I’m a Strong-Willed Child. I always have been, and barring traumatic head injury making me speechless, ha, I still would be strong-willed, just unable to speak, so I reckon I’d have to be brain-dead.
I am me. I see things a certain way, and when I get an idea (my grandma used to say a wild hare), I’m off and running. Growing up though, I usually felt like that was a bad thing, at least until I read something (I forget what now) that talked about strong-willed people being leaders, not followers, and I began to see myself in a positive light. See, being strong-willed was not a good thing. My mom would scold me for being stiff-necked and stubborn like the Israelites and told me that unless I stopped being like that, God would let me wallow and be stuck like the Israelites were stuck in the desert for forty years. That’s a bit of a heavy burden when you are 13 years old and struggling to get through Algebra 1, and you are feeling like you’re a hopeless failure, and it’s all your fault.
I grew up with a lot of guilt and shame about who I was. I was too loud, too stubborn, too silly, too talkative, too needy, too emotional, too much and on and on and on. I stuffed a lot of feelings. And when I refused to listen (hmm, anyone suppose I was overwhelmed), I was told I was being hateful, and if I tried to defend myself, I was back-talking. I remember trying to explain myself and longing to be listened to and heard and loved, but instead getting yelled at for back-talking. I distinctly remember thinking, If this is considered back-talking, then I might as well really be back-talking.
I also remember having long, imaginary conversations with someone who would ask what was wrong and let me pour my heart out and cry in their arms. I felt so alone as a teen. I remember reading Ross Campbell’s How to Really Love Your Child and wondering how my mom missed listening to her children and hearing our hearts. I do wish The Five Love Languages had been published when I was a child, but then I remember telling my mom I needed hugs and that didn’t seem to make a difference. I wonder what would have changed her; probably for her to have grown up in a healthy family, not one full of angry words and angrier silences.
I am really working on assigning positive intent to my mom. She did the best she could with the tools she had. She did parent me better than her parents parented her. Gentle discipline was not a common concept then, and at that time, Dr. Dobson’s books were brand new. For her, Dobson’s teachings were far better than how she grew up, but how I desperately wish that Dr. Dobson had written his books from a grace-giving perspective instead of viewing children punitively. I wonder how many people would feel like God is for them and loves them unconditionally instead of having to be perfect. I have struggled with feeling like I am too much trouble for anyone to be willing to deal with and at the same time feeling like my problems (and my wounded heart) were not important enough to bother getting help. Yes, that is totally contradictory. Sadly, between those two lies, I did not seek help, even though I knew counseling was available, and I did consider talking to someone in college.
Today, I am very thankful to have the Internet easily available and access to people who believe in Grace-based Discipline. Otherwise, I would have felt a lot more lost and hopeless on my parenting journey. I daily struggle with speaking and acting with grace towards my children. I often respond to my children’s age-appropriate behaviour with anger and have unrealistic expectations of them, but I have friends whom I can call, who understand grace and understand grace is for children too and who show me what grace looks like.
One of my favourite times I see Jesus extending grace is how He treated Thomas, one of His disciples. I love Thomas. I’ve joked if I were Catholic, he would be my patron saint–hm, so then would my name be Thomasina? Anyhow, Thomas wasn’t afraid to ask Jesus Questions. I wonder why it is considered doctrinally incorrect to ask God Questions. He is big enough to handle them, certainly. I cannot change His authority or God-ness by asking Questions. I suppose it threatens people who are trying to be God; I just really don’t know. As a parent, I would be absolutely dismayed if my children ever felt like they could not come to me with their Questions. I do not have to be able to answer their Questions; I know Who can.
Right now, though, I fear I am not big enough to handle their big emotions. In my parenting journey, I am struggling mightily with responding gently to my children’s big emotions. I am struggling even more with how to deal with my own big emotions. The only methods of emotion handling I learned were be happy, don’t let any cracks show, and don’t tell anyone you are feeling sad or depressed. I suspect—no, I know I was depressed as a teen. However, I was very outgoing and a chatterbox (also Not A Good Thing), and I don’t think anyone ever suspected. My mom says she asked me if I was suicidal once, and I said no, so she never asked me again. I don’t recall this, although I certainly recall feeling suicidal, and the only reason I decided not to commit suicide was because I didn’t want family friends to have to explain my death to their three- and five-year-old children whom I babysat.
I don’t know when I fell in love with Thomas, or rather, with Jesus. See, Thomas was not afraid to ask Jesus the Big Questions–to say he had a hard time believing. He is mocked and called a doubter by many people today, the ones who publish Bibles with sections titled “Doubting Thomas.” But most important to me in reading John 21:24-27 is Jesus’ response to Thomas. Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for not believing. He spoke to Thomas, and I believe, held out His hands to Thomas. Jesus met Thomas where he was, full of grief and fear, and alone–can you imagine how it had to have felt, when everyone else got to see Jesus, but not you? But then to have Jesus appear and speak to you and answer your deepest fears? Would you feel loved. . . cherished? Jesus loved Thomas and spoke to his heart, where he was. Jesus didn’t try to fix him or shame him, “Come on, Thomas, just listen, the other disciples believed, why couldn’t you?” or “You should have known better. If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times, I was going to be resurrected.” Instead, Jesus said, “Here is the answer to your Question. I am here. I am bigger than your fears. I will come through for you.”
I desperately long to know that Jesus will come through for me, that He can handle my biggest fears–my big emotions. I want to see God’s grace for me. It is hard to, though, through the filter of “You’re not Good Enough (to be loved)”, and “You have to measure up.” Are these the messages my mom thought she was sending me? I doubt it. She was doing her best and struggling with the negative voices from her childhood. I hope that I can extend the grace God has given me to my children, so they don’t wonder if God loves even them, if they are good enough for Him to be pleased with them. I certainly don’t expect them to be Good Enough; they are mine and that is good enough for me to love them. I hope that someday soon my heart understands that I am good enough simply because I am His.