Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Room To Grow

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Be humble and gentle.   Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3) NLT

Sometimes our expectations for each other can be a little on the unreasonable side.  Have you ever had a talk with someone about something they shouldn’t be doing (kids, maybe) only to have them turn around and do it again the very next day?  What was your reaction like? 

This dynamic plays out at our house on a regular basis.  My wife and I each have things that we haven’t yet been able to outgrow, even though we’ve discussed them many times.  Mine are more related to forgetfulness, being distracted, and not listening.  It drives my wife nuts to have to tell me the same story a second time because somehow I can’t remember the previous conversation.  We spent what feels like over 40 hours total in conversations about how she really doesn’t want to remind me to take the trash out or feed the dog every day.  If it’s something that’s my responsibility to perform, it should be my responsibility to manage as well.  It’s a perfectly valid request, and yet I have enormous difficulty remembering to do these things.  And, when she does remind me I end up cranky because being reminded is internalized within me as failure on my part.  So she ends up not wanting to remind me and I can’t seem to remember, which means it doesn’t get done until finally somebody can’t take it anymore and someone gets angry.  I'm reasonably certain that we're not the ony couple to have experienced this dynamic.

The bottom line is that we get tired of being affected by the same old issues in a person’s life.  Women, don’t you get tired of reminding your child (or husband) to pick up the dirty clothes off of the floor?  It seems like such a simple thing.  Why can’t you explain how much it bothers you and then have the issue be resolved from that point forward?  The bottom line is that we don’t turn on a dime.  Sin doesn't stop on a dime.  Neither do bad habits, addictions, character flaws...  One discussion won’t undo years of learned behavior. 

My 6 year old went through a stretch this year in kindergarten where he would come home with a negative report about his behavior 4 days out of 5 each week.  It was incredibly frustrating for us as parents, and I learned from watching him that it was frustrating for him as well.  The more he tried to be good, the more frustrated he would get at his inability to pull it off.  His other frustrating habit is arguing and telling others what to do (including my wife and me).  My wife finally got sick of it and implemented something I thought was brilliant:  self help days.  Since he thought he was smarter than us, for two days he got to do everything for himself.  He had to fix his own breakfast, lunch, and dinner, figure out his homework and bedtime routine by himself, read himself a book, etc.  We did it for two days.  We made it clear that we wanted to help but this was what he had earned because of his behavior.  At the end of it, we had a discussion about lessons learned and he said the most amazing thing:  “I really want to not do that again ever.  I just don’t know if I can do it.” 

“When I want to do good, I don’t.  And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway…  It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind.  This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me." (Romans 7:19, 21-23) NLT

Sound familiar?  We can clearly see this dynamic in those around us, can’t we?  If you’re honest about it, you can see this in yourself as well.  Most of us have plenty of grace and mercy with regard to our own inability to do whatever it is we’re supposed to do.  It’s those other people that give us trouble.  But what does Paul say in Ephesians chapter 4 (shown above)?  We should be humble, gentle, patient… and we should make allowances for each other’s faults.  We need grace for those around us who haven’t figured out how to be perfect either.  Why?  So we can be united in peace.  Grace, mercy, humbleness, patience….  If you want peace in your home, it starts with you.  And the solution is much more about how you respond to the failures of those around you than it is about their ability to change their behavior. 

Should they be held accountable?  Of course!  My son is now is in the middle of a 3 week stretch with no negative feedback about his behavior at school, and I believe this is largely because we held him accountable for his actions.  The trick is to figure out how to do that without exasperation, without anger, and without negatively impacting relationships.  You may have "authoritative control" now (or at least feel like you do) but one day all you will have left is the ability to influence.  If you've spent years damaging the relationship with hurtful words and actions, you may not even have that.  Should we discipline our kids?  Good grief, yes.  But discipline doesn't need to involve explosiveness, scorn, ridicule, or damaged relationships.  Do you need to work on having more grace, mercy, humbleness, and patience?  Which relationships would most be impacted if you had these things in abundance? 

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