The moment “You idiot!” spewed out of my mouth, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I watched my brother’s face tighten up as he defensively replied, “Don’t call me that, Ellen.” How many times had I heard my dad shout these same hurtful words at us. My anger had gotten the best of me. Stepping away from the situation, I silently purposed to calm down. I knew that calling my autistic brother an idiot was cruel. Still, I remained profoundly upset with him. Once again, he had found mom’s hidden pouch of cash, and gambled a large sum away at area slot machines. Afraid of the ensuing conflict, once again my mom, who at 88 struggles with alzheimer’s, came to his rescue.
“It’s OK. He will pay me back. He will never do that again.”
“See Ellen, mom doesn’t care,” Mike chimed in.
My angry, insulting retort had turned the focus off Mike’s actions onto me.
I was now on the hot seat. And it was mom and Mike against me. Alzheimer’s and autism joined forces and grew determined to put me in my place.
“Don’t get so angry Ellen. You can’t control us. It’s our money. We are fine. Mike has never taken money from me before and he won’t do it again. He is a good boy.”
This “good boy” was now 51.
Years of this same pattern, repeated over and over, told me it would be only a matter of time before the cycle would repeat again. He would figure out where mom hid her money and go gambling when she was away. He would apologize and promise to never do it again. She would forget.
The cycle would repeat. Nothing would change.
My perspective was on making wise choices. I managed their finances and felt responsible. Mom’s perspective was on wanting Mike to be happy. Aware of the bullying that he had endured as a child, she purposed to love him as he was and not expect him to change. Moral standards mattered less than Mike feeling approved of, regardless of what he did.
Having gained control of my emotions, I tried a calm but still firm approach.
“It’s not OK. Taking mom’s money is wrong. It is a sin that grieves the very heart of God. You can’t continue to gamble with mom’s money.”
“I won’t ever do it again Ellen.” Then with a frightened look in his eyes, Mike asked, “are you still mad at me? Will you pray with me?”
I wonder how different things would be now if Mike had been held to standards all these years.
I knew that mom’s offer of grace was misunderstood by him as approval to keep on making bad choices. To not change. Paul Tripp has this to say on page 159 in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands:
“God’s grace is always grace leading to change. Since God’s purpose is that we would become ‘partakers of his divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4), change is his agenda. As we offer people a humble, patient, gentle, forbearing and forgiving love, we must never communicate that it is okay for them to stay the way they are…So we sturdily refuse to condemn, but we also refuse to condone. We accept people with a grace that empowers us for God’s work of heart change. Anything less cheapens his grace and denies the gravity of our need.”
To be sure, we mustn’t speak in condemning, shaming ways to our children. I was wrong to do so with my brother. Yet we must not condone wayward choices and actions either. As we purpose to incarnate Christ to our children, we must align our intentions with His agenda of change, not only for them but also for ourselves. We must all come to grips with our need of Jesus, and how in Him we are to become a new creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17