“The habits and traits that bother us most in other people are the habits and traits we can’t stand about ourselves.”
Lobbed to me as a high school senior, that was met with my adolescent reflex of proving it wrong: Well, what about — any number of sins. I could list off problems I didn’t have to prove the quote inadequate.
But as I’m trying to pull the weeds out from my kids’ minds to allow the good stuff to grow, I’m pricking myself on the truth of this statement, and I think my lament more than a decade ago only proves … well, knowledge evolves. Also, I as a teenager was only all the way right about 47 percent of the time.
The part my teenage mind didn’t grasp was “most.”
Because do you know what bothers me most about my three precious young people? Disobedience.
When I say “Could everyone please get their shoes out while I grab the grocery list,” and my kids continue to play, my brain jumps to that place of just ARGH. Hair pulling. … But haven’t I disobeyed, and I don’t mean as a child: haven’t I read something, known something to be what I should do — and haven’t I waited, or made excuses?
Can we talk about the implications of my disobedience? About people I’ve hurt and money I’ve wasted? (We will, but not today.)
Or: You know what bothers me also-most about my dearest children? When they take more than they can eat at the table and then throw it away. But … then, too, don’t I have God-given skills, talents, sweaters, books and resources I’m not using?
Or: also-most, I become irritated when they ask, and ask, and ask for something and I’ve said flat-out, “No.” But then … don’t I, too?
If my relationship with my dad kicked onto my path a roadblock I had with God as Father in my teens (“That’s a dad? Well, that’s great if I need half my braces paid for, but I’m not sure what to make of the whole not-here part“), the relationships with my kids opened a floodgate for the kind of understanding that pinches. Relationships, plural, because each child points out another facet of my meager understanding.
So, what does that understanding yield? A blog post, for one. Prayers, for another. Humbling moments that lately have been toppling each other like dominoes on their way to revealing just how wide and long this metaphor can travel.
This understanding — that though I am in charge of my kids, I’m really always under the same authority as them — is a solid place to stand while considering the kind of relationships I want with my kids. As they fall, so do I. As they are prone to disobedience, dirt and drama, so can I be. And yet we want to model for them what it looks like to navigate that, and admit when we fall, and look to the right places when we need help getting back up.
Helpful sidebar: Erin’s list of “Not the right places”: any form of social media, grumbling amongst myselfs, chocolate, or a whole jar of olives.
I don’t know if this model ever will manifest itself in some deeper understanding of God for my kids. I can’t know if my husband and I praying through “Common Prayer” together with the kids playing in the background will, through osmosis, attach to their little souls — or if they’ll recall it with resentment that it was 10 minutes they couldn’t have their oatmeal when they wanted it.
I don’t know.
But maybe understanding that my kids’ fallen nature is my own can remind me not to shut down when at 5 p.m. on a Saturday when Dave’s at his second job and I really, really, really am not in the mood for a 2-year-old’s opinion over which color cup she wants at dinner.
Because, haven’t I been jealous of someone else’s bright new cup before, too?
Sorry … I could go on all night.
That doesn’t mean, by the way, in that cup-jealousy moment, that I’m transformed into an angelic mother, a model of perfect understanding and Solomon-like reasoning. Cut the purple cup in half, Erin decreed.
No, it just means, keeping this in perspective, we’re all bent pieces. We’ve all got stuff. And we do ourselves a holy favor when we stop acting — Erin, this is for you, self — like we’re the ones who are offended, or we’re the ones who deserve something more or better.
God’s given us these young people to create in us — and in them — the people He needs for His story. Sometimes that hurts. Sometimes it’s perfectly, creatively wonderful to think about.