Teaching Children Mercy

It was my fault.  I made broccoli and rice for dinner.  That was it–just steamed broccoli and rice.  And they didn’t want to eat it, so they went to bed hungry.  As I turned out their light and left their room, I felt their hunger and helplessness.  They knew the rules.  They knew not to whine about it because it wouldn’t change; they were stuck.  And hungry. And I was a mean and very just mom.

So I went down and made them some toast.  I softly opened their door and whispered, “Guys, I have something for you.  Come out here.”  I handed them their toast and asked, “Do you know what mercy is?”  Shaking heads.  Crumbs going on the carpet as they devoured their hot, buttery toast.  “Mercy is when you don’t deserve something good, but you get it anyway.  Like how you didn’t eat your dinner and you don’t deserve to have anything else, but I still made you something.  It’s like how Jesus loves us and died for us even though we do bad things. Mercy is amazing, isn’t it?” Nodding heads.  Crumbs wiped from their chins and lips.  “Now go back to bed.  Sleep well.  I love you.”


We do really well as a society at teaching our children about justice.  You worked hard, you deserve that.  You didn’t work for it, you don’t deserve it.  You follow the rules, you get a reward; you ignore the rules, you get nothing.  We focus so much on the rules that we become dumbfounded when mercy is extended.  Perhaps that is why people have such a difficult time forgiving themselves, or forgiving others.  We just can’t leave the justice paradigm.

Mercy is only possible, though, within justice.  If I brought my kids up toast every day without any rules concerning their dinner, it wouldn’t be mercy.  It would be entitlement.  So parents ought to continue parenting justly; but remember to explicitly throw in mercy once in a while, teach your children to be gracious and accepting of others’ mercy, especially God’s.

Extending mercy is fun as a parent too.  Jeffery R. Holland said, “the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”  It is a thrill to brighten a child’s evening with a non-deserved treat, or buying them something at the store when they forgot their own money.  Rare merciful events are the most precious.

Hopefully my children will have enough brushes with mercy that when Christ offers His forgiveness and redemption, they will feel a familiar softness and accept it graciously.


  1. I love the contrast you brought up between mercy and entitlement. Sometimes I’m afraid of raising kids who think they’re entitled that I forget to be merciful. Thanks for sharing the sweet story and reminding me to be a little better.

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