I resorted to a food bribe.
I usually make it a point not to use food as a reward, but I was at a total loss. My daughter, who loves gymnastics, was unaccountably still glued to my lap 20 minutes after class had started. I had spent the first ten minutes or so trying to get to the bottom of it, periodically whispering frantic questions to her, but now we were sitting silently on the sidelines, watching her friends. Seemingly out of the blue, my daughter whispered loudly in my ear, “Mommy – I want a doughnut!”
Had she somehow gotten the idea that a doughnut would make her feel better? Or was she just naming a sudden craving strong enough to bring her out of her silent funk for long enough to make the request? Whatever it was, I decided to seize that doughnut with both hands and wield it for all it was worth. “If you participate in the class with your friends, then after class, we can go get a doughnut.”
“But no, Mommy! I want a doughnut if I play or no play. I want – no matter… I just want a doughnut even if… unless…” She was struggling to find the words, so I tried to help her out: “If you don’t participate, you want a doughnut, and if you do participate, you want a doughnut. You want a doughnut no matter what – an unconditional doughnut.”
She looked relieved. “YES, Mama. Uncondish-nal Doughnut!”
I squeezed her tight. She had it right. What is grace but getting what we have not earned? We receive God’s love no matter what. God’s love comes first. The promise is first, before anything we do. “You’re right, sweetie. If I am going to decide to give you a doughnut, then I should give it to you no matter what. So we will go get a doughnut after class, even if you don’t play with your friends at all.”
She kept sitting on my lap, seldom getting up to take a closer look at her class and then running back to home base – for about another ten minutes. And then, unprompted, she walked over to her teacher and joined in a game with the rest of the class. She didn’t look back for the last 30 minutes – just listened to her teachers and engaged in every activity with all her energy.
After class we drove straight to the doughnut shop. Not because she had done a great job engaging when she didn’t really feel like it (which she had, and I was grateful) – but because I had said that we would, and I wanted her to know that I could be counted on to buy her the doughnut, no matter what.