My family moved off the farm when I was three years old. Dad had to settle some business with the Ford tractor agency where he had done business over the years, and dragged three of us children along in the car. While he went in, he explicitly warned us not to get out of the car; that he would only be there for a few minutes.
While waiting for him, I spied a toy tractor in the showroom window. I sneaked out of the car, into the agency, crawled over a barrier into the place where the toy tractor was being displayed and happily played with it. I don’t remember how I got back to the car before Dad, but my other two siblings couldn’t wait to squeal on me and my disobedience.
The trip home was in silence. I was expecting a scolding at best, and a whipping at worst. I suffered deeply waiting for my fate. Nothing happened. Several days later, my Dad surprised me with a gift of a toy tractor exactly like the one in the showroom window of the tractor dealership. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. Instead of punishment, I received a reward. I received unmerited favor, the definition of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness. Perhaps it was because I was only three years old. Perhaps he was hoping to help me to adjust to the recent move. Whatever his motive, I did not deserve what I received.
Over the years I’ve carried this story around with me as a symbol of God’s offering of forgiveness to me; to everyone. Several years ago when presenting my spiritual biography for a seminary class, I found a toy tractor much like the one I had received from my Dad those many years ago (pictured below). I display it in a prominent place to remind me not only of God’s mercy to me and my Dad’s love, but also to remind me to treat others with the same kind of forgiveness and unmerited favor.
Now, once again with thanks to my Dad, I have a REAL tractor to remind me of God’s love and mercy as I mow the lawn.