“Noooo!” my toddler screamed from the other side of the yard, eyes wide with terror, hands balled into fists.
Having expected this, I stifled a giggle, hoping he couldn’t see my face clearly through the throng of frolicking, happy children wearing swimsuits and more than enough sunscreen.
“It comes off!” I called, waving him toward the sprinklers and his best friend Cole. “Go play!”
Wiping away tears, my boy considered my words and took a few steps toward his wet friends. Then, seeing the grass that covered their legs and feet, he looked back down at his own.
“Nooooooo!” he screamed, his cheeks turning pink, then red with effort and lack of oxygen.
I sighed. Ten minutes. I’d gotten ten whole minutes of mommy time with my friends. From their lawn chairs, they offered expressions and murmurs of sincere sympathy, poking out bottom lips and looking sad both for me and my son. They knew him well, the only boy in his peer group who couldn’t stand to get dirty, the only one who refused to play with shaving cream in Sunday school, the only one whose Vacation Bible School art came home with adult hand prints because he wouldn’t stick his own hands in the paint.
“Go get him, Mom,” my hostess suggested, taking my sweating glass of pink lemonade.
By the time I carried Hunter back to the porch, most of the grass had dried and fallen off. A quick spritz with the garden hose removed the rest. Even so, no amount of reasoning or coaxing by me or my friends could convince my little soldier to rejoin his comrades in make-believe arms, fort or no fort.
Cuddled in a beach towel on my lap, Hunter nibbled at a cookie and sniffed, looking at nothing. Sadness overwhelmed me as I watched his friends enjoy the beautiful summer day without him, hopping over the sprinkler, chasing each other across the lawn, and laughing so hard it slowed them down. Before long, adult conversation stopped, impeded by the tiny ears nestled near my own.
It was only one party, one opportunity missed, but that didn’t matter. My mother’s heart still ached to think of the joy my son had forfeited just to stay clean.
I do the same thing.
Secure in my salvation, but insecure in my ability to live out the calling I have received without falling short—I know myself all too well—I often watch from a distance as my brothers and sisters serve, love, interact, and grow. You see, I’m paralyzed by an intense fear of letting my Heavenly Father down. It’s silly, I know, considering the fact that God knows the dust I’m made of, but it’s a hard thing for a perfectionist like me to get past.
Thankfully, Hunter outgrew his fear of filth somewhere around his fourth grade year. I know because that’s when he wore one pair of sandals for an entire week at camp without ever taking them off…ever! He played in the mud in them, waded in the creek in them, showered in them, slept in them, and then wore them home for us to chisel off at the end of the week.
And now my son is helping me.
With patience born of empathy, my anxious child turned confident adult encourages me regularly, by word and example, not to let the inevitability of personal sin and human error rob me of the joy of my salvation, but to live boldly, risk openly, and so make the very most of the utter and complete freedom that is mine through Christ.
And why not? The Father who made me new, should I need it, will also rinse me clean (1 John 1:9).