Know this Bible verse?: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Pretty well-known one; get’s quoted pretty often. It’s in James, my favorite book.
How many times have I have it in the context of mothering,though? Zero. The first part of it anyway, the “be quick to listen, slow to speak” bit.
I know I know, shame on me. But here’s the thing we moms- in the trenches with little ones tugging at us from knee level- know: there’s not a lotta time to drop everything and just listen as the day rolls on. And there’s an awful lot of speaking that simply must.be.done.
“Wash your hands. Stop teasing your sister. Did you brush your teeth yet? Try it again with a different voice. Can you please put that plate in the dishwasher? Put your shoes on now, please.”
See? These are just a few of the things I might say to one of my four children during a fifteen-minute span on mornings we’re trying to get out the door. At lunch time the litany might contain different items, but it’d likely be no shorter. And the same at dinner-time. And bed-time. And (insert other times of the day here, with other practical needs that require verbal assistance or direction.) Being a mom at this stage just isn’t a word-sparse kind of job.
This year during Lent I’m trying to intentionally focus on gentleness, an area in which I’m notoriously weak as a mom. I’m trying to invite the Holy Spirit into tense moments and get Him to direct my response, instead of just coming out with whatever’s brewing in me. Because I still battle a knee-jerk response to revert everything to “acceptable” behavior quickly, regardless of whether that course is the best one. And because, even when correction is the right response, I know that stern and overt isn’t always the best kind of correction… Even though it’s generally the fastest and easiest to pull out.
I mentally rehearsed my gentleness goal this morning as my cranky daughter stared sullenly at her breakfast plate. There was moody defiance about her as she sat, flatly disregarding my instruction to get along with her breakfast. The other three were – how shall I say it? – abuzz. Everyone was still in their pajamas. Lunches hadn’t yet been packed. In short: we had a problem. I considered my options.
I knelt by her chair and hugged her. I said nothing. We stayed like that for a while – a minute maybe? Then she said something about a facet of school that was troubling her, and that she didn’t like school (she does) and wished she didn’t have to go (she doesn’t). Then her face cleared, and she sat up and began eating her breakfast. She was over it.
I had said nothing – exactly zero words. All I had done was hug and wait. Wait before trying to solve or fix. Wait before words.
And it occurs to me: love is in the waiting. “Love is patient“ doesn’t mean just in the big things – the long-suffering spirit that hangs in there over time. It means in the tiny moments, too. The holding off on comment. The focused presence, without words… Even, sometimes, for a mom whose child is misbehaving.
So, note to myself from today: be slow to speak to my children, in tense moments… Or slower, anyway. Take more time before responding. Because love and patience, as James knew, are diffusers and transformers… They can turn sin around, and even bring out virtue. <Thank you, James.>
Originally published in April, 2014