I couldn't get anything written yesterday, but had several thoughts to share from the past few days.
1). I wrote in the first "31 Day Fast" post that my harsh words and critical spirit were a manifestation of fear. I've also realized that another facet of that involves unmet expectations. I think that I have built up a whole shaky foundation (a "house on sandy land") based on the idea that I can plan everything out, and if only my plans work (and my expectations are met), everything will be just fine. If my expectations aren't met, I do believe that my gut reaction is often rooted in fear, even though it looks like anger and frustration. My birthday was a glaring example of this. The expectation is that my family (particularly my husband) will recognize my birthday in the ways that are meaningful to me. The fear (if my expectations aren't met) is that I am not worthy. If I were a really wonderful wife and mother, then my family would just gush and pour love out all over me on my birthday. Crazy. Of course, there are plenty of times when my criticism and harsh words are rooted in just plain selfishness (there's no fear involved when I walk into a room and see that someone hasn't cleaned up their toys for the tenth time that day, or when the children are all playing loudly (even though it's happy loudness), and I just want some peace and quiet, for instance). The bottom line is that the criticism and harsh words are just not okay, no matter what their source, but I am finding that it's helpful to understand where they are coming from.
2). My view of God plays a huge role in my capacity to exhibit grace. And my view of God has been inaccurate. I have always had trouble understanding God as a loving Father. I have long battled a picture of God as a father who is harsh and impossible to please, watching and waiting to catch me making a wrong choice, or failing in some way that I might not even understand. Over the years, He has been changing my understanding...revealing more of His true character to me. And as I've learned more about who He really is, I have desired more and more of Him. Over the last few days, though, I realized that my long years of viewing Him wrongly have still been impacting me in the way I relate to my children. I have put myself in the place in which I long believed Him to be...constantly watching and waiting for the children to "mess up" in some way, so that I could jump in and correct them. I know what a dangerous practice this is for them. I know that the result of this kind of parenting is for them to develop an image of God that mirrors the one I long held. As their earthly parents, we have such a huge influence on their understanding of God as their Father. I know that I have a responsibility to teach them obedience. To impart an understanding of truth, and of God's holiness. But I also have a tremendous burden to give them a picture of grace. I happened to hear a perfect quote on the radio yesterday as I was mulling this over. I don't even know who the speaker was on the Christian radio station, but I had just turned it on in the car when I heard this:
Truth without grace is brutality.
Grace without truth is hypocrisy.
I have lived as a victim of truth without grace. I have leaned way too far on this side of the balance as a mom. I'm so thankful that my Father has given me a different image, and I am longing to help my children to know a God of truth and grace.
3). The whole big picture (struggling to deal with unmet expectations, and growing in my understanding of God's love and grace for me) leads me to a deep desire to look at my husband and children differently, and to respond to them differently. I have a perfect illustration of this, and it goes back to the whole birthday fiasco. There's a piece of the birthday story that I didn't share. It's about cake. Remember the issue with unmet expectations? Well, in my "birthday language", a birthday requires a cake. It's actually been a running joke in my family for years. Jim and Elijah prefer pie for their birthdays. Pie!! We pretend to fight about it at their birthdays every year. I always make them pie, but I always make it clear that cake is...well...better. Right. Pie is just...wrong. :) Early in our marriage, when I realized that birthdays are just not a big deal to Jim, I made it easy. I told him that I really like to have a birthday cake. I told him what kind of cake I like (chocolate, with raspberry filling), and I told him where to get it. Done, right? So generally there has been a cake for my birthday. This year, remember, he was refinishing the floors. He was sick. I knew he couldn't have remembered to get a cake. But while I was out doing some errands the morning of my birthday, he went out to a store near our house. I got home first, and saw him carrying in the big bag. And out of the bag he pulled...a pie. He pulled out the pie, looked at me, and said, "I got you a Key Lime Pie." I looked at the pie, looked back and him, and said (through gritted teeth), "Yes, you did." Unfortunately for him (I hate to admit how glad I was, though), a friend had invited me for tea on my birthday, and had served...you guessed it...chocolate cake with raspberries. She had asked Rebekah what kind of cake I like. I came home with the leftover cake from the tea, and it's not my fault that Jim asked me what was in the box, right? And what else could I tell him but the truth? Yes, I was petty and selfish. I was angry and hurt because....my expectations had not been met. I told the whole story to a friend today, and teared up from laughing about how silly it was. How could I have behaved that way? (I did tell Jim I was sorry the next day...but I also asked him if he seriously didn't hear any alarms going off when he read the words "Key Lime PIE").
But now here's the lesson learned. I had been figuring this out over the past few days, but the sermon at church this morning brought it all together for me. God calls us to holiness. He has the right to call us to holiness, because he is holy. But we fail. And He loves us anyway. In fact, because of His great love for us, He sent His Son to die for our transgressions; in order that we might be called His sons and daughters. My best efforts to please Him fall short. My best gifts to Him are like filthy rags. And yet He shows grace to me, and looks on me with love. He delights to give me good gifts...when I have nothing to give.
I, on the other hand, am not holy. Yet I hold my husband (and children...and sometimes others, too), to a standard which I myself cannot attain. I have no right to hold them to this standard when I fall short of it myself. And yet when they fail, I am quick to criticize and blame. I do not treat them lovingly. Even when they strive to please me, I sometimes view their efforts as falling short. I fail to show grace. I generally recognize my mistake afterward, repent, and try to repair. But a pattern of this kind of critical, difficult to please behavior in a relationship is toxic. My husband bought me a pie. I wanted a cake. Seriously?!? His desire was to please me (someone out there is wondering how he could've thought a pie would please me, but trust me...he truly did. It was Key Lime, after all). Why could I not accept this offering of love with grace? I pray that I will learn to do so. I think that's part of the reason why I decided to include the pie story here. At first (on my birthday), I didn't write it because I didn't want to discredit my husband. But when I thought about it honestly, I can only discredit myself when I share this, and hopefully become even more convicted. (I do hope somehow got a good laugh out of that whole story though...I know that someone out there can relate...right?)
I'm going to end with more words of wisdom from Paul David Tripp This is from War of Words again, and is a description of the four principles on which the book is based:
- God has a wonderful plan for our words that is far better than any plan we could come up with on
- Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion, and chaos.
- In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we heed to speak as God intended us to speak.
- The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be.