During a friend’s Masters Internship she worked for the Department of Human services in Nashville (DHS). She was placed in the child safety division of the organization. One of her jobs was to check on any children that were in a potentially unsafe environment.
One day someone called the agency from a local, “pay by the week” hotel because a 4 yr old little girl was going from room to room asking for food. As soon as DHS arrived on the scene they found the little girl and she looked like she not had a bath in weeks. They asked her where she lived. She led them to her motel room where they found her mother passed out on the bed due to substance abuse. She was in no shape to take care of her daughter and the hotel room where they were staying was filthy.
As if the lack of care from the mother was not enough, the motel room was filled with cats and cat feces. Food containers were everywhere, the trash had not been thrown away for quite some time. The smell was deplorable.
DHS removed this 4 yr old from the custody of her mother that day. She was told that she would have an opportunity to get her back at the court hearing. She would need to find a cleaner living arrangements and show the courts that she could care for her daughter.
When the court date arrived they asked the mother if she had met the requirements of the court. The mother told them she had in fact moved to a nicer place. It was cleaner and more spacious than the motel room where she had lived before. She went on, “But I realize I cannot afford to take care of my cats and my daughter so I will let you have my daughter.”
The Judge asked, “So you are giving up the custody of your daughter to the State of Tennessee?”
“Yes”, the mother stated.
With that statement, court was adjourned and the case was closed. No one in the court room could believe what they had just heard.
This mother, if we can call her that, had just swapped her daughter for her cats. I know this is hard to imagine someone doing such a thing. It still breaks my heart to think about this little girl.
My friend, who was the case worker for this child, choked back tears as she recalled the details from 20 years ago. Even after all of that time she still remembered how she felt and the heartlessness of the mother telling the court of her decision. To the mother it was like getting rid of a piece of furniture. “If you want her you can have her, but I will take the my cats.”
Upon hearing this story, my mind began to race with what I would classify as “righteous indignation”. How could she do this? What kind of a parent was she? How can you swap your daughter for a few animals? Before long I am remembering all of my good works as a parent and the sacrifices I have made. “After all just last week I stayed up with 2 of my kids most of the might as they threw up”, I tell myself. (A true story and not fun).
Sometimes we compare ourselves with others. It is often our natural inclination without even realizing it. In doing so, we see ourselves as being better than the other person that did _______. Interestingly, we tend only to compare ourselves with others who are far worse than we. This always makes us feel better about ourselves. “Well, at least I am not as bad as_______”. “I would never do _______.” In continuing to repeat the faults of others we miss what God wants to communicate to us. We miss our own faults.
So what about this woman who swapped her daughter for her cats? “At least I have never done something like that,” I say to myself.
But I have been known to make some bad swaps. Yes, swaps that may be worse than the swap this mother made.
What bad swaps have I made in my lifetime?
Have I swapped what God wanted for me with what I wanted for myself? Yes.
Have I swapped courage for fear and justified my decision? Yes.
Have I swapped the passing pleasure of sin for God’s desire for me? Yes.
Have I swapped what I knew I should not do for what I wanted to do? Yes.
And the questions go on and on. I am not here to proclaim the innocence of this mother because after all, “we all make bad decisions from time to time.” What she did should not be taken lightly…and neither should my failures.
We should all be willing to stand before God and have Him look at us.
“Search me, O God,” the psalmist says, “and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
If we ask God to search us…He will. If He says we are______, then we need not take the time to proclaim we are more innocent than the lady that did _____ and the man that did ______.
We can’t swap what God has said for what we want to hear anymore than a mother can swap her daughter for her cats. That would be the worst swap of all. This would be a swap that leads to our spiritual death. Far worse than a mother swapping her child for a few cats.