing the cart. But he got a little ahead of himself, and bumped the back of his dad’s legs with it. At the same instant that the boy gave a perky, “Sorry dad,” the father spun on his heels with rage in his eyes and literally growled through clenched teeth, “God damn you!” It was loud. He then quickly turned his back on his son and stormed into the store.

Look. I will not pretend that I am shy or soft-spoken. Blame it on the red hair, but I’ve a little fire in my soul that wants to execute justice on parents like that. I can barely restrain myself from speaking up when I see a child being mistreated in public.

I had all kinds of verbal zingers getting in line in my head were I to run into this pair in the store. Here’s an example of a conversation I was itching to have.

Angle #1: sarcasm.
(said to the boy) “Gosh it must be hard living with someone who never makes mistakes.” (then the dad says “Excuse me?”) “Well, I’m assuming you’ve never made such a horrible mistake as to bump someone with a grocery cart, based on the way you treated your son. I just think that must be hard for him, being so flawed.”

Or what about this. I kind of liked this better.

Angle #2: just call me the Holy Spirit.
(said to the dad) “Hey, I saw how you treated your son in the parking lot when he ran into you with the cart. I hope you’ve taken the time to apologize to him, because I have a feeling you’ve made much bigger mistakes than that in your lifetime.”

Angle #3: exposure. (which I thought up right after the dad tried to be nice to me while we were both waiting at the pharmacy counter. well, not exactly nice. he tried to be cool.)
"Oh no. Don't even try to be the nice guy because I know you're not. I saw what happened in the parking lot. So I'm not on your side. But unfortunately, your son is. So get off your phone, look him in the eye, and act like he matters to you."

Yeah. Ugly. I’m that ungracious, particularly when it comes to people hurting kids. I know I can cross the line in my judgement of other parents who are out in the world making mistakes (just like I AM), but that same fire also makes me speak up for wrongdoing. And I teach my kids to do the same…so there are decidedly pros and cons. One little hint that I'm crossing a line, though, is when I want justice on my terms. I wanted that dad to feel worse than he made that boy feel. Because that's what he deserves. Right? Bear with me, here.

Part two of the story. That same day, my husband emailed me this review for the new remake of the film True Grit. I don’t love western flicks, so he was delivering some propaganda to sell me on it. It was even reviewed on a Christian website. He knew that would give it at least a few extra points in my book.

But by the end of the article, I had forgotten all about the movie. Towards the end, the author is exploring the theme of retribution and how it plays out in the film. And in that analysis, he makes a striking point. A very humbling, striking point. Here’s an excerpt from the conclusion of his article:

Even as Mattie Ross faces down her nemesis and defeats him in True Grit, she’s knocked backward into a pit by her weapon’s recoil. Revenge brings a cold comfort, resulting in an immediate descent into a snake-filled darkness. Her righteousness doesn’t result in a neat and tidy ending; it leaves her scarred, poisoned, and broken. Revenge, even petty revenge, never ends in as happy a way as we’d like, with a neat and tidy moment of “I told you so” justice. Instead, Like Mattie, we end our journey scarred both by victimization and retribution. 

Perhaps that’s because what we need is retribution so vast that it calls for wrath that would overwhelm us. If our hunger for revenge were fulfilled, the result would be a flood that would drown even us, and our petty attempts at substitutes will ultimately be dissatisfying. The “justice” we hunger for would bring about our destruction. Thanks be to God—there’s a better retribution and a better rescue from the pit; one that emerges from the fringes, carries out justice, and saves us from the wrath we deserve.

Do you have to read it again? It was deep and beautiful. Yeah, read it again.

How very true. I want justice because this world is a very unjust place. But according to God's standard, His requirement is perfection in order for me to be with Him. Which makes me so off the list. I am that dad. Let's not mince words. Besides the fact that in my weakness I've said things to my own kids to make them feel very, very small, I'm far from perfection. And THANK GOD He doesn't give me what I deserve. I deserve retribution and what I receive instead is forgiveness.

That's the definition of grace. Getting what you don't deserve. Because I've put my life in the hands of the only Savior, I get rescued from the pit of my own undoing. It is all so unfair. And unfair in my favor. In that dad's favor. In everyone's favor, if and only if we place our lives in His hands.

If we choose to deal out our own retribution, striving for a satisfaction and justice we will never see on this earth, we'll end up in a pit, trapped by our own desire for control. But God says vengeance is His. We can let go of our natural desire for pay back, and trust Him because He is perfectly fair and just. Unless you've accepted Jesus and the gift of His grace. Then, He's not fair to you at all; He's like ridiculously forgiving.

Tonight I'm gonna pray for that dad. That hardened, hurting, and angry dad. Maybe He'll realize His need for forgiveness one day. Just maybe. And maybe on that day, he'll thank God he received everything when he deserved nothing.

Anything you need to let go of? Trust that He's fair. He sees you. He knows injustice better than anyone ever has (remember, Jesus was falsely accused and then killed for made up reasons? Talk about unjust.)

God is the ultimate Sherrif of this town. He is the truest, grittiest one of them all.

And there certainly can't be two Sherrifs. I guess I'll step down from my post.



  1. This is so good & so hard to do! I feel like doing the same thing when I see or hear things like that. I am sure so often that I do similar things... thank God for His unfailing love & grace. I just love your heart Leslie :)

  2. i needed to read this today!!!!!!! yes yes yes!!!

  3. everything you write hits home with me and i read it on the very best day i should. yes, indeed.

    ps, you need to write a book.