My son seems to possess a surprising lack of forethought. The other day for instance he brought home an old printer cartridge in its cardboard box. Apparently he and his buddy had decided they would use it as an airplane engine. Did I mention that what he lacks in forethought he more than amply makes up for in imagination and creativity? So I told him he most certainly could not play with the old printer cartridge and answered his why nots with all sorts of clever unconvincing grown up rationale that made absolutely no impression on a seven year old distracted by thoughts of fighter jets and building his own engine. While my reasons must have sounded like the wap-wap, wap-wap-wap type of grown up speak heard in a Charlie Brown special, some part of my “no” must have registered because when I did catch him, happily hammering away on that old printer cartridge, he had had the sense to hide it behind the sofa chair.
Of course it was my own fault for not throwing it into recycling right away. What was I thinking?
Clearly I am not thinking at all because this afternoon he and this very same friend (clue number one) were upstairs playing in his bedroom while I was downstairs cooking. There was the usual amount of noise and carry on, some occasional loud thumps and banging but nothing alarming, or so I thought. I did yell up the stairs once, “you’re not doing anything you’re not supposed to, are you” to which I received a very reassuring, “no mummy” so I carried on with my work, content in the happy knowledge that my son was now old enough to play responsibly and unsupervised (clue number two). It wasn’t until much later when some now forgotten reason took me back again to the bottom of the stairs. This time I noticed a small puddle of water on the bottom step and on the next and then the next.
I mounted the stairs calmly because as a responsible grown adult I was quite unable to fathom why there should be water on the stairs. I was absolutely unprepared for the carnage that met me at the top. The boys had decided to have a water fight in his bedroom with an orange-coloured water pistol and an old travel size Listerine bottle. It looked as though it had rained inside his bedroom. Pictures he had drawn and hung on the wall ran together, water dripped down inside dresser drawers soaking into folded shirts. The tops of the dressers had also soaked up water and made rough ripples in the faux wood finishing. But the worst of it was that the floor was slick with water and puddles that were causing the hard wood floor to swell and buckle at the joints. Apparently this water fight had been going on for quite some time and the boys had been enjoying sliding across the wet wood floors. In the next room the bath tub was half full of water with a collection of Legos sunk to the bottom of the tub and another collection strewn across the sink and countertop. The bathroom floor was also mildly flooded.
I might have lost my mind but for the fact that I think I was in shock. That and the fact that the Holy Spirit has been doing some pretty heavy duty work in my life.
Whereas before I would have exploded in anger I actually felt surprisingly calm given the magnitude of the mess and damage. Having my son and all the crazy challenges that have come along with some of his behaviors and temperament had unearthed a very angry and controlling spirit hiding inside of me. Before having my son I did not realize that I had a problem with frustration, anger or wanting to control others. It may have creeped to the surface on rare occasions but I had managed to successfully stuff it back down again and cover it up. All seemed well.
So when I had my son and started acting and reacting in these incredibly shameful and hateful ways, I began to wish I had never had a child. I blamed him. He was driving me crazy. He was making me angry. His behavior was the problem. It was his fault that I was feeling like this. Why couldn’t he just listen? In times of great rage I even secretly felt that I hated him.
What kind of a monster was I? I felt so ashamed of myself and afraid of this intense anger that I could not control. I even blamed God. Why would He give me a child like this? God knew I couldn’t do this. Why didn’t He give this child to one of those loving, patient, super parents and give me a placid, compliant child instead.
I was a miserable failure. I loved my son and I believed he was God’s gift to me, a blessing I did not deserve; but he was also a gift I could not handle because I was broken. While I had thought I was a kind, patient and giving person, God saw into my hidden brokenness and in His immense kindness would not leave me that way. For He makes all things new.
Two years ago as our son’s behavior began to spiral out of control my husband and I were stressed and pushed to our limits. At the same time, I was losing my own battle with my temper. I was deeply afraid; of my child and myself. I was desperate for God to give me a breakthrough. I really wanted God to change my child. If my child would only behave then I could behave.
Of course you know where this is going. God did not change my child’s behaviors; in fact his behaviors intensified. I actually believe I had a mild form of PTSD after my son’s first year of school. In my despair however, the Lord did answer me but He went past what I wanted and cut to the real heart of the matter: my heart.
God said, “you were made for this.”
Wait. Excuse me God but what did You say?
How could I – angry, stormy, explosive, controlling, shameful, broken, failing me – be made for this? Then it came to me, a lightbulb moment of revelation. The hateful, frustrated, angry, controlling me was not actually me!
Of course, I was acting and behaving in those ugly ways but that was the broken, sinful version of me, not the me who God had designed me to be. Since Christ now lives in me and the Spirit of the Lord empowers me, I can walk in freedom from the bondage of sin and its behaviors. Freedom from the past and shame, whether that past happened ten years or ten minutes ago. The real me, the real Julie, the one who finds her life in Christ, that me was made for the child I was given and for the life that I am living because God does not make mistakes.
When I realized that truth and started speaking it over and into my life, I began to be set free. No longer did I believe that I would always be defeated in this area and when I realized that, the enemy’s hold on me weakened. I had a hope to cling to and strength to keep going.
When I walked around my son’s room this afternoon, wondering where to begin and just what the consequences should be, I didn’t explode in anger but I did speak some hurtful words. This life with the Lord is a journey of becoming. We are in the midst of becoming who we are called to be and in the becoming we still wrestle with sin and old habits. I have been meditating on a great quote by Amber Mills Lia in When You Need to Fix Your Child’s Behavior: “it takes a childhood to raise a child and a lifetime to grow in Christ”. I am so thankful to know it is supposed to take this long!! I used to wonder in my anger and despair how I or my child would ever become more than the wretched messes we so often seem to be. In this new season however I am learning to speak into our future the life that Christ died for us to have.
Later this afternoon, when the water had all been cleaned up, I knew there was a more important mess I needed to clean. I told my son I had been wrong in some of the things I said to him. I told him instead about who he is in Christ and I spoke life over him and his future. I looked at who God has made him to be and I spoke that vision into his heart. My son wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me so tight that I know he too was experiencing the grace and hope God has for us. There is so much we do not understand and there will be more mistakes and tears along the way but through it all we hear the voice of the Lord, calling us back to our future in Him. And that future is pretty amazing.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14 NIV