There is a calendar in Jesse's school folder that comes home everyday. On each day is a green, yellow or red dot that communicates to us how Jesse's behavior was that day. It is based on the classroom sheep pen where each child has a sheep with their name on it. The sheep is moved out of the pen when they disobey. A green dot means that he did a good job obeying the following the rules (his sheep stayed in the pen), yellow means that he strayed out of the sheep pen a bit and red means that he choose to stray into the danger zone, outside of God's protection and blessing. The yellow or red dot is also accompanied by a note from the teacher explaining what had happened. At first, we really liked this system, it gave us a good idea of how Jesse was doing in school and what we needed to address at home. But after a few red dots started coming home, I started having a lot of anxiety about how Jesse would do each day, what dot he would come home with. I developed some green dot righteousness. My first interactions with Jesse when he got home were based on what color dot he had gotten that day. I am sure he sensed my stress over it and when I realized what I was doing, I backed off a bit and disciplined myself to not open the folder until after I had talked to Jesse about his day and welcomed him home.
But it wasn't long before I realized that Jesse had developed his own green dot righteousness. My first clue was at the end of September, he told me that he was going to get all green dots in October. "But I am a little scared," he said, "I might get a red." I told him that he might get a red because we are not perfect, but with the help of the Holy Spirit he could get green dots. So, we made a point to pray with him before school specifically calling on the Holy Spirit to help him obey and to be kind to others. The beginning of October was filled with green dots but the last two weeks just went down hill and he started coming home with more red dots. I could tell he was getting more and more discouraged.
Then one morning a few weeks ago I overheard him talking to Karis and he said, "Do you know how to get God to love you? Just obey Him all the time." My heart sank. I quickly called him over and explained to him that God loves him even when he sins, that nothing can make God stop loving him, that when we repent he takes our sin and completely gets rid of it. Then I thought of the dots and the record of his failure that he sees every time he looks at the calendar. I then explained that when we sin, when we get red dots, if we repent, Jesus takes His green dot and places it over our red dot and we can't see it anymore, we just see Jesus' green. His face lit up and I think in that moment he got it.
But I really struggled over the next few weeks with the fact that my son so desperately needs to hear the gospel but unsure how to model it for him when I have a hard time believing it myself most of the time (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!), when I so quickly fall into the pattern of obeying for God's approval (I want to earn those green dots!)?
This morning I read in my devotions about how our obedience comes from loving God, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). We don't get a child to obey us by demanding it from them or by guilting them into it. They obey us because they love us and ultimately love God. But where does this love come from? "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). I realized in that moment, the way to obedience for me and my son is to rest in God's love for us, to soak it up to and to be reminded of it constantly. And when I am reminding my son of how much His heavenly father loves him, I am telling myself the same thing, I am resting in Jesus' perfect green dot.