Written December 21, 2011…
It was finally my turn.
I had made it over 3 years, but this time I was the mom of the child throwing the tantrum in the mall.
The mom trying her best to stay calm (or not break down in tears) in a battle of wills.
The mom trying to avoid the condemning glances of strangers.
The mom who wants to hide her growing belly because she’s sure everyone’s thinking, “And she’s going to havemore of these?”
The mom who feels like there’s a giant sign on her chest that says, “Inadequate Mother”.
In my three year old’s defense, that afternoon was the perfect storm. My mother-in-law likes to take Isaiah and my niece to get Christmas pictures taken every year. I needed to drive an hour that afternoon to meet her, so I had to wake Isaiah up from his nap. Strike one. He did fabulously during their little photo session, but wasn’t watching where he was going later and smacked his face off of a large garbage can to receive a bloody lip. Strike two. After calming down while eating his free pretzel, I promised that he could play in the mall’s kids’ play area while we waited to see our pictures. He did a great job climbing up to the top, only to get told by two 5 year-old bullies that he couldn’t be up there and had to go to “jail”…and then did a face plant while hurrying back down. Strike three.
Three strikes, but he still wasn’t out. He played with Lilly and waited patiently while we waited…but he was tired…and hungry…and didn’t want to leave his Grammy.
And then I decided it was time to go home.
Isaiah didn’t like that idea. So he started crying and protesting…loudly. Enter the first round of glances from onlookers. I calmly promised not to reward his behavior and instead of obeying, he only got louder. I held his hand as we left the studio and began our walk back through the store and out of the mall. He continued to scream. More looks. I took him into the store’s restroom so that he could go to the bathroom before our hour drive home and the screaming didn’t stop. I stooped down to talk with him and discipline my child. Proverbs 29:18 says that if you “discipline your son, he will give you rest and delight your heart.” Let’s just say, I was not restful nor delighted yet. My child normally would then calm down and begin acting again like my sweet little boy. But he didn’t. The screaming got even louder. So loud in fact that my brother-in-law who was across the parking lot (and I’m sure thanking God that his little girl was at the moment sitting calmly in her car seat) could hear us coming out of the mall. Isaiah cried for Grammy. Isaiah cried for Daddy. For perhaps the first time, he didn’t want anything to do with his Mommy.
I collapsed into the driver’s seat in tears and, of course, immediately called my husband. A few minutes into the drive, Isaiah calmed down and asked me to put Christmas music on as if nothing had happened. With only the radio as background noise , I cried and prayed.
I was so embarrassed and felt completely helpless. Why couldn’t I control the situation? I’m trying so hard to discipline my son well and teach him how to behave. We pray together. We talk about situations like this. We read his Bible. We do devotions together. He’s memorizing verses. We lovingly spank (enter giant “gasp” from nay-sayers). And of course I’ve always got the pressure of not raising the “stereo-typical pastor’s kid” looming over my head. Is this the beginning of a downward spiral? What was I doing wrong?! God, doesn’t Isaiah know how mortifying situations like this are for me?!
And then when my thoughts slowed down long enough to actually listen, I felt God gently ask…
“Megan, are you more upset because your son disobeyed or because people might think less of you?”
Wait a second…this is supposed to be about Isaiah. Really, God?!
Of course, I was upset that Isaiah wasn’t obeying or even being a rational human being for that matter. But if I was completely honest with myself, I was more worried about how it would make people look at ME. I hate that my natural tendency is to be a people-pleaser and have to fight it every day. I fear failure. I fear anyone being upset with me or even disliking me for that matter. I fear looking bad. I fear not being a good enough mom. I truly do want to be real. Authentic. Transparent. I guess I just want that real, authentic, transparent self to be, well, perfect. Oh, silly Megan.
Though we had gone most of the hour long drive without conversation, Isaiah initiated one as we approached our street.
“Mommy, why were you so sad?”
What I wanted to say was, “Are you kidding me?!” But instead I tried to remind him that it makes Mommy (and God) sad when he doesn’t obey. That I loved him and knew what was best for him and that I needed him to trust me.
Oh boy. That sounded familiar. I was reminded of how much it hurts the heart of God (Ephesians 4:30) when I choose to ignore Him, insist on my own way, or fail to trust Him. That He disciplines me because He loves me deeply (Proverbs 3:11). I remembered how much it hurt that Isaiah seemed to want everyone else BUT me in that moment, even though I was the one who could love him best. Rarely had I ever experienced Isaiah pushing away from me and I hated that new found distance between us. Oh, how many times have I done the same thing and made my Heavenly Father feel like that?
Thankfully, my little boy responded with an “I’m so sorry” without being prompted and was met at the door by his Daddy who would talk with him further about his behavior…and our forgiveness. Restoration felt good and I sure didn’t mind the extra hugs and kisses.
At dinner that night Isaiah asked why the kids at the mall (Remember the 5 year-old bullies?) were mean to him. We explained that those boys might not have known Jesus and that he needed to forgive them like we forgave him. That night at bedtime he insisted on praying for those boys and again God used my son to remind me of His grace. Haven’t we all been those boys?
I’ve been studying through the names of God with a college student that shall remain nameless (Janae Glunt). It’s not a coincidence that the few days of the study after my mall experience were about Jehovah-mekoddishkim, which means “The Lord sanctifies you.” Last night, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 came alive to me…
“For God has not called you for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
I immediately begged God to not allow my discipline of my son, nor my people-pleasing heart, to be simply about behavior modification. My rejection of God’s will for me is not a rejection of man (or what he thinks about me). It’s disregarding and completely rejecting God Himself. One thing that I appreciate about children is that they’re not concerned about what they look like on the outside. They freely reveal their true character. I don’t want my son’s behavior or decisions to begin to be based upon what will look best to those around him. I want it to be because he wants his heart to look like God’s heart.
Thing is, as hard as I try I CAN’T control my son’s behavior. I can lead. I can discipline. I can teach. I can (and must) pray. But it is God who does the sanctifying (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and my son who must respond accordingly (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). And that is becoming more and more of my prayer for him.
As Christmas quickly approaches, I’m increasingly thankful for a Messiah who came to rescue us out of our failed attempted to be righteous on our own.
A Messiah that emptied Himself in order to fill us up.
A Messiah who died to provide our redemption (Hebrews 9:22).
A Messiah that sanctified Himself, that we also may be sanctified in truth (John 17:19).
A Messiah whose “resurrection provides us with the ability to walk in newness of life through the gift of the Holy Spirit who sets us free from the law of sin and death” (Kay Arthur; Romans 6:4; 8:2-4).
A Messiah who sanctifies me…and offers the same invitation for my little boy…and for you.