To say my youngest son Colson is a finicky eater is to say Argentina was excited when their countryman became pope this spring. I don’t know how Pope Francis would have handled a child excusing himself from the dinner table to go to the restroom again and again and again, but at the third “I gotta go to the bathroom”—spoken with a mouthful of chili—I rightly suspected Colson was emptying into the potty from another bodily orifice.
Colson’s entire food pyramid is a slice of pizza. We never have to goad him to eat that. Most everything else for dinner doesn’t please him. Last night he protested the kidney beans in the chili. But then something ingenious occurred to his six-year-old mind: Just go to the bathroom and spit the food in the toilet.
He asked to be excused for the bathroom. Fine, go. A few minutes later he headed to the bathroom again. Leaving the dinner table twice for the bathroom is unusual but his bladder is small and I wasn’t really suspicious—until the third request.
This time I noticed he made a face as he put a spoonful of chili in his mouth. Then he turned to Lynn, stood up, held himself, and did a little gotta-go-gotta-go jig. The gig was up though. Lynn looked at him, then me, and said, “Again?” I sat back in my chair and said, “Colson, are you spitting your food into the toilet?”
At those moments little kids have to wonder if their parents have magical eyesight. How could I possibly have otherwise figured it out? At first he shook his head no. I repeated the question. He shook his head again but slower, eyes widening like someone who knows they’re about to crash. I said, “Colson, I know you’re spitting your food into the toilet.” His shoulders slumped and he nodded yes.
Lynn immediately pronounced his discipline: Finish the chili then straight to bed without a story and none of Dad’s birthday cake. He looked at me. I nodded my absolute agreement with her and added he was lucky to not be getting worse. Colson sat down in his chair, looked down at his bowl and pondered the chowdown he had left. The operative word here is down. You’ve never seen a more crestfallen little boy.
Earlier in the dinner, Lynn told everyone that Colson had asked her some theological questions that day, like where did God come from and how come we can’t see God. The table conversation moved on before I could answer—our five kids were hyper-talkative last night—but I kept Colson’s questions in mind to come back later to him.
Everyone finished their meals and got up from the table. Only Colson was left, chewing slower than a toothless old man works a quid of tobacco. My chocolate birthday cake was moved to the kitchen counter. Everyone had a piece except Colson. His head was bent, propped on the same hand in which he held his spoon, its chili residue now matting his hair. Then something gracious occurred to my forty-four-year-old mind.
I took the cake over to the table and bent over Colson’s shoulder. He looked at it, then up at me. I said, “Colson, you asked Mommy today about how come we can’t see God. Well, we can see Him in a way.” I put a piece of cake on his plate. “Son, you don’t deserve this cake because you were disobeying us, deceiving us, and then tried to lie about it. That’s wrong. My giving you a piece of my cake right now is called grace. Grace is how we see God. He forgives us and He gives us what we don’t deserve.”
He still had to go to bed early, still missed his story. But he got a taste of grace I pray will develop into a hunger for God someday. That and he’ll come around to liking kidney beans.
Cole Huffman is Senior Pastor of First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He and his wife Lynn have five children—and one dog who thinks he’s a kid. Cole’s messages can be listened to on the church website: www.firstevan.org and he blogs at (www.colehuffman.com) Where is the Fourth?