Friday, March 09, 2012

The Hardest Choice

My dear daughter Clare is a little--um--strong-willed. In many ways this is a blessing. I know where she stands on things, and she knows what she believes and isn't interested in following the latest trends. She's bright and boisterous, golden-haired and glorious. I never dreamed how she would so truly live up to the meaning of her name: "Brilliant light." There are many times I'm blinded by her (or sideswiped, befuddled, flabbergasted--those are other good descriptors).

So, yes, strong-willed. Unfortunately, a strong will out of control can be like a bolt of lightning, burning everything it touches. And while Clare has rained down her bolts off and on over the years, we've lately had an increase in them, and as a result she makes herself and everyone around her miserable. We think we've hit on a way to work with this, but it's one of those tricky discipline things. On the one hand, the behavior must stop--it's not acceptable--and Clare needs to be given the tools and structure to help it stop. On the other hand, we don't want a behavior change to be merely external. If her heart hasn't changed, no outward appearance is going to be worth beans down the road. We don't want our daughter to appear to be a "good little Christian" who has a heart full of rebellion. So that change is not something we can force on her. It has to be a decision made between her and the God she loves with all of her fiery heart.

That's what makes our ongoing conversations so frustrating every time we see a potential lightning storm. They often sound like this: 
"Clare, you have a choice. You can choose to throw a tantrum about this, or you can choose to accept it." 
"Urggh!!! You're making me angry!" 
"No Clare, you're choosing to be angry. I don't have control over that, you do." 
(Groan, mumble, complain.) 
"Clare, you can ask Jesus to help you make the right choice. He wants to help you, but he can't unless you ask him." 
(More stomping of feet and gnashing of teeth.)
To tell the truth, I just want to shake her or hold her tightly or something and yell, "Why are you making this so difficult??? Don't you know you would be so much happier if you would just accept this with grace and move on? Why are you trying to be miserable and drag everyone down with you?"

Inevitably at this point, though, a still small Voice nudges me and asks kindly, but wryly, "Sounds kind of familiar, huh?"

In John 14:15 Jesus says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." He's not laying down the law in a high-and-mighty "I'm God and you had better obey me" way. He's stating a simple fact that is one of the hardest of all things for me to internalize. When you truly love someone who is put in authority over you (like God, or parents) you want to be like them. The way to be like them is to do what they instruct as the way to live.

I want to be like Christ. Really. I can't imagine anything more amazing than loving like him, having his wisdom, and kindness, and compassion. I want to live in complete obedience to God like Christ did, to the point where he was willing to lay down his own life because he knew it was the only way to save us. He faced the biggest fears anyone could face, the fears of persecution and death, with grace and humility. And God was glorified. I want my life to be like that!!!

But when I dive into my daily routine I find that I'm not faced with dramatic choices of life or death. I don't have opportunities to exhibit epic heroism for Christ. Instead, I have to get three children out the door so we get to school on time. I have to make sure that they are fed and hopefully dressed by then, and that their hair is at least brushed (forget fancy hairdos). I need to be sure that my family is fed, so there are grocery runs and meals to make. I want my husband to feel somewhat relaxed when he arrives home from an exhausting work day, so it's helpful if the house looks slightly picked-up. These are just a few parts of the routine. Add to that the non-stop interactions with the kids which range from the joyful and hilarious to the grating, frustrating and angering.

When the frustration starts to boil I know I'm walking a line and I have a choice to make. I can go my way and let the temper overflow. Doesn't it feel great to blow up now and then? And after all, the kids have deliberately pushed my buttons. They made me angry, right? So in a way they deserve my anger that can spew and roll over them like lava. We'll all just wash it off later. No lingering effects. Right....
My other choice is to step back and pray. To take my hands off and say, "Lord, I can't do this. My attitude sucks right now and any love, patience, kindness, and self-control here is going to have to come from you. I choose to obey you and let you work."

How does this play out? The few times when I've truly done this, the results have been shocking, but not because they were supernaturally miraculous. Rather, they seemed completely natural. I was still in the midst of the situation with my kids, but my perspective changed and I wasn't boiling with anger any more. I hadn't done anything to change my attitude, and so it wasn't till later that I realized there had been a change...and that change could only have happened supernaturally.

It seems so simple and obvious that the best choice is to obey. And yet over and over again I am fighting it. And the reason I am is because if I step back and let God take the reins I am giving up control and I don't know what the result will be. If I hold onto my anger, I can guarantee the result: the kids will be upset and I'll be kicking myself for the day with my guilty conscience. But hey! I got to keep control over that situation!

So as we talk with Clare about making the right choice, I find I'm talking to myself over and over again. And I'm praying more that my words will not just be for show, and that my desire for her obedience won't be so that I'll be the great Mom-in-control. I'm praying that she'll learn how to make this difficult choice now when she's young so she isn't fighting it so hard when she gets to be my age. Who knows how many marvelous things God will be able to do in her life as a result!


  1. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Thank you Loren! What a blessing you have been to me today! May God continue to bless you as a mom and know that He is walking along side you all the way! He just wants us to talk to Him!!! Love, Judi

  2. Loren! I'm so glad to know I"m not the only one dealing with a daughter that is independent, strong-willed, gets something set in her mind and won't waver from it. Sometimes i think she just wants my attention. Sometimes I just want to yell at her and stick her in her room. I love reading your stories and they really make me think. Thanks Loren and any tips you realize on the topic are always welcome!

    1. Thanks Amy. Keep up the good work--we'll both make it through, and our girls will, too :) .

  3. I sincerely appreciate your wisdom and transparency, as well as your writing style (you have a gift!). Have you ever thought of submitting this to Parent magazine (a Lifeway publication)?

    1. Thanks Laura. And thanks for the tip to Parent magazine. I'll have to look into that (if I can get myself organized enough :) ).

  4. I had/have a strong-willed son. I can sooo relate. And I, like you, found that when I prayed things calmed down immediately. When we were both getting angry, if I pulled the car over, and sat down with him wherever we were, and prayed with him and for him, we could avoid a painful ordeal.

    In regards to the anger on the child's part, take heart. She'll give it up one day. You're doing a great job telling her that she's making her own unhappiness. She will gain self-control as she matures. My son did. No more tempter tantrums.

    I was/am like you, too, in wanting my children to learn earlier than I did that obedience brings joy and disobedience brings misery. So I tried to treat them the way God treats me. He loves me always and speaks to me calmly, but when I'm sinning, he makes me take a time out. I can't feel his presence. I can't hear his voice. And when I repent he welcomes me back with open arms. So when my son was sucking the joy out of everyone I removed him from the family and put him in his room. It only took twice.

    I hated to do it, because I felt like I was cutting him off, and God never cuts us off, but my son realized right away that he was cutting himself off.

    So I guess I was forcing an outward change, but the peace we had after that allowed us to enjoy much sweet fellowship that his sin had previously been stealing from us.

    Your daughter will get there. They have to hit a certain age where they are able to reason it all out and see that they are the ones causing the trouble and not everyone else. And you're right to love her strong will. There is much good to be had from it.

    Keep praying. It doesn't go on forever.

    1. Thanks Sally! As usual, good and helpful words :) . It's also always helpful to know I'm not the only one dealing with this. And yeah, definitely praying continually.