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Paradoxes can be a great tool for parenting.

MonopolyManLast weekend, I had a lot of yard projects to get done, so I told my kids (ages five and eight) that we would be spending the day together working. They looked excited, and started holding out their hands at me. Somehow, without trying to, I’ve given them the impression that this type of work should always be compensated. Or maybe they’ve given themselves that impression, I’m not sure.

Either way, I found myself staring down at two very expectant youngsters. I didn’t want to pay them, so I proposed decreed the following:

1. Everyone who works will get paid (including Daddy).

2. The payment scheme will be as follows: I will pay my daughter $1.00 for her work. She will pay her little brother $1.00 for his work. He will pay me $1.00 for my work.

3. If any of us doesn’t work, that person will still have to pay, but won’t get paid.

We were left with the perfect paradox: everyone gets paid, but no one gains anything. And no one loses anything, either. And we all have a motivation to work. Most importantly, Daddy doesn’t lose his shirt on the deal.

I even promised to pay them upfront. Each child was excited to receive the advance, but looked dejected about having to give an advance to someone else. “Cheer up,” I said, “You’ve just been paid upfront for work you haven’t done yet.”

One child looked up at me with a mixture of awe and indignation and said, “But we didn’t get anything.”Mowing

“That’s the way it works,” I said. “Everyone who works gets paid. And if you don’t work, you’ll have to give back the advance.” (Some people say I’m an unfair Daddy – but remember, I provide all their food, clothing and shelter at no cost to them).

With the financial issue out of the way, the children worked vigorously and joyously. In the end, I told everyone they did such a good job, their pay was going to be raised to $100.00. They looked at me and said, “No thanks.” Ah, mission accomplished.

All of this got me to thinking . . . could this paradox of payment without gain have anything to do with the extent of the atonement, or the futility of our own works, apart from Christ? Or some other theological issue?

Doubtless, some theological arguments are a zero-sum game. But as my kids are learning, godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 6:6).

-Derek