“Never lose hope in God’s mercy.”

–St. Benedict

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When I was in middle school, I developed quite a distaste for doing homework. I therefore employed my adolescent creativity and established pretty sophisticated homework-avoidance skills.

They usually worked.

Occasionally, however, something slipped through a crack in my scheme and caught up with me. And double-unfortunately, multiple examples of such slips happened in the same class.

It was sixth grade History, and after completely forgetting about two assignments, my teacher started to notice a pattern. Apparently she thought that I needed some help with motivation, which she was gracious enough to offer to me by making me take a paper home to get signed by a parent that said something along the lines of, “Your son is not doing his homework, and Ineed you to sign this to make sure you know about it.”

This was a different ballgame. I could deal with an occasional incomplete assignment, but my teacher knew that I wouldn’t forge a parent’s signature. (My hopes of escaping the situation were complicated since she attended the same small church as we did. I could look at heracross the sanctuary on Sunday and be okay with not turning in an assignment, but I knew God would be on her side if I tried to do something along the lines of lying on this form.) So, the time came and I had to own up to my lack of study habits and get the paper signed by one of my parents.

I had no choice. I put it off as long as possible, but then before leaving for school, I went to give it to my dad. He was working at his desk. I walked up behind him, didn’t say anything, and slid the paper in front of him.

He read it, didn’t say anything, signed it, and handed it back to me. Silence.

Unsure of what to make of the gesture, I took the paper and began to walk back to my room.  Then he turned around in his chair and stopped me. “Hey,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

I’d never laughed like that nor been so happy in all of my eleven years. Soon afterward, I began to do all of my homework assignments (for that teacher’s class).

That has been one of my favorite stories to tell about my dad for a long time, as it’s now been  more than twenty-five years since it happened. After his death, I began to wonder about onepart of the memory: Why was I scared to show him the note in the first place? Certainly I felt guilty about what it represented and wanted to hide it from him, but why? How did I expect he would respond?

For all of the years leading up to that day and in all of the years following it, I never knew him to be anything other than gentle, forgiving, and very slow to become angry. So why didn’t I trust those characteristics about him when approaching his desk that morning?

I think there is a poor trick we all play on ourselves internally when we mess something up, and  somehow that trick leads us to believe that maybe we aren’t as loved as we really are. Even though my Dad was always a model of loving me regardless of my performance, somehow that day I thought my relation to him as his beloved son was in some degree of jeopardy. Apparently it was as if I thought this one mistake would be too much for him to bear and would use up the last drop in his uncommonly deep well of patience.

Has God ever dealt with you in any other way than being slow to anger, abundant in mercy, and rich in love? If not, why do we expect anything else?

A few years after my dad died, my mom moved out of the house they had shared for more than forty years, and asked my brothers and me to go through the house and see if there were any of his things we wanted.

Only one really mattered to me: the desk. It’s where I sit as I type this now. It’s where I will turn around in a few minutes when my kids get home from school and hug them as they run into the room. It’s where the man who modeled God’s mercy for me taught me to hope in it, always.

Author:

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Daniel Ethan Harris lives in Midland, Texas. He manages a family farm and ranch and explores life in the kingdom of God with others through writing and spiritual formation opportunities through the local church and www.salvationlife.com. He is the author of Live Prayerfully: How Ordinary Lives Become Prayerful and other resources on life with God, and is a graduate of CenterQuest’s School of Spiritual Direction.

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