M had a meltdown the other night, complaining that I didn’t love him because I’d gotten upset with him for not focusing on the task at hand. Now, I’m capable of overreacting, yelling, and otherwise scarring my children, but in this particular instance, I had been patient and calm as I tried to keep him on target. Four times. Even the things he managed to do were done with little effort, and I made my frustration clear, including bible verses to back up obedience and diligence.
But I thought later how all that correction must have sounded to him, over and over. Just little things, gently given, that when summed added up to a whole lot of exasperation. That feeling of failing, bit by bit, plagues me, and here I was passing it along to my child, even though there is a specific verse what commands against it (Ephesians 6:4). Obviously that wasn’t one of the ones I was using.
It’s a hard balance–teaching, training, and correcting without bringing them to the point of frustration. I’m reminded of the story in John 8 , when teachers of the law attempted to lure Jesus into a confrontation over the punishment of an adulterous woman. In response, “Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin'” (John 8:6-11). In this example, Jesus writes something–we never learn what, gosh darn it, but I can only assume it’s teachings related to the incident at hand–instead of preaching them (harping, perhaps?) outright. He waits for the teachers to figure out the message, but when they don’t, he gives a simple but impossible standard. This time, the message sinks in, and the teachers abandon their plot. Then, when the woman is left with the one who is sinless, Jesus refuses to condemn, leaving her with the instruction to change her ways. The final message, “‘Go now and leave your life of sin,” implies that God doesn’t look back or hold our sin against us. Sure, we may miss out on the blessings promised above as a consequence of our sin, but He doesn’t extend that into condemnation. Instead, the verse sets an expectation that we can and will simply pick up on a new path.
The whole process is in there: gentle presentation, leading by example as opposed to commanding, and offering a chance to learn and change. it sounds so easy, so familiar, and yet even as I write this post, I say to K, “Please don’t rub those–“. And then I stop. There’s that condemnation. There’s that commander of the troops. But there’s something else in the story from John. Both the woman and the teachers learn, just like I’m still getting frustrated by my sinful nature, still learned from Christ’s example how to do it better. It’s a training process for us all, big and little children both. “Could you please put those in the sink when you’re done with them?” I say instead. I like to think this is the process, bridging the gap between my sinful nature and the path of God, stepping from one route to another. I’m not good at it, but I thank God for making me aware of it, writing it on my heart as He once wrote on the ground, with the promise that I too will be blessed by following my Father’s instructions. I pray I can bless my kids in the same way.