A story from my childhood:
I was about six or seven years old. My father had taken me with him to a get-together with several other of his friends, most of whom had kids in a similar age range. So while he and his buddies hung out inside, the kids were naturally banished outside to play together.
One of the older kids suggested we play a game called “Jailbreak.” “Jailbreak” was essentially a cooler re-theme of “hide and seek” (which was for babies, obviously, not cool kids like us) and involved one person being the “warden” and everyone else breaking out of an imaginary jail and scattering while the warden hunted us down and returned us to our cells.
Normally fine, but this was an unfamiliar city to me, not my home neighborhood. So when we all scattered, I soon realized that I had run a bit far and had absolutely no idea how to return to where I was. For that matter, I didn’t even know where we were, really – it was a house I’d never been to, belonging to a friend of my dad’s that I’d never met before that day and definitely couldn’t recall the name of. I didn’t actually know what city I was in (remember, I’m like 6 or 7 in this story). It was getting dark.
So, I started wandering around looking for people. I figured that as long as I found people, I’d be fine. It didn’t take long obviously – within a block or so I found a pair of siblings, slightly older than me, playing ball in front of their house. I joined them – I didn’t even mention my predicament at first (I remember not wanting to seem rude). Their mom came out a few minutes later with a casual “oh, who’s your new friend?” Only then did I explain to the adult woman my situation, at which point she naturally became concerned and ushered me into the house to use the phone.
Of course, I had no idea what the phone number was to where my dad was, but I knew my own phone number, so I called that. Thankfully, my mom was home and picked up, and then was able to both talk to the friendly mom who took me in to get my location and call my dad’s friend to send them over to get me.
Now, look at this story from my dad’s perspective for a bit. In an unfamiliar city (to me), his son had gone to play outside and then vanished. The other kids came back from a quick game and told the adults that they had lost me and had no idea where I was. A casual search turned into a panicked one. Police had been called. Cars were driving all over looking for me. When eventually my location was given to my dad, he arrived in a police car that he’d been riding around in calling my name.
Because of all this (in my youthful opinion, unnecessary) fuss, I really expected to be read the riot act. I thought I was in huge trouble. But I wasn’t, at all. My father hugged me very tightly and prayed for a minute, thanking the Lord that I was okay. But after that he was just interested in my story. Where had I gone, how had I decided which was to go, who I picked to talk to, all the parts of my decision-making process. After, when we were driving home, he started pointing out things to me like landmarks, street signs, and how to take note of such things so I wouldn’t get lost again.
He never punished me for making mistakes. Even mistakes that inconvenienced him or frightened him or troubled him in some other way. Everything was a learning opportunity, and a chance to increase the trust between us. To forge me and teach me.
A mistake, a challenge, a disaster – these are the very best times to learn, to grow. To grow closer, even. Don’t ruin such a beautiful moment with fear or guilt, whether for yourself or imposed on others. That’s the real jail, and something beautiful is out there when you break out.