For many months now, I have been implementing a new cleanup routine with my sons. Some of them are more willing to jump in to help than others, but one particular boy would rather have his teeth drilled than pick up toys and straighten his bedroom.
All the tricks I use to make it fun, like playing dance music or making it into a contest, lost their luster as far as he was concerned. He complained every time. Not just the mumble grumble type. More like the wailing and contorting of body in protest kind of complaining. It hasn't been a nightmare, but just unpleasant enough for me to dread asking for his help, though I did not waver in holding him to his responsibility.
In preparation of asking him to help around the house, I have had to take deep breathes, bracing myself for the resistance. It’s irritating, I’ll be honest, but instead of punishing him or lecturing him about his complaining ways, I decided to allow him to whine his way through it. I knew that if I matched his resistance with my own impatient sentiments, it would only result in provoking him further in the heat of the moment--certainly not the direction I was trying to go in.
The situation reminded me a lot of the story of Jonah. He was doing everything in his power not to obey God. He complied in the end, but he never had his heart in it. God still showed him compassion, and took opportunities to speak to his heart instead of crushing Jonah with His authority. God asks Jonah poignant questions as a way of teaching him, revealing to him His love and mercy toward all mankind. Both Jonah and my son still had to do the work. They made it hard on themselves by their hard hearts, but some lessons in life are best learned when we allow our kids to wrestle and suffer through it, without the added measure of our own discipline.
Meanwhile, as opportunities presented themselves in natural settings, I have gently been teaching my otherwise sweet boy about contentment. It often went like this:
“Son, I know that not being chosen for that job in your classroom is a disappointment, but I like how you are doing the job you were assigned anyway.”
“You know, Son, as I stand here husking corn, I don’t really enjoy it. It hurts my hand a bit and it’s a lot of mess to clean up. But I know how much your brother loves this corn, so it makes me happy to do it for him. It’s a way I can serve him lovingly.”
“Hey, did you see how that main character in the show you were just watching handled that situation with his sister? She got the part in the play she wanted, but he didn’t. He could have lashed out and complained, but instead, he and was kind and gracious. I like that and I think God does too. In fact, that character reminds me a lot of you. I’m proud of you when you are content and willing to help others, but I love you no matter what.”
Little by little, I have been sowing seeds of Truth by my gentle words. Yelling at my son would only serve to drown out the Holy Spirit's ability to whisper to his heart.
In my book, Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses, I remind parents that it takes a childhood to raise a child. Some issues my kids will face may take a very long time to improve. If I choose to be long-suffering with them, I’m going to have to be patient with the process of allowing The Holy Spirit to shape their hearts.
This past week as we went around the house, depositing trash in the bin, folding clothes and putting them into drawers, and sweeping up the incessant dog hair, my son who has been not so helpful as of late, quietly and efficiently went about the business of pitching in without one frown or grimace. About half way through our 15 minutes of power cleaning, I stopped and touched his arm to say, “Son, I see you working hard and doing it with a good attitude. I notice. Thank you for being so helpful.” He nodded his head with a light smile and carried on with the task at hand.
The beautiful thing about this is that we fostered the maturing process, as messy as it often is, without damaging our relationship because of angry yelling or words spoken in frustration. Kids need our consistency, our prayers, and our willingness to teach them outside of conflict, allowing them to make choices for themselves. When they do, we have not just made life easier for ourselves by raising a compliant child, we have stewarded them by helping them grow in lasting character.
If there is an issue your child is battling, like talking back, being lazy, or complaining, commit to praying about the best way to lovingly correct him or her and take opportunities to be an encouragement to them in their struggle. Approaching correction with empathy and understanding is far more effective than harsh punishments, yelling, or just ignoring the behavior and hoping it will get better someday.
My son’s struggle to grow in contentment and to serve his family with gladness was about as messy as his room, but we are on our way to lasting change that is all the more wonderful because it stems from a willing heart.