I don’t know if it’s wisdom that comes with age or if no longer being in the harried season of babies and toddlers simply enables me to be more observant, but I have become increasingly aware of the way I speak – particularly to my children – and it’s not good. Part of my new awareness, I’m certain, is the result of the Lord’s kindness in providing a friend whose manner of speaking is in stark contrast to mine. Even down to the say she gathers her children at the end of church to get into the car possesses a sing-song-y sweetness whereas my, “Time to roll” is reminiscent of a drill sergeant addressing his cadets.
My goal is not harshness, and there are times that as the words leave my mouth I shock myself at how I sound, and yet curt, gruff, harsh would be fair descriptors compared to my friend who could be described as sweet, gentle, patient. Hmm, who better represents the Fruit of the Spirit?
Now, I’m not one to compare myself to others for the sake of puffing myself up nor for condemning myself. However I see this contrast as the Lord’s gentle way of correcting me. The question becomes: will I receive that correction and will I respond rightly to it?
It matters little whether my disposition is innate or learned. It matter little what percent is the result of growing up in a household that excused harshness by following it up with the phrase, “Don’t be so sensitive,” and what percentage is simply, “How God made me,” as if either excuse sin.
What does matter is that I am not aware of this defect and whether or not I work to course correct.
When my kid runs out into the parking lot with no regard for cars, my drill sergeant-like “Get out of the road!” is appropriate. But when sitting at the kitchen table and my son is once again shoveling food into his face like a famished puppy, my “Stop eating like a dog!” may not be so helpful.
Sure, I’ve told him countless times — probably at least once a day for years. Sure, it’s about time he acquired basic table manners. Sure, he ought to receive MY corrections. But in that moment I saw his spirit shrink, right before my eyes. In that moment I realized that my harshness heaped shame upon him; not a right and good shame that he should feel as he considers his sin before the Lord, but an unhelpful, unloving, unkind shame that I put upon him.
I could have addressed the situation with different words, even just a different tone, and still have gotten the message across, but avoided the shame. “Hey Bud. Let’s remember to chew our food, not just shovel,” communicates the information I want him to have without tearing down the relationship. It also communicates to my other children, who are sitting at the same table, eating the same food, 1. What is and isn’t acceptable speech, and 2. Whether or not mommy might embarrass and shame them next.
No wonder my eldest child barks orders and her brother like a drill sergeant sometimes, I wonder where she gets it from. I wonder why there is harshness and not gentleness in the voice of various children as they communicate with one another, I wonder who they are imitating.
When I see my sweet friend gather her little chickadees with a chickadee like song, I am reminded that harshness does not have to be the way. Sure, she has her moments when her words don’t flow like a breeze in the springtime, but for the work the Lord is doing in my heart on this issue, that side of things does not matter. What does matter is that I am given a weekly reminder, a weekly self-check, a weekly encouragement to be mindful of my words and my tone.
If I desire for my children to communicate with kindness and gentleness to one another; if I desire to build my kids up in the faith, to encourage them in life and maintain open lines of communication in which they feel fully comfortable coming to me to talk, then I need to receive this rebuke from the Lord and act upon it. And for the many times I fail and slip back into old habits, I need to open my mouth to the one I offended and say, “I should have spoken to you like that. It was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
The reality is that I will fail hopefully less and less as time goes on and as the Lord continues to refine me, but I will fail. How will I handle that failure.
The reality is that my kids will fail. How will I respond to them when they fail? Will I heap upon them condemnation and shame, embarrassing them and likely provoking them to anger? Or will I correct them with grace, gently steering them back to what is right and good?
I know what I should do. I know what I want to do. Only time will tell what I will do…today, tomorrow, and the next day. With the Lord’s help, I will succeed.