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Why We Should Default to Grace Rather than to Criticism

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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 empty ones right in front of me. Oh dear.

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—changing its altitude.

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.


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

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