In 2012, my major “resolution” was to live a life of love. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot simply will myself to be loving, and so this resolution is really a request for God to transform me. I also know, though, that there are some things that I can do to try to realign my life with Jesus’ standards. Here is a little “update” on my attempt at an Eph. 5:2 style “love life.” (You can only imagine how I lit up when I came up with that little phrase. I couldn’t wait to use that title:)).
So I have this theory that kids get yelled at regularly. Even my own kids…and they both have parents who save yelling for the moments when they are about to get run over by a car. But even though Greg and I generally don’t yell at them, I know for a fact that Luke has an art teacher who is a bit of a yeller. Luke describes her as “grumpy,” and he doesn’t like to go to art (which is so sad to me). The other day after he had art class, I asked him how it went. He perked up and said it went well because, in his words, “I think the other kids are starting to figure out that if they aren’t bad, she won’t yell at them so much.” Also, I have eaten lunch with him at school, and I have seen a very large and very intimidating lunch lady holler at the kids who are stepping out of line. It seems like the more that children are in a group setting, the more likely it is for them to get yelled at. Apparently, it is often too tempting for the person in charge of the group setting to use yelling as a means of control. Sometimes, it might be practical: if the kids are being so loud they can’t hear the leader, maybe yelling is simply used as a way to get their attention back. At the same time, I can’t help but think that yelling is a tool of control that can be very easily misused.
It doesn’t stop in group situations, though. Just the other day, I heard a parent absolutely reaming her kids out in the parking lot. The fact that she didn’t skip a beat when my two small children and I came into view made me think that this was a regular behavior for her. And from the stories that Greg hears from kids at Y.E.S., I’m beginning to think that yelling is a regular behavior in many homes.
Now, here is how that all applies to my love life. In the rowdy world of children, maintaining some semblance of order is challenging. The temptation when managing children is often to resort to yelling, or at least to speaking harshly out of frustration and anger. As a parent, I can tell you that there is something about children’s outright and repeated rebellion that is such an affront to one’s sinful pride. That “insult” often makes it very difficult to respond with patience and love. My impatience is magnified in group settings. When a child repeatedly disrupts the whole group, I personally find that very frustrating.
Which brings me to a boy named…well…we’ll call him Frog. In a lot of ways, Frog is a great kid. He’s smart, he’s energetic, he’s got a lot going for him. At this time in his development, though, Frog’s special spiritual gift seems to be driving adults out of their ever-lovin’ minds. Trying to lead a group in which Frog is a part inevitably proves very difficult, as he continually talks, disrupts, and repeatedly ignores all warnings.
Because of this consistently disruptive behavior, I have a feeling that Frog gets yelled at a lot.
So I was thinking about Frog the other day. I began to try to see things from his perspective, as a child who was continually in trouble, and I wondered if, in the cloud of yelling that envelopes Frog’s life, Frog was able to tell the difference between grumpy-selfish-adult-yelling and loving-Christian-yelling. It occurred to me that maybe he (and most children) couldn’t make those distinctions. That…maybe it all just sounded like yelling.
And then I decided to try an experiment. I decided to try to speak a new language to Frog.
My experiment was partially inspired by my brother, Mike, who was very good at speaking differently to children. I remember clearly a time about…seven?…years ago, when Mike came and visited me in South Carolina. I was teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school, and Mike sat in with me. There was one boy in class, a repeat visitor, whom I really didn’t know very well. I honestly don’t remember much about him, but I remember he was always very disruptive. This one Sunday, I was trying to get the kids to turn to the front of the Bible to go over the books of the Old Testament. It was a large and rowdy class, and I was having kind of a hard time keeping control of it. Anyway, this kid simply would not participate in turning to the books of the Bible. He wouldn’t cooperate at all. In frustration, I sent him out of the class. He went without a fuss. A few minutes later, Mike quietly ducked out to join him.
I heard the two of them laughing in the hall, and honestly, part of me felt annoyed. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, and I started mentally justifying my actions to Mike. At the same time, I was kind of relieved that the kid was gone, and that I didn’t have to worry about what trouble he might be getting into in the hall. A few minutes later, class ended, and I looked out in the hallway. Mike and the boy were sitting beside each other, going over the first five books of the Old Testament. The kid was cracking up because Mike was giving him silly mnemonic devices by which to remember the books. I still remember his shortcut for Deuteronomy: Doo-doo-ronomy. The boy thought that was hilarious…and, full disclosure, I still chuckle every time I turn to Deuteronomy.
Afterwards, I thanked Mike for taking the kid under his wing. Mike loved the kid, and told me, “Kim, I don’t think he was trying to be bad. I honestly don’t think he knew what a table of contents was.” Ohhhh. Clarity came flooding into my mind. Faced with a chaotic situation, I had made a snap judgment and been too harsh. Mike, on the other hand, took the two seconds to actually see the kid and get to the heart of what was wrong with him. As a result, the kid fell totally in love with Mike. All through church service later, he would repeatedly turn around to beam at Mike…to the point where it was, of course, disruptive:). I watched him get in trouble with his mom. The boy really couldn’t win for losin’, as we say in the South.
Thinking about Mike’s approach to kids, and about my desires to mirror Christ to others, I decided to speak a new language to Frog. I decided to reject any type of harsh words toward him and instead to gently discipline him in a clearly loving way. Or…at least to try.
My first test was last Wednesday night. In a group devo, I happened to sit in a chair right behind Frog, who was sitting on the floor with his friends. They talked and cut up constantly. It was truly a problem and a disruption. Just to let you know, this type of behavior drives me crazy. But…I didn’t want to let my personal frustration and impatience cloud my witness. This kid was loved–absolutely adored–by Jesus. And I didn’t want that message to get lost…especially not in church.
I tried gently and lovingly correcting him.
I tried to inspire him to be an example to others.
But he did stop…for two seconds.
What I found worked the best was, when he was talking, to gently put my hand on his shoulder and say nothing. No harsh looks–sometimes I didn’t even look at him, but continued listening. It was easy and somewhat more effective than trying to whisper corrections to him. When we prayed, I briefly opened my eyes (a natural function of having small kids) and saw him looking at me. I smiled at him and closed my eyes again. After the closing prayer, I said, “Hey, Frog.” He immediately started getting defensive, apparently thinking that I was about to light into him for his behavior. Instead I just put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m glad you’re here,” and went about my business.
As luck would have it, Frog also sat directly in front of me in church this past Sunday morning. As usual, he talked and made noise constantly. I followed my same three-step pattern: gentle admonition to start, hand on the shoulder after that, and a word of affirmation at the end. His behavior hasn’t changed much, and for all I know, he may think I’m totally crazy…but I think I’m going to play this out as long as I can. Also, I really just want to get to know the kid. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. If nothing else, this experiment functions as a great practice in self-discipline for my impatient heart. It is also good practice on not using what I am coming to consider the verbal “weapons of the world.” It helps me not only with kids like Frog, but also with my own kids. I really want to do everything out of love. And I can only speak for myself, but I know that I am not full of love most of the times I speak harshly. There are sometimes where I do think it is called for…but those times are in the small minority.
So that’s where I am in my love life so far.
How are your new year’s resolutions going?