When I was in school, math was never my best subject. It bored me to memorize formulas and when exam time came, I froze when I saw those tricky word problems tacked on at the end. What I could do on one level (multiply and divide numbers), I stumbled applying to real life situations (like – When will a train reach the station if it’s traveling at 60 mph for 3 hours and 35 mph for the rest of the time and the station is 500 miles away?).
The same struggle happens in our spiritual life. What we know in our head, we fail to apply to real life. For the last two weeks I’ve blogged about the benefits of self-examination and inviting truth tellers into our life. Today, I want to show you how to apply those principles to a situation most of us face.
Parenting my two children was the hardest job I have ever done; there were days when I found myself screaming at them far more than I wanted to. I easily became frustrated telling them over and over again to do something. I knew I shouldn’t, but more than I want to admit, I would lose my temper.
I’d blame my kids. “You make so mad!” I’d yell. “If only you wouldn’t have disobeyed or talked back or had done what I told you, then I wouldn’t have to get this way.” I rationalized to myself.
But I wasn’t being honest with myself. The truth is, kids misbehave. That’s part of being a sinful human being. Screaming at them doesn’t make them behave better. It just makes them scared, angry, and sneaky with their misbehavior.
If you are like me and lose your temper more than you’d like to, the obvious questions to ask yourself are: Are you getting enough rest? And, do you get breaks from childcare in order to regroup and refresh yourself? If not, start there.
But in addition to those basics, let me share with you something I found to be extremely helpful when I began to listen to the truth tellers in my life (my husband and children) and started examining my attitudes and actions during our parenting difficulties.
Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45 that “It is out of the overflow of the heart, a person speaks.” When I read that passage, I begin to take responsibility for what came out of my mouth when I felt frustrated and anger. I realized what came out of my mouth (screaming and yelling) revealed or exposed what was going on in my heart. So I began to ask God, “When I’m yelling and screaming at my kids, what’s going on in my heart?”
Here’s what I discovered. I wanted my children to obey, NOW! I wanted my children to not talk back to me, EVER! I wanted my children to do what he or she was supposed to do, ALWAYS! I realized that my expectations from my children were unrealistic.
I also realized that when I didn’t get the things I wanted such as respect, obedience, and responsible behavior, I told myself I was justified in screaming at my kids in order to get it. That was wrong! God never endorses using angry words as a weapon to get others to do what we want, even if what we want is a good thing. (See Ephesians 4:26; James 4:1 as well as Romans 13:10 for general principles on this concept).
So how did I walk out this new “truth” in my parenting? Seeing it is the first step, but applying it in real life situations must come next if we are going to walk in the truth. Whenever I felt those angry feelings stirring, I would need to remind myself of what was true. Of course I want respect, but I also want a good relationship with my children. Yes, I want obedience, but I also want to be a good mother. I want responsible kids, but I also want to reflect Christ’s love and forgiveness when they mess up.
I asked myself, what does my heart want the most right now? Do I want my way or to reflect Christ? When my children didn’t obey, didn’t respect me, or didn’t act responsibly, (which happened quite often) what was going to rule me? Was it Christ and my desires to be a godly mother? Or, my demand for respect and obedience no matter how I got it?
When I kept those choices in mind, I understood that my temper problem did not come from rowdy, disobedient children, but rather from not getting what I wanted. I also realized that with God’s help I was empowered to make a different choice. I could respond in a godly way to my children’s misbehavior, not just react in a fit of fury. When I forgot or failed, I could take responsibility for what came out of my mouth and ask for forgiveness.
As you practice walking out the truth, not only will you learn to become more Christ-like, you will teach your children how to apply their faith to real life situations too.