I heard once that for every word of correction you give your children you should give three words of praise. I love that advice, try to live by in, and find it so hard to follow. On certain days my scolding, nagging, exasperated tones definitely override my loving words to my kids. Now, I’m not saying that some of that is not justified, kids can be trying some days as they stretch their boundaries and test their independence, but as I sit here looking at my 2-year-old after he’s been tearing through the house all morning I hope that his large blue eyes and tender heart feel that he is loved through my words. There have been a lot of no’s this morning. Don’t touch, put that down, don’t poke your sister. But what does he hear? What messages am I sending him as I accompany him throughout his day.
In the never-ending quest to please God and be worthy of his praise I am learning that it takes a lot of self-examination. I don’t really thrive on self-examination because often I feel like I fall short. I was impatient, snarky, self-pitying, an all around ill-tempered sea bass. I am not perfect (no really, I’m not) but when I examine this quest I’m on I’m looking to make the day-to-day count for the long-term. I’m looking to the eternal while living in the present. High-falutin’ words but I think of it in terms of legacy. What am I imprinting and leaving behind.
Proverbs 31:26 When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
Sigh. This is one of the verses in Proverbs 31 that I so desperately want to live up to but find so hard to live by. Not every word that falls from this mouth contains pearls of wisdom. My instructions to “pick up!Stop!Quit!” are not always given with kindness. What do I do, then? Well, I look to those who I think fulfill this criteria of speaking wise words and teaching with kindness.
When I look at the people I know whose words bless me with their wisdom there are certain characteristics that they share. These words of wisdom are not sent out all the time, unsolicited. Often these people wait until asked before they offer these wise words of advice or council. Some of the wisest people I know are also the best listeners. They will listen a long time to another person before they offer their own input. This is a hard one for me. I try so desperately to listen and not interrupt but my brain gets going with ideas that I think are so important to get out in the world that my ears seem to turn off. When I think about this, I realize something. When I’m offering my own ideas I’m not hearing facts, opinions, ideas that could drastically change how I think or feel. I’m not letting myself hear words from others, often not letting myself hear words from God that may be spoken by him or through other people. My wisdom grows not only through experience but through learning from others. A favorite phrase of my father’s was “The difference between a wise man and a fool is that a wise man can learn from a fool”. Kind of makes me want to be one over the other.
So, if I want to speak wise words I need to choose the when, like the verse says, and I need to choose the words. Not everything needs to be said. Something I see in our culture today is that there seems to be no discernment between being “real” and being “rude”. I’m not advocating lying but not everything that comes out of your mouth is kind or does your head and heart credit. Speaking words of wisdom seems to have a lot to do with knowing when to speak and when to hold your tongue.
Faithful instruction/kind instruction/helpful instruction. Exasperation, frustration, and being overwhelmed can kibosh faithful instruction. When I feel like tearing out my hair because my kids are tearing apart my house I know that my words are not instructive so much as just trying to keep things from falling apart. I think a couple of things about this. I think that I need to cut myself some slack and cut my kids some slack. When I’m in that situation, if I”m thinking halfway straight, I’ll take a minute and think, is what they’re doing really such a big deal, is it irreparable? Dangerous? Harmful or hurtful? Then maybe I can let this thing slide. Sometimes the best thing is for me to adapt my thinking to try to see the big picture of raising kids and not grass.
But there are other times when I do need to instruct my kids. How do I do this kindly? Well, the first thing I’ve found is that doing it in private is kinder to your children. Public humiliation is not the job of a parent. Your kids will get that enough from other people. When I’m in those situations I try to treat my kids like I’d want to be treated. I don’t like being called out in front of other people so why would they? Another thing that has been a hard lesson for me to learn as a parent is that raising your kids is more important than your own personal embarrassment. There are things that all of our kids do that may embarrass us. But, is saving our face more important than teaching our kids according to how God would want? Teaching them with wisdom and kindness according to how each child is wired is so much more important than what people think of me as a parent as reflected by my children. I had a child who took forever to potty train. I”m not talking months, I’m talking years. When my child has an accident in public at an age when society thinks they should not have that sort of accident, how to I parent my child through that? Do I lash out in my own embarrassment or do I speak kindness into my child’s life and help them along this journey?
Teaching them faithfully may also be very difficult and hard on the hearts of a parent. We want to protect our children from hurt and hardship but some of life’s lessons are tough. Teaching them in a way that will help them to grow to be men and women of God may involve getting them to apologize when they are embarrassed or scared to, teaching them that their actions affect other people and sometimes that makes us feel guilty or angry. It’s teaching them that it’s alright to have these floods of emotions but we need to learn how to manage them in a way that is God-honoring.
It’s a tenuous line we walk sometimes, isn’t it? Wanting to talk when I should be listening, learning to seek advice when I’m proud, learning grace, compassion, and mercy when I have stepped on Lego for the 13th time this afternoon. As I strive to be a woman pleasing to God I realize that the small battles add up. I won’t win every battle that I fight to be kind, wise, considerate, and compassionate, but I need to look at the far-reaching effects and realize that what I am striving for is not temporary but a legacy. I want to stand before God and see his pleasure at how I tried to live my life; in a way that is honoring and pleasing to him.