Why We Should Default to Grace Rather than to Criticism

I heard them board the airplane before I saw them. A mother was pushing one toddler in front of her and dragging another behind. The only available seats were the three right in front of me.

Why We Should Default to Grace Rather than to Criticism

(Picture: Meet Theo.)

I had never considered childproof locks on airline seatbelts. Now, I’m certain there’s a market for them. I would have bought one.

For more than two straight hours I watched the younger son—who reminded me of Bugs Bunny’s Tasmanian devil—jump, flail, thrash, flap, flop, hop, laugh—but mostly, scream. I don’t remember the name of the older son.

But I’ll never forget the Tasmanian devil’s name: “Theo.” I know because I heard it 863 times.

Absolutely undaunted, the mother used her large voice without embarrassment to correct Theo. She also informed the rest of us what was about to happen.

Once after Theo took his crayon and marked on the wall of the airplane (see the mark on the wall at left?), she jerked him from the window seat and announced to the rest of us, “Sorry about the screaming for the next 10 minutes, folks!” She was right. Little Theo let us have it.

My First, Second, and Third Reactions

  1. My first reaction was to wonder why the mother hadn’t brought along a gallon of Tylenol PM. (If not for Theo, then for the rest of us.)
  2. My second reaction to this irritation was—I confess—frustration and resentment. After all, I paid just as much for my loud seat as the lucky people in the quiet part of the plane.
  3. But my third reaction took my attitude in a completely different direction.

God boarded the plane at that moment and somehow found room in my narrow heart.

God Boarded the Plane

Before I passed off this mother as needing to “get it together,” I considered some other possibilities.

  • For all I know, she just lost her husband and the whole family has been stressed. This could be for them, in fact, a good day.
  • The son may have a disability that gives the illusion of a negligent parent, but who may be doing a stellar job.
  • They may have been traveling for hours or days prior to our flight, and little Theo is understandably stir-crazy.
  • Maybe this was a covert field test by Bose to see if my noise-cancelling headphones could withstand the ear-splitting decibels of a two-year-old. (If so, the test failed.)

But wasn’t the real issue more basic? My real concern wasn’t for this family (at first, anyway). It was simply selfish—that Theo had interrupted my expectation for a quiet flight.

Quiet as a jet engine.

Sometimes the best reminders come as surprises. Before we judge someone as out of line, or an inattentive disciplinarian, or lazy, or this, or that—we need to grant them grace. In truth we have NO idea what their world is like.

God Smiled

After our plane landed and began to taxi, the whirlwind child stopped for only a moment. Little Theo popped his head over the back of his seat and stood perfectly still. He stared in my eyes for about ten seconds—and gave me a big smile.

He stole my heart—and of course, I returned his smile.

After all, Theo’s name has a wonderful meaning.

“God.”

Question: Do you default to grace or criticism in situations like these? To leave a comment, just click here.

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  • AK Lone Dingo

    Tears…memory…gratitude. Thanks, Wayne.

  • Jill Schmidt

    With 3 loud very energetic boys, I am still a work in progress on defaulting to grace. I try to give grace to my boys, but, the judgmental stares as I tried desperately to survive being out in public especially when they were little led me to be more critical of them and the people around me.

    • I understand, Jill. Sometimes when our girls would scream in restaurants (as toddlers; they’re much better now), I would want to leave the meal unfinished! It took a long time to grow into caring more for our daughters and less for what others thought of me. I appreciate your honesty! We’re all a work in process.

    • I understand, Jill. Sometimes when our girls would scream in restaurants (as toddlers; they’re much better now), I would want to leave the meal unfinished! It took a long time to grow into caring more for our daughters and less for what others thought of me. I appreciate your honesty! We’re all a work in process.

  • LOVE this post! You nailed it when you observed that our tendency to jump to criticism instead of grace is rooted in self-centeredness. I loved how you described the mental shift that took place when you considered the possibilities of why the mom and kiddos were behaving that way. Considering them and their possible needs instead of just your own brought forth compassion and grace.

    I have two boys, one of which was particularly adept at testing boundaries. I had many a moment similar to that poor mom’s experience. My heart goes out to moms (and dads) who are in the trenches with the little ones. I always try to offer an encouraging word when I see the meltdowns in Target or at the grocery store, etc. I remember how when someone offered a kind look instead of one of judgment, it was like being thrown a lifeline.

    • I’m with you on that, Laura. I always try to shift as fast as I can to grace—and giving the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes, honestly—it’s tough. Having been misunderstood before personally, as you mention you have, helps us give grace to others more easily. Thanks for your words of affirmation.

    • I’m with you on that, Laura. I always try to shift as fast as I can to grace—and giving the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes, honestly—it’s tough. Having been misunderstood before personally, as you mention you have, helps us give grace to others more easily. Thanks for your words of affirmation.

  • Pingback: How to Insert Your Quiet Time into Your Crazy Life | Wayne Stiles()

  • Thankful that I’m “in good company” with the Apostle Paul as “chief of sinners”. If my picture is not beside “selfish” in Websters…it should be! GREAT reminder. My cousin’s 6 yr old daughter recently made a similar wise statement to your tweetable quote. Amazing insight for such a young person…or for a person of ANY age!

    • There isn’t room in Webster’s for ALL of our pictures! Indeed the wisdom of children often shame us at the simplicity of common sense within godliness. Thanks, Del.

  • wayne reaves

    Your “positive” reaction to Theo was a lesson for us all. Patience! This was a very cleverly written and meaningful devotional.

    • Thank you, Wayne. It happened just as I shared it! Theo was a handful— and a wonderful lesson.

  • ARM BAR

    You are absolutely right,i’m the same like you expecting comfort for my self,but we will get the message from God soon after that,such a beautiful story Wayne,that happen to all of us and also teach us something afterwards,be Bless Wayne.

    • It’s amazing how often we expect that others should give us the space to be comfortable when we need to give them the grace to have the same.

  • Ken Mace

    Thank you for your work. Grace instead of criticism helps me be more like Christ. The deft and effective writing gave me a Spiritual experience unlike anything before. May your blessings continue as you bless us readers with useful insights of everyday Christian applications.

    • You’re welcome, Ken. We all need the reminder to give others the grace that we need ourselves. God bless.

  • Michelle thick

    Thank you for your word very good. I yry to understand and usually do. But just to read this teminds me to always be aware and give Grace.
    God bless

    • I’m right there with you, Michelle. It’s always best to default to grace. Thanks.

  • Rambunctious

    How relevant to me; thank you for such a touching story that reminded me about grace!!

    • You’re welcome—grace is something we all need from others, isn’t it? God bless.

  • Gary Johnson

    This is me many times – judge mental of others. I’m always right why don’t others see it my way. This was a great reminder for the role I should be taking. Aging and life experiences and lessons that God brings my way are helping me but it is a slow process. Thanks for challenging me to see these situations as opportunities and not a self-centered imposition on me.

    • You’re welcome, Gary. To be honest, I often default to criticism rather than to grace. I wrote this for me more than anybody! May the Lord give us help in those moments when we need to give others the benefit we expect from them.