This morning my daughter kept getting distracted from making her bed. She’s four. I expect a certain amount of distraction. First, she had to potty. Then, she found a piece of paper on the floor. Around the third time, I said, “Ok, it’s time to set the timer.” We’ve been using a timer to encourage her focused attention on a task. I always set the time to be several minutes longer than I anticipate a task requiring. The goal is to help her focus, not make her rush.
But this morning, when I said I was setting the timer, she squealed and began to get upset. “I can’t do it!” she cried from her room, wailing a pitiful lament at a frequency of whine only preschoolers can master. “Of course you can. You have plenty of time,” I answered pleasantly, mentally patting myself on the back for the measured, temperate response. Ha ha, little did I know I was about to go through an hour of testing of my pleasantness.
A minute later she shrieks, “I see a black widow spider!” I have no idea if it was a black widow. I didn’t wait to identify it. It was black and shiny. And I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day looking for it, so I sucked it up in the vacuum and proceeded to vacuum a few rooms to make sure said spider was good and dead. So, OK, the spider was a fairly decent reason to shriek.
She finished making her bed, momentarily appeased. Then while I was vacuuming, she screamed because there were knots in her hair, and she couldn’t brush them out. Jumping up and down, screaming, repeatedly, easily heard over the vacuum for NOT an emergency.
By the third, fourth and fifth screams, I was starting to get upset. My blood pressure started to go up, and I started feeling kind of crazy. Maybe I should have stuck with one cup of coffee?
I could feel the angry, frustrated emotions start to rise like a red thermometer of rage in old cartoons. Struggling to stay calm, but ready to scream myself, I felt God convict me.
Why is she responding in this way? Where did she learn to respond like this? How are your reactions and responses teaching her to behave? Oh, my heart softly answered, convicted that my reactions haven’t been the example I would have wished. Sadly, I wondered, is it too late to help her be different if I’m different? It was time for me to work on my reactions.
Since she was born, I’ve been on this journey to building my faith and walk as a Christian wife and mother. Even though I’ve come a long way, I don’t know how much of my behavior and attitudes have shaped her, positively or negatively. I do know that I still have a longer way to go.
I immediately prayed for my reactions to her and our daily life to be calmed and gentled, for my expectations to be age appropriate and filled with love more than the need to be hurried and harried. Nothing I could teach her today will be more far-reaching than learning to respond to challenges and emotions well.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Tender-hearted. Just hearing that word softened me inside. I pictured her face and wondered how my rushed brusqueness was damaging her tender heart. My frustrated voice and prickly demeanor belied my true feelings of being dissuaded from my preferred goals. As I helped her comb her hair, she screamed as I misted her hair with her water bottle. I know the droplets are possibly cold, but her reaction was nuclear. Inside my head, I wanted to make her stop overreacting by overreacting. Yeah, after a deep calming breath and hasty prayer, that didn’t make any sense to me either.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Resisting the urge to let myself overreact, I simply talked with her about how the water makes it so much easier to comb her hair, especially since she asked for braids. When combing her hair is easier, I can do the styles she likes and get done quickly so she can go back to playing. I had wanted to shout, “Don’t you know how ridiculous you’re being?!?” But that didn’t acknowledge her feelings nor show her love or demonstrate self-control.
I put a smile on my face. Psychology says that the very act of smiling actually makes us happier, that if we commit to holding the smile for just a minute, we will see an improved mood. And we are programmed to mimic what we see (that’s why yawns are contagious). She smiled with me. Both our attitudes were immediately refreshed. What better way to show her how to react than to demonstrate patient, peaceful love for her instead of being angrily fearful that I would run out of time today.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
Staring at her face in the mirror, I realized I could focus on the ‘important’ tasks I needed to do today, or I could focus on the important person in front of me. Her limited days as my four-year old are ticking away.
The role of wife and mother doesn’t feel full of peace. I feel the laundry wrinkling in the dryer as I ignore it to finish this sentence. I watch the dog and can SEE him shedding onto the carpet. I don’t think the counter got wiped down after dinner. Am I ready for this meeting tomorrow? Is that stack of books I’m supposed to be reading growing? Is my husband describing dissecting a shark? When is that prescription supposed to be ready? Did I forget to pay that bill?
My mental to do list feels like a weight sometimes. Like I’m letting my life get in the way of living.
Psalm 16:11 ESV “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Nothing I had planned for today was wasteful. I wasn’t going to binge watch Netflix. But God still intervened to show me what I really needed to see to be in His presence, to make sure I was joyfully present for her.
At one point, she simply wouldn’t let me settle down to work. Nothing could persuade her to be quiet. I finally asked her what do you need? Do you need some hugs and kisses? She said, “Oh yes, I was waiting for you to know that.” I set aside my computer and scooped her into my lap, covering her velvet cheeks with a sprinkling of kisses, carefully discussing the finer points of butterfly and Eskimo kisses.
Several times today, I have felt worry and upset creep over me. Not enough hours, not enough energy for me to do all I need to do. Every time I have everything scheduled and planned, things take a turn. My hour of writing time while she watched a movie she earned by doing her writing and math today, became an hour of talking with my husband who got home from work exceptionally early.
1 Peter 5:7 ESV “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
So was this God stepping in my way? I don’t know. I do know that more time with my husband is an answer to prayer. Good time for us to connect and talk is rare. Putting aside my computer again, I chose to pay attention to God’s ministry for me as his wife. And was rewarded with one of the most positive conversations we’ve had recently. We discussed deep topics without interruption. It was a good, bonding quiet time in the middle of the week which is hard when my husband goes to bed at the same time or earlier than our child. God knew better than I did.
Proverbs 16:9 ESV “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
All day, MY plans for me have been thwarted. Even now, we are watching a nature special on African animals. Instead of putting my child (and sleep deprived husband) to bed for some quiet time to finally, get down to business, we are sitting here cackling at the vultures dancing to distract a lion.
Isaiah 26:3 ESV “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
I have been tempted moment after moment to be upset, to let my anxiety rob me of the chance to minister to my family by loving them best and first, but focusing on God has helped me stay peaceful as my day went all cattywampus.
I have days it is really easy to be who God calls me to be. Days my anxiety and to do list are small. Today was not one of those days. And I chose to fight my sinful nature, resting instead in the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t easy. I had a few moments the frustration began to seep, and I had to choose my reaction instead of let my emotions run wild.
My daughter’s memory verse this week was powerful for me today.
“Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5b
Before my thoughts could swirl out of control. I had to choose to make them obedient. Because God can’t work through me if I don’t let Him have my whole heart, turn over every part of me for His revision.
Galatians 5:22 ESV “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”
Not everything got finished. The laundry is still in the dryer. The pile of mail creeps steadily higher. But my daughter practiced writing while I worked. I read her stories and listened while she counted to 20 without skipping 14 or 16, she got so excited that 17 got missed, but it was her best yet. We practiced mazes and the letter A,a. She wrote one, two, three and the numerals several times. She colored things red, and we laughed.
My reactions made the time we spent together joyous quality time. The Spirit made my reactions about loving my family, taking time for them, realizing that loving them was even more important than doing for them.
And modeling these new reactions, teaching her by example, will have its rewards someday for both of us.