She meant business. Her tiny fists were clenched. Her sweet pigtails bobbing up and down as she stomped her feet and gave me the meanest look her four-year-old face could muster. I had told her no; she couldn’t have that iPad app she’d been asking for, and she was not happy. She was overtired, and I knew she was revving up for a tantrum. This wasn’t going to blow over. I’d expected that much, but what I didn’t expect were those words. You know the ones. Every mom knows they’re coming at some point but when, where, and why is the question. You can brace yourself for them years in advance but they still cut deep…
“I DON’T LOVE YOU, MOM!”
It was almost worse than, “I hate you, Mom!”. Love is stronger than hate, and she was taking love away. I knew deep down that she didn’t really mean it. Still…Ouch. (Didn’t help that she followed it up by throwing a toy at my face.)
I sat stunned. Staring at her and contemplating my next move, her anger burned hotter with each passing moment. My usual response would be to drag her, kicking and screaming, into time-out and slam the door. To let my own frustration, both with her and with myself, rise to the surface. To fuel my own fire. My natural reaction to my children’s disobedience, more often than I’d like to admit, is to let my selfishness and my fear of failure take over. To let it play out in the raising of my voice…and the hardening of my heart.
Having grown up in a broken home, I’d always wished for a good example of parenting to draw from; of how to be the mother I’d always wanted. I’d been a mom for eight years and I still felt completely inadequate. Without realizing it, I’d try the same things over and over, always getting the same result. Stuck in a cycle. More yelling, more frustration, more fear of screwing the whole thing up. Until one day, I woke up to the fact that, not only did I have a good example of parenting, I’ve had the perfect example. I’ve had the perfect Father.
God’s always been there. He’s been patiently waiting; quietly watching as I struggled to do this on my own. All I needed to do was tune out all the other voices I’d been listening to, and still my soul. All I needed to do was listen to His whispers of grace; take in His Word. Words of encouragement and guidance, of love and acceptance…words that expect our obedience but understand our flaws. God’s parenting style is one of gentle strength. Of stern wisdom. Of beauty, regardless of whatever ugly sin we’re wrestling with. He will never accept anything less than His best for us and will stop at nothing to win our hearts. He loves us with a love too fierce for words and, because of that, He does whatever necessary to mold us into the very best version of ourselves. Whatever necessary to bring us to a place of joy, never settling for mere happiness.
God sees us at our worst and responds by giving us His best. He looks at us in the middle of our mess, at the height of our tantrums (let’s be honest…we still throw them), and opens Himself up to us with love and compassion. He meets us in the midst of our failures and frustrations with open arms of grace. No matter the sin, He wipes the slate clean. Every time.
A few days before my daughter uttered THOSE words, I’d resolved to pray specifically over the discipline area of my parenting journey; that God would calm my storm, right in the middle of moments where tempers typically flair, and speak to my soul. Instruct me. Soften my heart and open my eyes, allowing me to see my children as He does: With grace and understanding. To see their behavior as a matter of the heart.
That day’s tantrum was the first I’d responded to while fully walking in the path of the Holy Spirit; while listening to that Still, Small Voice. My interactions with my daughter were calm. My words were carefully chosen. Inspired by His grace towards me, I was able to offer open arms of grace to my child (after she’d stopped rolling around on the floor like a rabid squirrel). That experience of discipline ended much differently than those of the past. A consequence was still given, this time followed by the reassurance of my unconditional love as I cradled my little girl in my arms and listened to what was on her heart. After getting some things off of her chest, she found new words for me…
“I love you so much, Mommy…and I’m so sorry.”
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve ended up apologizing to God through tears of regret. Over the years, my reasons have changed but my sinfulness, unfortunately, will never fully disappear. Thankfully…neither will His grace.