Grocery shopping with three young kids is often an exhausting endeavor. Thankfully, several grocery stores recognize this fact and kindly offer cookies to make the trip more bearable. Typically, my daughters devour their cookies before we hit the checkout line, but my son savors his and saves most of it for the car ride home. Last week, as I was putting him into his seat he dropped his cookie and it fell into a puddle. He was devastated because his sisters were able to eat all of their cookies and he was not. He exclaimed, “But Mom, it’s not fair!” As a parent I hear this phrase multiple times a day. In fact, in my five years of parenting I have gone to great efforts to keep things fair. I have counted Skittles (to make sure everyone has the same amount), set timers (to ensure no only plays with the iPad longer than the other), and resolved disputes with “who had it first?” But, my job as a parent is not to make sure that things are always fair for my kids; in fact, I would argue that it is my responsibility to prepare my kids for a world that is unfair and to point them to the most unfair act in the history of the world: Christ dying on the cross for our sins.
What is Fair?
So what is fairness? J.I. Packer defines it this way:
The idea of fairness, which forms itself unbidden in every child’s mind…is a facet of the larger idea of justice. Fairness is held to require, first, that other things being equal, resources, benefits, privileges and rewards should be proportioned to what people actually deserve.
My kids live and breathe this definition of fairness. In their minds, they deserve to have the best toy, the biggest piece of cake, and in my oldest daughter’s case, anything and everything pink. It is considered a great injustice in their eyes if it doesn’t work out this way. But, life doesn’t work this way. Toys must be shared and even baby sister will occasionally score a pink bowl for breakfast.
Most often when one of my kids is concerned with fairness, he or she is generally more concerned with his or her own selfish entitlement than for justice, mercy or love for another. For example, on Christmas morning my daughter opened a gift from her grandparents. It was a new doll that came with a bunch of accessories. She was excited and thankful until my niece opened her gift. It was the same doll, only her version came with one extra outfit (a detail missed by everyone else in the room). Suddenly, her delight in her gift vanished. She began to pout because it was “unfair” that her cousin’s gift came with more clothes. My daughter legitimately believed an injustice had been done to her. In her mind, she deserved to have the best toy. Did she really deserve to have the best? Obviously, no. But, in our world today it is tempting to feed this entitlement. It is subtle, but so important to recognize that my daughter was not a victim of injustice, but rather she was sinning. She was being selfish and ungrateful.
It’s easy to pick on my kids, but the truth is we are all guilty of playing the fairness game. For example, last summer two different friends of mine got minivans within a few days of each other. For most this is no big deal, but for me, as my family has outgrown our Subaru Outback and is saving up for our own van, this was big news. But, my response was not an excitement for them and their growing families. Instead, I actually stated out loud to my husband, “But, it’s not fair! We have three kids and they only have two.” My idea of fairness had nothing to do with love for my neighbor, instead, it was completely motivated by a selfish desire to get what I thought I deserved.
What We Actually Deserve
The opposite of entitlement is thankfulness. To be thankful means you recognize that you don’t deserve anything. Going back to the minivan example, if I believe that I deserve a van, that I am entitled to a larger car, then I will fail to see that car as a gift. I will be unthankful and fail to give God the glory he rightly deserves for providing for our family. Everything we have been given is a gift. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). God owes us nothing. In fact, in light of the gospel, what we do deserve is death and eternity in hell. We are sinners before a holy God in desperate need of a Savior.
The Most Unfair Thing of All
But, the Lord is abounding in love and rich in mercy and he knows the sinful tendencies of our hearts to be unthankful and entitled. That afternoon at the grocery store, God graciously showed me an opportunity to share with my son the profound truth of the gospel. As he mourned the loss of his cookie, I could remind him of the most unfair thing of all: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus was perfect and without sin. Yet, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ as our substitute makes us righteous before God, we are forgiven and through the blood of Christ, we are children of God. There is absolutely nothing fair about that. Grace is not something we deserve. Forgiveness is not something we are entitled too. Instead, it is a precious gift that our Father has given us through Christ so that we may be saved (Ephesians 2:8). This is the truth I want to share with my kids. Cookies, Christmas gifts and even mini vans are opportunities to show them the greatest love. To show them the love of their Savior and the glorious unfairness of the gospel.