On Sunday, Jess and I surprised the kids with an overnight stay at a hotel in State College. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening in the pool, pizza before bed and sleeping in on Monday morning! After a fantastic hotel breakfast, we headed to the Nittany Mall to walk around and window-shop for a few hours.
While we were walking near one end of the mall, we walked past a yellow Volkswagon Van coin-machine that featured 4 or 5 different “games of skill” including those claw-style games that are nearly impossible to win. Noticing both of our kids eyeballing the machine (okay, I’ll admit that I, too, was drawn in by the flashing lights and prizes!) I walked us over to the machines together as a family.
We walked a few laps around the enticing trap and I decided to use this opportunity to teach our kids a “lesson” (there was a slight chance I could have won a $100 Walmart giftcard, too). I played 2 credits ($1) and quickly lost on both attempts. I quickly mentioned how easy it was to lose that $1 and both kids seemed to ‘get it’.
We walked away and almost as quickly as we had turned around, Ezra exclaimed that he could win if he tried.
Perfect opportunity for a lesson, right? Right.
I gave Ezra the option of using some “his money” to play the game (Jess keeps an envelope of both kids’ money in her purse for the occasion we’re out and they find something they’d consider buying for themselves) and he quickly accepted that offer and before I could even catch up with him he was putting the dollar in the machine attempting to win a stuffed Minion toy. He tried very carefully to capture the first and then the second – both without hardly even budging the toys in his attempt. He was quite disappointed. I was certain he had learned his lesson, so we did some final conversing about the way these games work – identifying the reality that they’re designed to make it nearly impossible to win and that it’s OUR CHOICE to play or not to play!
We walked away (again) as a family and went on down the hallway to our next destination.
Little did I know, Ezra’s mind was still back at the VW claw machine. We were now at least sight-distance away from the machine when Ezra said boldly, “I could win a toy if I had one more dollar.”
I almost chose to ignore it, but I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit nudging me to interact again.
“What, buddy?” I asked.
“If I had one more chance, I KNOW I could win a prize.” Ezra repeated.
It was at that moment I was dumbstruck that Ezra really hadn’t yet learned this lesson I thought he had. I went back over all of the previous 10-minutes with him – I lost $1, he lost $1. Zero winning. Zero almost winning. Nothing to show for our $2 investment. Nothing.
“If I played one more time I would win.” He insisted.
I reached around and grabbed my wallet from my back pocket. I opened it and found a crisp $1 bill and as I pulled it out, I told him, Ezra, if you KNOW you can win by playing again, I want you to do it with MY money. “I want you to win, buddy.” (I half-hoped he’d learn the lesson at THAT point, turn down the dollar and move on to our next destination.)
Before I could even finish my “pep talk” he was off and running with my dollar. Before I could even catch up with him he had the dollar inserted into a DIFFERENT (easier?) claw machine and he was deep set in his first-attempt.
Let’s be honest – this probably wouldn’t be a blog post (or a sermon illustration for that matter) if he HAD won, right?
As the reality set in on his 6-year-old mind (and heart), Ezra turned around and I watched his facial expressions move from mad (at the stupid claw game) to broken. I was kneeling just a few steps behind him and he literally ran and buried his head in my chest.
Between his cries, he managed to whisper, “It was YOUR money, Dad. I’m so sorry.”
I barely managed to hold myself together there kneeling on the tile floor in front of the claw machine holding onto my favorite six year old in the whole world. It was one of those moments. Those moments that is written forever on my heart and I pray one that my son also remembers. I don’t want Ezra to only remember that claw machines are nearly impossible to win at. I want Ezra to learn that he can trust his Daddy. That he can listen to his Daddy’s experiences, advice, opinions and learn to trust him more and more. And as he learns to trust me, I hope that he grows to trust in his Heavenly Father all the more, too!
Lord, allow me to be an example to Ezra of your deep deep love for your sons and daughters.