The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.
Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.
Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.
It was a low moment in my parenting—so I’m still a little flabbergasted for the high point my then-four-year old made it.
I’d made a phone call to him as he stayed at his grandma’s for the day. I hated I even needed to make it. After shouting at him that morning, I’d done a fairly false, overall lame job of apologizing. I’d still been so stinkin’ angry—and my mind’s eye zoomed in on his own error. (That’s him at four years or so, on the right.) So I picked up my cell and attempted something more like Jesus.
What I will always remember was what he said in return.
“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”
Now I felt really bad for blowing my top.
I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.
In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.
I felt it the other day as I bumped along in the backseat of the car, recounting as best I could my interpretation of some recent events. It was a brittle layer settling around me, hardening more rapidly than I could scrape it away. (Perhaps an alternate title to this post: “When Your Hide is Chapped and There Ain’t No Bag Balm in Sight”).
I imagine bitterness or resentment not unlike a callus of the heart. It’s the surface rubbed raw through hurt, then blistered in a cushion of (occasionally bursting) self-protection, then layered in a rough, thickened crust of skin designed to keep us from feeling as much.
But bitterness doesn’t tend to stay put. I’ve seen my own emotion bubbling hotly beneath the surface—and often splashing onto my kids or husband through a quick temper. At other times—and in other suffering friends—suffering oozes into cynicism, as dreams and hopes fade into relics, or gather dust in our confusion and loss.
Sometimes, as in this wisely-spoken post by Melissa Edgington, it’s just hard to deal when God says no.
Here are some ideas to help me—and you—steer out of the categories of Hardened, Embittered, Stiff-necked, Unbelieving, and Jaded—and further into keeping our hands open, hearts soft, and eyes up.