One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.
Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.
I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.
But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?
THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.
Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.
Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.
–Sweet Land (PG, 2005)
I tease my husband (the poor introvert!). Because whenever I write about him—he, who washes his hands of anything to do with internet attention—readers eat. It. Up.
But honestly, we’re all suckers for a good love story. Even if the characters are, say, a couple of anthropomorphic animated trolls with psychedelic hair. Yes, even guys, from Marvel comics to Jason Bourne.
We don’t just dig the attraction, gee-whiz-you-happen-to-be-exactly-the-Prince-Charming-I-was-keening-for stuff. We watch (or read, or listen to the top 40) for two hours straight, or a whole TV season (or six), our spirits pressing the two together through everything life or a team of writers can throw at them.
I’ve written before about my anger problem. You know. The one I didn’t think I had until I had children.
But as conflict reveals my heart for what it really is, I’m compiling a working list of practical steps and thoughts as God patiently carves away the death in my heart and slowly makes me a conqueror.
Discipline with the consequence, not tone of voice. This is my most prominent goal right now! Rather than the equivalent of “slash and burn” with my anger, I aim to calmly issue a precise, rational consequence. (I’ve had three good days in a row! Yeah!)I love an illustration I heard from Dr. Dobson: When a police officer pulls you over, even before he’s done anything, you’re sweating. You’re not afraid of him because he throws a fit outside your car door. He simply flips open his tablet! A consequence, firmly and surgically delivered, can speak for itself.
Anger incinerates. It’s explosive. Often I used the anger equivalent of a rifle when a BB would do. As Tim Keller outlines in this fantastic sermon on anger, my goal is not no anger, or “blow [up] anger”, but slow anger. Being slow to anger is part of God’s glory (Exodus 34:5-6), and overlooking and offense is a person’s glory (Proverbs 19:11).
When I’m tempted to yell—I should whisper. It forces kids to listen! But even more, if I can control my voice, rather than disciplining with it, I control my blood pressure, too.
God set aside His anger for me. His reaction toward me was grace: not a lack of justice, but an acknowledgment at the fullness of what I did—and then setting aside His wrath to deal directly with my junk.
Analyze it. I’m praying God will probe my heart for the deep, true cause of my anger: what’s precious that’s being trampled on. Sometimes for me, it’s the loss of control I feel over my children, or the inconvenience they’ve caused, something in my “kingdom” (rather than God’s) that I demanded, or my lost expectations. A lot of times, an idol is revealed—that’s become more important than God, or than loving my neighbor (i.e. my child) as myself.
Incinerate the sin, not the child. In disciplinary moments, opt for the scalpel rather than the grenade that cuts out the sin intentionally and precisely. I wonder what would happen if I pictured my anger as a caustic acid—useful only for deleting sin, injustice, and wrong—that will burn when it splashes outside of its boundaries?
Get honest. One reader once recommended keeping track on her calendar; she’d mark “AO” (angry outburst) every time she lost it with her family. I like the idea of motivating myself toward discipline of my emotions, and creating some accountability, whether through friends, my spouse, or even a reward or consequences.
Make it a repetitive source of prayer. If I’m supposed to pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin—am I really hating my destructive, ungodly anger like He does? I want to pray about this habit on a daily basis, and perhaps even fast about it. I’ve got four little Xerox machines running around my house, demonstrating the power of my sin to reproduce itself.
Practice and discuss “Young Peacemaker” principles. Going with my kids through principles and materials like those from peacemakers.org has equipped all of us with vocabulary and principles to deal in godly, practical ways with the conflicts that seem as thick and suffocating as smoke in our house.
Set myself up for success. My soul’s currently tethered to my very physical body with all its needs and, well, hormones. Getting sleep, not skipping meals or medications, taking time to download with friends, allowing myself plenty of extra margin in my schedule (both for holistic rest, and to avoid flying out the door in a “for the love of Pete, HURRY!” rage)—all of these subtract physical symptoms that leave thinner layers of self-control around my heart. I can allow more wiggle room in my demands and expectations in hormone-charged weeks. These strategies also allow me to deal with the issues that are really there, and do so with a level, non-reactive head.
It’s a startling post from The Atlantic; a dismaying one. The authors write on the increasing hypersensitivity of college students, or “The Coddling of the American Mind”: “In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.”
It started before the mouthwash spilled all over the floor, my jeans, and my new shirt. Which was before my son attempted to use the now-cracked mouthwash cap and promptly dripped the red liquid all over the just-reassembled shelf and all its little contents.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.