Originally over at Suzannah Paul’s site.
When my kids are angry, I have a religious experience. Sometimes my children rage, wild-eyed. Or they are cold, whispering “Bad Mama, bad Mama,” their lips curling in a smile. Or they destroy something and drop it at my feet, in shards or shreds.
Jesus says to bless those who hate you. When my kids are angry, I wonder at Martin Luther King Jr. facing fire hoses, because when my sweet children are angry–my own flesh and blood–Lord forgive me, I have a hard time turning the other cheek.
I am no saint. No, indeed. I have whispered or yelled words I wish I could take back. I have lost control. I have not modeled the behavior I wished to see, and worse, I have said, figuratively, “raca” to my child, in more ways than I wish to remember.
Parenting isn’t the only time my anger has controlled me.
I remember ripping the towel bar out of the wall of my bathroom in frustration over a set of pre-calc problems. I still have the junior high yearbooks where I defaced faces of people who were unkind to me. In the same yearbooks, I defaced the pictures of people I was unkind to. Perhaps I was trying deface all the unkindness, but instead I just made everyone ugly.
I look more like a librarian than someone who struggles with anger, but when my children are angry, ugly angry at me, I can feel myself turning ugly as well, as though a nauseatingly hot wave is rising over the flood plain of my heart.
Here’s what I have discovered about parenting: that moment of ugliness is the time to work out my faith in fear and trembling. Instead of letting the anger rise up into my throat, I can breathe and choose differently.
And when I calm my voice and my hands, when I respond kindly even when my children are out of control, I see my heart change.
In other words, it gets easier.
Somehow, I am still shocked by this: that choosing to follow Jesus’ words in the most mundane of ways, while my children are in a tantrum, will bear fruit that feeds me throughout the day. The choice brings sweetness I can taste any time I am faced by my old, ugly emotions.
Because in the moment of choosing love instead of ugliness, I start seeing differently.
I see the frustration and hurt underneath my children’s actions. Little by little, I forgive them for being little, for being out of control, for responding to their emotions in the same way I am tempted to do.
And under my anger, I see my own desire to be respected and connected to my kids. I sense my own fear when they are out of control.
I see how much we need each other’s kindness, every moment. And finally, I see that the real change comes not in what I know about anger, or parenting, or myself.
No, change comes from choosing.
Faithfulness is not so much about intellectual assent to certain principles: “Blessed are the meek”, or “I will parent positively”, but a moment-by-moment obedience.
The intellectual work matters, sure: the parenting classes, books or Bible study. But when I am there in the room with my anger and my children, I must do more than just believe good ideas.
No, I must seize that moment to bless instead of curse. I must move my faith from my head to my hands. I must kneel down on the hard floor and hold out my arms, ready to be openhearted, whole, and unafraid.
Image credit: amanda tipton