I entered the kitchen this morning to find my daughter sprawled out on her back in front of the refrigerator (not unusual), and my son standing next to her. Our little white tower fan was to his left, now pulled out into the middle of the floor instead of its normal spot next to the wall. Now, the kids know not to touch the fan, this is not a new thing. So my first mistake, perhaps, was asking who moved the fan. In retrospect, I am sure there is probably a way I could have rounded up some information, done a little sleuthing to get to the facts with them unaware of my intent. But it was morning, and I’m not a morning person, and I’m trying to navigate through the kitchen, avoiding various obstlaces placed along my path, hindering from my search for coffee.
Natalie immediately replies, informing me that it’s my son’s fault. And he replies in similar form, shifting blame onto her. This also is not a new thing. We’ve been ice-skating around ownership of poor choices for weeks now, especially with my daughter. However, in this situation, I felt inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, as her current position didn’t really lend itself to moving the appliance into its current location.
So I bend down and start to ask my son for the truth of the situation. In natural form, he sticks with his story. My kids are nothing if not stubborn and convinced that their approach is the best way. We do not have a problem with confidence in our kids when it comes to knowing all.the.things.
Peter continues to insist that he had nothing to do with the fan. And so he was sent to his room to think about his choice to lie to me, and until he was ready to tell me the truth.
A little time passes, Peter sitting in his doorway, periodically yelling out how he has been wronged in life and trying to rally up support, I guess from the furniture and any other inanimate objects around him that he can find. Again, my kids are committed in pretty much any choices they make, for better or for worse.
Meanwhile I jump onto the computer, messaging my husband to pray for wisdom. I mean, how do you teach your newly 3 yr old about truth vs lying. How much do they understand about this? How can I handle this in a way that is appropriate to his level but also expresses the importance of the issue?
After a few minutes, when he has settled, I come over, sit down in front of his doorway, and try again.
“Peter, are you ready to talk to me about what happened with the fan.”
“Sissy moved the fan.”
“Peter, Sissy was laying on the floor. She didn’t move the fan.”
“The computer moved the fan.”
“Peter, the computer did not move the fan. Are you ready to tell me you moved the fan?”
“But, uh, the fan wanted to walk to the bathroom.”
“Peter, do you want out of this room?”
“There is only one way out of this room. The truth. You know how Jesus came to die for our sins?”
“He is the only way we can get to heaven. He is the truth. He is our only way. And just like Jesus made a way for us to be in heaven with God, there is only one way out of this room. The truth. You gotta tell Mommy what really happened.”
“The truth is I grabbed the book with two hands.” (He is now choosing that this is time to confess that he had taken a book out of the bookcase, just outside his room in the hallway. He knows that he’s not supposed to have anything when he’s in time-out.)
“Okay, well, we’re not supposed to touch books while we’re in time out. And when you are ready to talk to me about the fan, you can call for me.”
I get up and head to the living room to play a game with Natalie. And as I sit down, I hear him say,
“well, my truth is…”
Yeah, that was exactly what is was. His truth. What he felt like sticking to, no matter what opposition was coming his way, what story he felt would provide the most protection from trouble. But that’s not how truth works, and I think this is his season to learn that we don’t just create our own truth. There is Truth and He is a Person. Fully God. Fully Human, Jesus Christ, Who came and met us in the truth of our sinful, broken situation to save us. And in the same way, today, Peter needed to choose truth to be free. He needed to admit that he had made a mistake and then hid from it.
Peter, caught up in his defense story and unwilling to relent to me, doesn’t even know what he is missing out on. Once he admits the truth, he gets to come out. AND get the vanilla yogurt that I was going to offer him when I was headed to the kitchen in the first place (after my coffee, of course). There is no other punishment. He doesn’t understand that all he has to do is confess. And then he doesn’t have to earn the yogurt. I’ve already bought the yogurt. I bought it for Him. I want to give it to him and I know that he loves it.
So for a while my son decided to stay in his room. I could hear him rearranging things. And that’s just what we do, right? We stay where we are. We settle for staying in our sin, trying to make the best of things, thinking that we’re fine where we are. But I knew that eventually he was going to get hungry. Eventually he was going to get tired of just being in that one room, his current prison cell, and would want to experience more. He was created for more than just being in that one little room. There is only so much it can offer him.
And sure enough, after a little while, he started to cry. Maybe out of frustration. Maybe out of loneliness. Probably not because he was truly sorry for what he had done. But I went in and we rocked and we talked about his choice. He finally confessed that he had moved the fan. We talked about how God sees every choice we make, and so there really is no hiding, even if Mommy or Daddy don’t know what really happened. And I just held him and hugged him and told him I loved him.
And y’all, this is new for me. Honestly. The Lord is doing something new in my heart regarding actively, affectionately loving them through the discipline process. Before, it’s been about discipline in the form of time-out or spankings or losing thing they value for a time (stuffed animals, tv, etc.) But with that, without me really consciously acknowledging it, I was also throwing in a relational break, a withdrawing of my affection during this process. And sometimes on top of that, adding a dose of shaming and guilting. It is ugly and I don’t like to admit it. But it’s true.
But the past few weeks, as it has become SO apparent that I cannot make my kids obey, the Lord has been showing me what I can do. I can tell them the truth. I can show them what options are good and inline with God’s Word and ways, and I can give them consequences when they choose otherwise.
But I can also choose to be in it with them. I can choose to continue to hold their hands and hug them and affectionately love on them in the middle of the messy disobedience, showing them that their ability to choose well is not what secures my relationship with them. And it never will. They may lose animals or special trips to Tutti Fruiti, but they will not lose me.
Because that is what Jesus did for me.
AND if that wasn’t enough of a reason right there, it also frees me up from getting caught up in their choices, as if it’s a reflection of who I am or my ability as a parent. God never intended for my kids to be any source of my worth or value or any measure of my abilities. This ’embracing them in the mess’ allows me to focus on them, where the need really is, and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in each situation as to what they need in that moment. Do they need the firm hand and a little space? Do they need to be hugged right through this temper tantrum until they get it out? Do they need me to show them mercy, choosing in this moment to take away the consequence and show them how sometimes we don’t get what we deserve, and PRAISE God for that. Because I don’t know. He knows my kids better than I do.
So to wrap this up the best I can, this is teaching me that in the same way my kids need to know that I am for them, that I am sticking around despite their mistakes or outright defiance, because I love them and they are family, I need to know that my God is for me. He doesn’t bail when I get it wrong, even though I ‘should’ know better. I need to know that He chooses to hold me through the tantrums, not withdrawing His presence from me. And He also firmly guides me to admitting the truth, the truth about me and my situation, but also His truth over my situation. That because of Jesus, He has already made the way for me to walk out of my prison cell. I don’t have to stay there, and I don’t have to return. And there are GOOD things for me outside of it. And because of Jesus, there is no condemnation. I don’t have to go earn back His favor. I may need to apologize to some of His other kids, like Peter had to apologize to Natalie for blaming her, but ultimately I have His forgiveness no matter what. This is the truth that has to make its home in my heart for me to really be able to extend it to my kids.
He is so faithful to give me what I need, not just for me, but for them. He equips me for every good work, and they are definitely His good work. He has mighty plans for these stubborn littles and by His grace He is going to get them so committed to His truth that nothing is going to shake them. In Jesus’ Name.