I’m guessing that what is true for me, is true for many others out there.
That is, some of my most hypocritical moments happen when I am chastising my children for bad habits that I clearly haven’t overcome myself. For me, the guilt-feelings hit hardest when daughter E. sticks out her beautiful defiant jaw and bemoans, not once, but repeatedly: I need. I want. NOW! I then, in all my maturity and wisdom, reply, with a similar irritated inflection in my voice: patience, patience. Why can’t you just be PATIENT!
Children are not just our minors, they are also great mirrors. They simply expose their flawed characters more openly than us. When it comes down to it, am I not just like my daughter? Sure, I internalise my grumbling and demanding more. Until it’s boiled and sizzled around inside me so long that it finally bursts out, usually flying in the poor professor’s face. I then try to justify my outburst with righteous sounding excuses: I’m just tired, anxious, it’s just that…
But is this not simply the more sophisticated but equally self-centred adult version of diffusion of blame? It’s not my fault, I deserve….but what do I deserve, really? And do I really know that what I want is what I need?
Let me explore all this with a recent example. The professor and I like to go away with the kids on what we call ‘family adventures.’ Like myself, Dr M. also finds it hard to stay still. His case is perhaps less severe in its manifestations, but it is nonetheless present. This is especially the situation after a semester of teaching.
We find hitting the road helps. Despite the monumental effort and energy required to cram two kids, and all their overnight ‘essentials’ into our moderately sized car (I’m afraid I’m no minimalist), we still pursue our goal because just feeling the gentle motion of freeway driving, flicking on the stereo, and letting the changing scenery change one’s perspective has a certain calming effect on body and soul.
This January we were making a belated pilgrimage of sorts to see the Hunter Valley Christmas Lights, an amazingly impressive display of creative ingenuity and electricity in the Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW. It was an impulsive overnight trip, designed to provide a bit of spontaneous post-christmas family fun.
On the way to our destination, like any good, still slightly green, parents we hyped E up with mind images of how great it would be when we got there, how she would be entering a fairy world of lights beyond anything she had seen yet. At nineteen months, W is too young yet to understand such things, and anyway, he requires no hyping, he is most often the family hyp -er, a veritable fountain of uncontainable joy.
Needless to say around 4-6 hours later, when we finally arrived at our location, after some unpredicted detours due to map-misreads, the temptation of slippery dips and swings, and toileting needs —think recently potty-trained pre-schooler, pregnant lady, and baby in nappies who eats too much fruit— E was sufficiently psyched up as to be near exploding, and as anyone who knows kids knows, there is a very fine line between excitement and its evil flip side, hysteria.
That’s when it happened. The only possible foil to our perfect plan. Rain! One of my dreaded what-ifs had actually come true!
Gently as we could, we knelt over E and spoke in falsely calm voices. ‘We’re so sorry, sweetheart. The rain means the lights can’t run tonight. We can’t go.’
In excruciating slow motion, E’s face crumpled, and reddened, and tears welled up in her eyes, tears of hopes dashed, of expectations unmet, and of lights unshining and unvisited. ‘BUT I WANT TO SEE THE LIIIIII-GHT’S!’
E wasn’t the only one overcome by emotion. I was holding a private temper-tantrum party in my mind. The party game of choice was the blame game, and I was running it. If only we had left earlier, if only Dr M. didn’t take so long getting ready, if only ….and so the tirade of (mostly inaccurate) complaint continued, while my dear accused husband faithfully unloaded our bounteous supply of bags into our holiday cabin, trecking tirelessly back and forward through the rain.
I’d like to say I came to my senses of my own accord, but in truth it was only when I finally paused and prayed that I realised that the sole person at fault here was myself. I was letting my expectations and imaginings of what could have been guide my reactions to what was. Dr M. was no more in control of the weather than I was. So who was I really blaming? Or put another way, in whom was I not trusting.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6. NIV)
The next day dawned bright and fresh and after some discussion we decided it would be worthwhile staying another night. The forecast was for showers clearing by evening so we had a good chance of making our target second time around.
In the course of the next 8 hours we managed to fit in face painting, market browsing, a drive through the vineyards to nearby Wollombi, a tiny town nestled in hilly greenery, with a park that made E and W wild with joy, and a cafe that made mummy a perfect cup of tea. We ate ice cream. We explored a small bush track through densly lush rainforest, and we ate a picnic dinner prepared by the professor who also happens to be an excellent amateur cook.
And that night, rain free, we made it to the lights! Ahh…the lights. E’s reaction to it all surpassed our parental expectations, and W too clamoured his way out of his pram to run chaotically here and there, exclaiming in his signature way WOW WOW WOW! to each new sparkling display that caught his toddler-fancy.
Above is a photo of E in front of Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot. Like Pooh, we too can be foolish enough to think we always know what is best, especially when there is honey involved. But our Father always knows better. I’m not saying this means he’ll give us a wondrous light display every time we want one, but sometimes he will, and sometimes this will require a bit of patience on our part. And when it does arrive it will be better than our expectations. And sometimes he will disallow us things, for our own good. Always for our own good.
Because he is a good God. If only we let him be just that.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)