One cool evening in autumn I went for a little walk. I walked carefully along the edge of our yard, which was bordered by a stone wall…I loved the feel of the smooth stone under my feet, and the air was soothing on my skin. It was getting dark and I was slowly making my way back along the wall to our back door when, through the chorus of crickets, I heard my mother call to me. “Do you have your shoes on?” I looked down at my bare feet, and thought, ‘oh, I guess I shouldn’t be barefoot, Mommy will be mad if she finds out’. I said, “Yes”. What I didn’t know was that my mother asked me that question knowing the answer. She had seen I was outside; had seen my shoes; and had decided to test me to see if I would tell the truth. She stood over my shoes, asking me if I was wearing them, fully expecting me to lie. And I did lie. My mother called me back into the house, and my stomach shrank up small inside me because I knew that somehow I had done the wrong thing again. I can hardly put words to what I felt, although I remember it so incredibly clearly. I remember my anger when I saw my shoes and understood how she had tricked me, and my rage and shame at being made to stand still while she rubbed soap on my teeth (I was no idiot, there was no way I was going to open my teeth and bite that bar like she wanted). She laughed as I tried to get the soap off…after she’d made me stand with my lips closed over my coated teeth, gagging from the burn.
That was intended to teach me not to lie. What my mother actually taught me in that moment, among other things, was to be suspicious of every question she asked me.
Why do we lie? 1st Corinthians chapter 13, verse six says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” How can you ‘rejoice in the truth’ with a mouthful of Zest? I can only wonder if my mother actually thought that scenario through before she spoke. Did she realize that I had no choice but to lie? Telling her the truth wasn’t an option. I lied because I knew from her question I should have had my shoes on- not because we had any standing rules about shoes, we went barefoot all the time- but because she asked me if I had them on. Why did she ask, if she knew I didn’t? She intended to punish me either way. If I had said ‘no’ I would have been punished in some way for not having worn shoes. If I lied, there was a chance I would escape. There was a chance I could get inside w/o her finding out that I was barefoot. I lied for self-preservation. I had learned by the age of 7, that once I was ‘in trouble’ there was no way out. The only way to avoid pain or humiliation was to either do no wrong or not get caught. I knew I couldn’t ‘behave’ well enough to never get ‘in trouble’, so the only option left was to ‘not get caught’.
There are many ways to entrap a child. Anytime we place our children in a situation where they are not sufficiently mature to function- we trap them. Anytime we require of them anything they are developmentally incapable of and punish them when they do not perform- we trap them. Anytime we find them in a sticky situation and ask them a question designed to trip them up, we entrap them. We (especially as a Christian culture- and it infuriates and confounds me) have a serious problem recognizing that Infants and Toddlers have real needs, real emotions, and real desires. When an Infant cries, it NEEDS a response. When a toddler throws a tantrum, he or she NEEDS help. When an older child withdraws or explodes, they need emotional support and patient instruction. We often ask our children to willingly participate in situations we will not tolerate OR in which we could not function. Delay your dinner? Keep you up past your bedtime? Forcibly strip and re-dress you when you were perfectly comfy in what you had on? Wake you up early? Set something vile in front of you- something you’ve never seen before- and demand you eat it? We confront our children with these same indignities, and demand they comply cheerfully. Ever hear someone say about a crying child, “Oh, he/she is JUST… (Whatever)!” In other words, ignore that, it’s not important.
When you minimize a child’s needs and ignore his emotional responses, and when you ALSO expect him to ignore, lie, challenge, test, and defy you; you end up with something called an adversarial relationship. That is why my mother assumed I would lie and that she needed to test me. She assumed I knew I should have worn shoes; assumed I chose not to wear them anyway. Because she assumed these things, she concluded that I would try to hide the fact that I didn’t have my shoes on, and decided it was necessary to test me to prove her authority over me (and presumably, my feet). In a way, my mom was trapped by this adversarial relationship, too. Because she assumed I was being deceitful, she couldn’t have come to any other conclusion. All of that assuming took place in a heartbeat. My mouth was as good as soapy the moment she opened hers. What would have happened if she had stopped, just for a minute, to ask herself why I hadn’t worn my shoes? What if she had chosen to Hope I had simply been mistaken? What if she had chosen to Trust that I would not try to deceive her, because I valued our relationship? You see, when you assume that your child is your adversary, your enemy in life, you will have to punish, because there will be no room for relationship. But a Christian’s life is supposed to be based on relationship. We are called to learn how to resemble Christ. We aren’t asked to do it ourselves, we are asked to allow the Lord to change us a little bit every day. We are called to study and learn and be willing to grow. We are called to learn to relate to people the way Christ did, with hope and love, trust and patience, and mercy and grace.
The next time our child does something that immediately infuriates or embarrasses you, I challenge you to STOP. Ask yourself if you really saw or heard what you thought you did. Ask yourself what would motivate YOU to do what your child just did. You may well find that what your child just did is perfectly justified. By the way, that doesn’t mean you don’t teach and instruct. If what they did was understandable but not the best way to deal with it- or if they hurt someone- then address it. We as parents have the awesome responsibility and burden to point out errors in behavior and flaws in judgment, and then to teach the correct behaviors. That requires us to know our children. It challenges us to get off our collective parental rump and actively Parent. This requires us to maintain a relationship with our children.
My question for you all is this- WHY is it so hard for us to Love our children with the type of Love Christ shows us? Why can we not teach and instruct our children with Grace and Mercy? Why, when our children ask for nourishment and guidance (bread and fish) do we give them punishment and shame (a stone and a snake) instead?
References- NIV Bible- 1 Corinthians 13-6, Matthew 7:9-10