I had an unexpected spiritual lesson taught to me after we implemented a new chore/allowance system with our kids. We had recently moved and wanted to get organized. It also coincided with the start of school (with one of our kids starting kindergarten). Don’t all the parenting gurus talk about making sure you disrupt as many routines at once? (No, no they don’t. What were we thinking?!?)
We presented the new plan to the kids on Labor Day and we did all the main weekly chores (bathrooms, floors, dusting, etc.) that day. Tuesday was the first day of school. Their daily chores that week were pretty simple—cleaning out lunch bags, packing the next day’s lunch, and either watering the tomato plants or getting the mail. As the week wore on, I could tell the boys were getting burned out.
By the time they got to Friday, they just wanted to come home and relax. Since they didn’t have to make lunches for the following day, they quickly cleaned out their lunch bags but didn’t get the mail or water the plants. Instead, they settled in for a quiet night at home. Part of me wanted to hold to the letter of the law and the justice side of things where they didn’t get paid if they didn’t accomplish their job. After all, when they get to the “real world,” they won’t get paid without completing their work. Eventually, mercy caught a hold of me, and I decided that I should try to help them out a bit. I went outside and started watering the plants.
Tears started streaming down my face as I stood there with the watering pail. I thought about how hard my kids had worked that week between school, chores, and extracurricular activities. They had given it there all. The least I could do is to step in and help them out in checking off the boxes they needed to get their reward. The Bible Dictionary defines grace as "an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.” I thought of the days and weeks that I have given it my all to do good and be “perfect” but have come up short. I thought of how the Savior is always there to help us out and check off the boxes to help us earn our “reward.”
In his talk “His Grace Is Sufficient,” Brad Wilcox explains the Atonement with the analogy of a mom paying for piano lessons for her child. The mom pays the piano teacher in full and has the expectation to receive “payment” from her child in the form of practice. The practice itself doesn’t fulfill the monetary obligation to the piano teacher. Seeing her child improve and use his new skills is the way in which the mom is repaid. Along the way, the child will certainly make mistakes and practice will not always be easy. Brother Wilcox goes on to say, “Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now, we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?”
I don’t expect my kids to be perfect at their chores. (Doing a second check of their dusting skills will prove that every time that they are far from perfection.) I do expect them to try and to work hard. I do expect them to get better from week to week. However, if they have given it their best and still fall short or if they have a rough week and regress a bit, I will help them accomplish their obligations. I am not perfect at balancing justice and mercy but, as I learn more of grace, I am better able to understand how the Savior is “not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel.”
In general conference in April 2018, Elder Lynn G. Robbins said, “His grace and His loving eye are upon us throughout our entire journey as He inspires, lightens burdens, strengthens, delivers, protects, heals, and otherwise ‘succor[s] his people,’ even as they stumble along the strait and narrow path.” As I think of the countless mistakes I make every day and the times that I don’t measure up, I am grateful for a gracious Redeemer who has already paid the debt so that He can be there every step of the way to help and support me on my journey to return to Him.