I could hear them arguing at my feet through the basement floor. I called them up and sat them down for a speech full of Wisdom and Gentle Correction.
Or at least, that’s the way I remember it in my head.
We discussed loving one another, your brother/sister is your best friend, etc. Then I paired them up and told them they would not do anything else until they’d done something nice for their assigned sibling.
One at a time, they came to me with their ideas. With some minor adjustments from me, they settled on an act of service and went to execute.
I was a brilliant Mommy.
And then there was that one kid…
The one who suggested that he play foosball or ping-pong with his brother for his “something nice.”
And while that was certainly a nice thing, it wasn’t the sort of “serve one another” I had in mind. He thought some more and, once again, his idea was lacking that actual “serve” aspect I was looking for.
After several more failed ideas, he hemmed and hawed so I stepped in. “Why don’t you put away a load of laundry for your brother? That’s his chore and there’s a load waiting in the dryer for him.”
This was not the sort of suggestion he wanted to hear.
After some discussion, he trickled off to serve his brother, but he was not happy about it. Not one little bit.
He argued a bit from the laundry room, accusing me of interrupting him just before he thought of a good idea only now he’d never think of it and he was just sure it was better than the laundry.
I was admittedly unsympathetic.
Meanwhile, the rest of the clan was already done serving one another and were happily destroying the living room together. Unfortunate Child dramatically dragged his laundry basket into the room, frowning and squeaking and grunting.
I seriously don’t know where he gets his dramatic streak.
I sent him to my room while I changed a diaper and then joined him on my bed.
And that’s when it just spiraled out from under me.
It was the same argument. He didn’t want to do my suggestion, he wanted to come up with something on his own.
I apologized for interrupting his thoughts, asked him to forgive me for barging ahead, and then pointed out that at this juncture, we were past letting him be creative. Now he simply needed to choose to obey. And adjust his attitude.
This did not sit well.
He scrunched up his face to cry and my blood pressure soared. I pointed to the bed and said, “Stay.”
Then I stomped out of the house and pitched my own little fit right there on the back porch.
I gripped the porch rail and all but screamed in my head while I fought for control. “What is wrong with him? What is wrong with me? Why isn’t this working?”
Cold air filled my lungs and despite the fact that I was still panting in anger, it knocked enough sense in me to make me pray.
“Isn’t this wise parenting, Lord? What am I doing wrong? I didn’t yell. I didn’t make empty threats. I simply gave him very concrete consequences and he can’t just think of one nice thing to do for his brother? Or just put away the dang basket of laundry??? What’s missing?”
One answer came crunching through the wind-blown leaves: Jesus.
Both of us were missing Jesus in this equation.
I wanted to use my “wise” parenting, my barely-controlled gentle voice to coax his heart to change. He wanted to serve his brother HIS way. But neither of us would ever accomplish anything without Jesus.
Only Jesus could take any word from my mouth and make it True, make it Wise, make it Stick. And only Jesus can change my son’s heart, make him feel Love, Compassion, and Kindness.
I let the wind cool my cheeks a bit more and headed inside.
The truth is, when I went back in, I didn’t change my strategy. But I recognized that if my child obeyed, it wasn’t because of anything I said or did. I’d been humbled. Reminded of my place in this parenting equation.
After a bit more talking and a nice long hug, my son skipped off to finish the laundry and I sat in my chair in the kitchen and let the evening chaos swirl around me. I was well and truly beaten.
But do you know what? Jesus wasn’t! And He kept working while I sat and by the time dinner was upon us, my son was a new creature. He served everyone their pizza (dinner of champions, you know), fetched cups and napkins for his sisters, and cheerfully helped clean the table without being asked, begged, pleaded with or cajoled.
And that ain’t nothin’ but a God thing, y’all.