Good Boy, Bad Boy
James was excited to go the beach. He helped Daddy pack the cooler and sand toys in the trunk of the car. “Here is the water thermos and diaper bag,” Mom called from the house.
“I can get them!” James said.
“That’s a good boy,” Mom said with a smile. The thermos was heavy, but James didn’t complain. He liked to be a helper. He especially liked it when Mom called him, her “good boy.” Good boys were always the ones that everyone liked. Bad boys always got in trouble.
At last everyone was in the car and they were driving down the road. James began to feel hungry. “What’s for lunch, Mom?” he asked.
“Here are some apple slices and chips for you to share with Kayla,” Mom said.
James passed out the snack. “Two for me, two for you,” he told his little sister. The salt from the chips stuck to his fingers and he licked them off. Suddenly he remembered Mom’s rule—“no fingers in your mouth.”
James felt bad. He had done the wrong thing! “I just stuck my fingers in my mouth,” he told Mom.
“Are your fingers sticky?” Mom asked. “Here’s a wash cloth.” James was puzzled. Was he a bad boy or a good boy now?
The drive to the beach took a long time. James looked at all the books that Mom had packed. The baby and Kayla fell asleep, but James didn’t want to take a nap. He wiggled in his seat and swung his legs.
“Don’t kick the seat, James,” Mom said. “Be a good boy and sit still.”
James looked out the window and frowned. He hated sitting still! Suddenly his leg jerked up. “James!” Mom said.
“I can’t sit still,” James complained.
“You need to obey Mom,” Dad said. “Look out the window and count semi trucks.”
“I don’t see any trucks,” James said, stubbornly. He felt naughty inside. How could he be good all the time anyway? Dad knew how to solve the trouble, and soon James was sitting quietly in his seat again. It felt much better to be a good boy and count trucks than to be naughty.
James was glad when the car finally stopped. He grabbed the sand toys and led the way down to the beach. Dad followed with the baby carrier and Kayla walked with Mom. It felt good to run and jump on the soft sand! James ran toward the water, then waited for Dad to catch up. “Can we go in the waves?” he asked.
“Let’s go!” Dad said, taking his hand. Together they ran and jumped over the little waves. The water was so much fun!
When James was cold, he sat in the warm sand next to Mom’s beach blanket. She was reading a book and Kayla was making sand cakes. James got out his plastic shovel. “I’m digging a big hole!” he said.
“That’s nice, but be careful,” Mom warned him. “We don’t want to get sand on the baby.”
James tried to be careful. He dug and dug. Soon he had a hole big enough to sit in. “Dump sand on me,” he told Kayla. She dumped her pail of sand on his lap. Soon James was buried in the sand. “See, no legs!” James said. Kayla laughed and then ran off down the beach. James tried to jump up, but the sand was too heavy. He wiggled to get loose and sand flew in every direction!
“James!” Mom scolded, shaking the sand from her book. “I told you to be careful!” She hurried to brush off the baby, who was beginning to cry.
“What happened?” Dad asked, hurrying over.
“James flung sand everywhere,” Mom said, pressing her lips together.
James hung his head. He was in trouble again! Suddenly two big tears came out of his eyes and he began to cry. “I did—didn’t mean—mean to!” he sobbed. “I don’t wa—want to be a ba—bad boy!”
“I know you don’t,” Dad said gently.
“Are you going to punish me?” James asked.
“We only need to punish you if you need help to be sorry,” said Dad.
“I am glad that you are sorry,” Mom added, giving him a hug. “And I’m sorry for being cross with you.”
James brushed away his tears. “Am I a good boy now?” he asked.
Mom smiled at him. “You want to be good,” she said. “That makes me happy. Now let’s pray that God will help you be a good listener and obey.” Soon James was running on the sand with Kayla. He felt happy again.
That night, as they drove home, Dad had a story to tell. “Remember how we were talking about being good today?” he asked. James nodded.
“Well, once there was a man who tried very hard to do everything right,” Dad began. “He thought that if he did everything perfect, God would be happy with him. So he was careful to obey the rules. He was careful to stay away from bad people. ‘I am very good,’ he thought. ‘I will have Jesus come to my house for lunch today.’ He thought Jesus would be impressed with how good he was.
“When they sat down to eat, the good man was very careful to keep his hands clean and not to spill his food. But Jesus wasn’t impressed at all. You see, Jesus was looking at the man’s heart and what he saw was a very selfish man. The man didn’t want to make Jesus happy. He just wanted to make himself feel good.
“Now in that same town there was a woman who lived a bad life. She didn’t obey God and got into lots of trouble. She had begun to feel very sorry for how she lived, and wished that she could change. ‘I have been so bad,’ she thought, ‘but maybe Jesus can help me.’ So the bad woman decided to go to the good man’s house to see Jesus.
“When she came in the room, the good man was not happy at all. He didn’t want such a bad woman in his house! He was about to send her out when she came close to Jesus and began to cry. ‘If Jesus is so good,’ the man thought, ‘he will know that this bad woman should be punished.’ But Jesus didn’t get angry. As the woman’s tears fell on Jesus’ feet, she knelt down to wipe them off with her hair and kiss them. No proper woman would do that! But Jesus knew that she was very sorry for all the wrong things she had done. He saw that her heart was full of love and desire to do right, so He forgave her and said, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’
“And so what do you think, James?” Dad asked. “Was Jesus more pleased with the bad woman or the good man that day?”
James thought about the story. “The bad woman?” he asked. It still sounded puzzling to him.
“Yes,” Mom replied. “Do you think Jesus is more happy with someone who thinks they are good, or someone who really wants to have a good heart?”
That one was easy. “A good heart,” James replied.
“And because the bad woman was sorry, Jesus could give her a good heart,” Mom explained.
“Then she wasn’t bad anymore?” asked James.
“That’s right,” Mom agreed. “When God changes our hearts, then we will do good because we love God and want to make Him happy.”
“Lots of people try to be good,” Dad added, “just like you wanted to be a good boy today. But when you had naughty feelings about sitting still, you didn’t have a good heart, did you? I had to help you be sorry. When you were sorry, it helped get rid of the naughty feelings, didn’t it?”
James nodded. “But I then I got in trouble again,” he said, remembering the sand.
“That was because you were not thinking,” said Mom. “That is called a mistake, because you didn’t mean to disobey. You didn’t have a bad attitude, but you needed help remembering. What is most important is that you have the right attitude, not if you do everything perfect.”
James sighed. It was beginning to make sense. “But I don’t like to be in trouble,” he said. “I want to be a good boy all the time.”
“And that is why we are praying that your heart will be changed. Only God can give you a good heart. Instead of trying to be good all the time like the man in the story, Jesus helps me obey because I love Him,” Dad said. “And it is wonderful to know that He is pleased with me.” His voice sounded like the warm, soft sand and James felt his eyes closing.
“Always remember, we love you, too,” Mom whispered. She reached back her hand and gave James a knee squeeze. The car was full of love and James knew that he wanted it to be that way always.