Friday, September 20, 2013

Undoing the Damage

I was raised in a mainline Protestant church.  I remain in a church of that same denomination.  I have no memories of anyone preaching about hell or damning anyone to hell personally or generically from the pulpit or anywhere else.  I remember nothing in my religious upbringing that was motivated by fear.  And as a pastor these are traditions I've chosen to continue in the churches I have served and in the life I lead. 

But this presents an interesting situation...time and time again.  I find that I am needing to learn how to have a ministry of undoing the damage that others have done.  And let me tell you, it's not easy to do. 

The number of people who have walked into my office, especially recently, struggling to see value in themselves is amazing.  And guess what they hold in common?  They were taught from the time they were young, usually by family and/or church, how little value they had apart from behaving in certain prescribed ways. 

The number of people who have walked into my office, talked about some choice they made, and followed it with the comment, "And after that I was going to hell anyway, so I figured why not?"  These aren't people who themselves thought they were going to hell for their actions but people who were told by others and who because this came from people they knew and trusted just gave up hope.  They resigned themselves to hell and in doing so did everything from abandoning their relationship with God to taking on destructive habits.

But, I look at these people and all I see are beloved children of God.  I look at them and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved and wanted by God, that they are of value - not because they follow the rules, but simply because they are created with value.  I look at them and I know that they are forgiven and that at the end of the day it is never hopeless. 

But, how do I mirror that back to them?  How do I give them my eyes or my heart through which to see themselves?  Even better, how do I give them God's? 

Each time I find myself in one of these conversations, I wish I had so much more to offer.  I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make it all better.  But, until I find that wand, I will just journey with them one step at a time and try with each moment to undo the damage that someone did to them.

And meanwhile, I will pray that each of us will pause before we belittle, before we condemn, before we say or do even the smallest thing that tells someone else that their value is conditional...I pray that we will pause and correct ourselves before we damage someone else. 

May it be so.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Because Yelling Isn't Necessary

Have you ever stopped and counted how many times over a day or a week you raise your voice at your children? 

I applaud those whose count is low or non-existent. 

Now for the rest of us...

I suspect most of us raise our voices far more often than we'd like to admit.  And many of us feel like it is the only way to get things done.  I can speak for myself in saying that one of my great frustrations is that my husband can tell my children to do something one time and they do, while it seems I can say it three times and finally they respond when my head is spinning and steam is coming out of my ears.  Now there may be all sorts of things to explore in that statement, but let's stick to the topic at hand.

The reality is that I work hard to parent without a lot of yelling, but I'm also self-aware enough to know that I would be lying if I told you that at some point (nearly) everyday my voice is raised in frustration.  And yet, each time I do so I realize that it's not how I want to parent.  (Nor, as I often must throw in here, is it how I experience God as our parent which to me is great motivation!)

So, tonight I decided that it's time to really work on this.  And in many ways it is simpler that we think.  Just look at what happened at my house tonight...

I told my children that they had five minutes until bed.  Then I set the kitchen timer for five minutes.  Voila!  Now it wasn't me they first heard when their five minutes were up but the "beep, beep, beep" of the timer.  And when I walked in to where they were watching a cartoon and turned off the television it wasn't a discussion nor a surprise.

When my five-year-old (who was waiting outside the bathroom for his turn) hit his brother with a stuffed tiger, there was no need to yell.  I simply confiscated the tiger and said, "Tigers aren't weapons, they are companions.  He will be with me." 

This is not rocket science.  Read "Parenting 101" and you'll read this stuff.  It's just that some days it feels like rocket science.  When the day has been overwhelming...when you're running late...when dinner is boiling over...when the dog is barking...when the kids are is difficult to remember that your own loud reaction doesn't make anything better.  But the reality is that it doesn't. 

At best what yelling at our children does is helps us gain control of the moment so we can go on; at worst it teaches our children to fear us or cow-tow to those who react the loudest rather than learning to make better choices and discover their own self-control. 

If your child is in danger, by all means raise your voice and keep them safe.  If they are just being a child - even an obnoxious one who is getting on your last nerve - why not take a deep breath and treat them as you would want to be treated...why not model for them how you hope they'll behave?