$5 Worth of Wisdom

My kids make mistakes, and I should love them when they choose differently than I’ve advised. True’s wide brown eyes revealed both despair and surprise as he looked at me. Wal-Mart Lady announced the total purchase was $16. My son, True, had given her $11, and he didn’t have any more money to give.

This is where I’d love to write of my compassionate response and tender actions towards my cash-deprived son. That story will have to wait because, like an idiot, I glared back in frustration.

What started off as a dad/daughter date to Wal-Mart (aren’t we classy?) turned into a family field trip to Stuff-Mart. True (10) had just received his monthly allowance, and as my grandmother said, the money was “burning a hole in his pocket.”

Tonight’s purchases included an X-Men Junior set, a voice changer headset, and a Sparkle Princess Barbie. (His sister told him what a wonderful Christmas gift it would be.)

True is the most generous kid I know. He spends his money on others with little thought of himself. He buys snacks from McDonald’s for his sister, just because he likes her. The previous Sunday, on True’s birthday, he gave away his outgrown bicycle to a church family, with no thought of getting another bike.

So we get to the register, and True assures me he has the cash to pay for his items. Except, somehow that third $5 bill had mysteriously turned into a $1 bill. With a mix of disgust and frustration, I dug out my wallet to “fix” the problem. Except, somehow that $10 bill in my wallet had mysteriously turned into a $1 bill.

I’d forgotten giving my $10 bill to a vagrant hip-hop guy with a story. He caught me in a parking lot with my family and delivered a familiar tale about needing gas for his car so he could drive his wife to a city up north. The “I’m a youth pastor” part of his novel was a new twist and caught me at an opportune time, as I’ve been studying Matthew 5 and Christ’s teachings to give up my rights, even when I know I’m being wronged. I slowly realized True’s generosity apple hadn’t fallen too far from my tree.

The problem could have been fixed with the mere swipe of a credit card. But that blasted Dave Ramsey has me thinking cash. So instead, I “fixed” the problem by glaring at True (such a lovely testimony to my son, the folks in line behind us, and the Wal-Mart lady).

And Wal-Mart Lady was indeed watching the show, waiting for us to decide who was going to fork over the remaining $5. Since True and I were broke, we had to ask my wife Belinda for the money. Mercifully, she found $5 to make up the difference for her deadbeat husband and son.

After an uncomfortable “goodbye” to Wal-Mart Lady, I proceeded to grill True about his financial practices, watching his countenance sink and his eyes water. Belinda grabbed my arm as I scolded True. Guys, when you’re talking and your wife grabs your arm, it is good to stop talking. I wasn’t good. I squashed True’s joy over his new toys and his sister’s Christmas gift.

Truth is, True’s dad doesn’t have much to rejoice in about his own financial practices. I give it away and spend it away without much more thought than my 10-year-old son. When I was about True’s age, I had a paper route (yes, I am that old). My first purchases were a BB gun, a black and white TV, and a clock radio–all the necessities of a 12-year-old life. So what do I do? I get frustrated when I see my son behave just like I did. Sigh.

There’s a bigger issue here than $5 at Wal-Mart: it’s the issue of control. I give True the money. I teach him to tithe, save, and spend wisely (unlike his old man). But it is now his money. I have to learn to let go. I can tell True what I think, but the decision is his, and according to Jesus, I must love my son no matter the decision he makes (Luke 15).

My kids make mistakes, and I should love them when they choose differently than I’ve advised. As they get older, they will answer to the Lord for their choices. I should be Christ-like, leading my children in biblical truth, forgiving them when they stray, and helping them recover—$5 is a small price to pay for their hearts.

As Belinda’s grip tightened on my arm, I sobered up. She frankly told me what I’d done, and I was ashamed. I apologized to Belinda and to True, and then I hugged him and told him I loved him. I didn’t say much the rest of the night. When we got home, I found and gave a $5 bill to Belinda to reimburse her rescue and soothe my guilt. I also gave a $5 bill to True, mostly because I felt bad about what I’d done to him.

I can’t control other people, including my children. I shouldn’t try. In my job as a project manager, sometimes folks expect me to control other people’s actions, but I can’t and I hate it when other people try to control me. What I can do is pray for my children to follow Christ, lead them in His truth, and watch Him take control of their lives.

The next morning I found $5 on my desk. I asked Belinda why she gave it back. She said she hadn’t. True told me he gave back his $5 bill. He didn’t think he deserved it. I have so much to learn from my son about money.

If you have a moment, please send an e-mail to ImperfectFather@Gmail.com. I’d love to hear about what your kids are teaching you.