I was eating dinner with a family from church when their youngest, about 3 years old at the time, bravely took control of the ketchup bottle. But he missed his plate and squirted a big puddle of it on the table instead. His face reflected his alarm and disappointment, and after getting his mother’s attention he insisted, “Mom, you should have helped me.” It’s moments like these when I try hard to observe parents’ responses, hoping to gather some wisdom for when it's my turn. His mother calmly assured him they would clean up the ketchup. She helped him wipe up the mess and squeeze some out on his plate. In a few minutes, the boy was happily enjoying his French fries.
I think of this scene often because it heartbreaking to see this young boy struggle to do something himself, then fail. Just as heartbreaking is his obvious trust for his mother and his misplaced frustration. His insistence that she should have been helping him, even though he didn’t ask for help, points to his knowledge that his mother is a master that he can learn things from — things like squeezing ketchup in neat dollups on your dinner plate. She’s also the one who can keep him safe and clean, away from what’s messy.
I also think of this scene when I make mistakes and need to ask God for mercy. My response is often the same as this boy’s — God should have helped me. I’m his daughter, his beloved! Why did he let me make this mistake? I’d feel much safer if things had gone smoothly, if he’d seen the big puddle of red mess I was about to make, taken the bottle away, and done it himself.
And even when I do ask for help, sometimes I still make the mistake I'm hoping to avoid...
The mother’s response is so insightful, too — the point isn’t to avoid the big red mess, but to learn to squeeze it yourself and to not be afraid and also to enjoy the ketchup.
So we clean it up, give it another squeeze, and treasure that my mother-God is close enough to hear me when I call. And some French fries always help, too.