I am in the throes of parenting a three year old little girl. This girl has a kind and sensitive heart. She’s a watcher of people, and very aware of what her heart wants. She is also willful and intense. She comes by it honestly. Though I am trained to help adults stumble to hope through conversation, I definitely have no training in how to be strong and bigger than she is when she is having a meltdown, or expressing the hundredth need of the hour. Many days, I feel beyond my depth as I try to simultaneously be tender with her and require of her.
Lately, God has shown me that this is exactly how I deal with my own spirit, and it’s how I expect Him to deal with my spirit.
Recently, during one of our so-three-years-old public tantrums, I stopped reacting long enough to realize how tense my body was. My breaths were short and rapid; my pulse was racing. I wanted to flee the situation. She was all fight. And I was all flight. In the moment, she still wanted someone to cherish her and provide strength around her behavior. I realized that I could not show up during her tantrums because I do not show up for my own. Her anger embarrasses me. My anger embarrasses me. Her anger leads me to feel anxious that I will be exposed as a less-than-perfect mom. My anger leaves me afraid that I will be exposed as anything “less-than-perfect.”
Our relationships with our kids, no matter what their age, teach us so much about how we handle our own souls and about how we really believe God handles our souls. Our children’s ways of expressing and acting out are much more unhidden than ours. Yet their strong negative emotions of fear, anger or sadness are a real path for connection with them. Your mishandling of one of these three emotions with your little one directly reflects how you mishandle anger, fear and sadness within yourself.
– Do you try to shove down your anger as quickly and efficiently as getting your screaming toddler out of a store? Do you avoid feeling it in yourself just like you avoid your sixteen year old son’s anger?
– Do you try to talk your child out of her fear or distract her to another topic when she is tense? This is probably not unlike your tendency to check the online bank account for the third time today, watch three hours of Netflix, or open another bottle to try to get away from your own fear.
– Do you internally (or externally) roll your eyes or feel impatience when your son’s sad tears de-rail the day’s agenda? If you are willing to look, you will likely find there’s no room for grief in the crowded, over-stimulated spaces in you.
Notice the tension that rises within you when your kids express specific emotions. How you handle or mishandle their hearts speaks of how you handle your own, and how you expect God to handle you. In His huge, eternal strength, He lets Himself be stopped, unthreatened, leaning down, leaning in and leaning close when you speak a need. He stays big when you admit your own smallness. Our kids need that from us. Their admissions of smallness are often not expressed as prayers for mercy, but perhaps that’s exactly what they are. A tantrum, an ongoing fear of the dark, a chronic social anxiety about school, a cold silence. That’s us with God. He stoops to listen. He stays bigger than us and He hems us in, protecting us in our wild rebellions, disciplining us, inviting us to tantrum, cry and shake. He’s got you in those moments.
Show up for yourself in the fear, sadness or anger. Show up in front of Him and He’ll help you show up for them.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Fort Mill, SC.