“I’ve already had the worst day of my entire life, and now you expect me to want to pour my own cereal?” – Quote from one of my children
To be a parent is to be a man or woman well acquainted with exasperation. I would lay down my life for my kids, but to be frank, these little humans can be self-centered, demanding, emotionally deregulated, and unable to keep their circumstances in any kind of healthy perspective. (Evidenced by the true-story quote above.) ‘Tis the nature of childhood. They’re just learning, and what they’re doing is age-appropriate. But to be on the receiving end of that day in and day out can be EXASPERATING.
That said, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds me that exasperation is a two-way street. I may be able to list of all the irritating, frustrating and thankless parts of parenting, but I have just as much potential to exasperate my kids. And the truth is, I often “live up” to that potential.
Often those closest to me receive the worst I have to offer. With co-workers or friends, I tend to speak and listen with sympathy and patience (at least most of the time). Even in charged situations when I feel stirred up internally, I work hard to exhibit self-control.Rarely do I pour out my unfiltered emotions.
And then I get home at the end of the day.
I’m tired, and I’m with the people I feel most safe with – my husband and kids. And what do I do? I snap. I don’t pause to listen and sympathize with their complaints. I want to be left alone and I prioritize my own feelings and wants over theirs.
What’s an exasperated parent to do?
I am a reader, and one way God acts in my life is by bringing certain books across my path at specific times. I’m thankful for the ways He weaves particular themes together to guide me along the path of becoming more like Jesus.
Just recently, I read Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser. Halfway through the book, I read these words:
“He [Jesus] takes away the tensions and sins of the community by absorbing them, carrying them, transforming them, and not giving them back in kind. . . . Jesus did this by functioning like a water purifier, a filter of sorts. In looking at his death, they understood this: he took in hatred, held it, transformed it, and gave back love; he took in bitterness, held it, transformed it, and gave back graciousness; he took in curses, held them, transformed them, and gave back blessings; and he took in murder, held it, transformed it, and gave back forgiveness.”
Rolheiser goes on to describe how we are invited to become the water purifiers in our various communities and families – to be the places where negativity, out-of-control anger, and hurtful speech stop “because, like water purifiers, we take it in, transform it, and do not give it back in kind.”
Do you ever read or hear something and KNOW that God is speaking to you? That was my response to this passage of the book. I knew He was turning my gaze to my patterns of anger with my kids and calling me to be transformed.
After reading those words by Rolheiser, I haven’t yelled in weeks.
Just this week I caused tears in my house when I snapped and yelled (in anger), “YOU HAVE TO TAKE A SHOWER BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO NOW STOP WHINING AND GET IN THE BATHROOM!!!” after one of my children whined and whined and whined about how it was so unfair to have to bathe. Not exactly the Christlike water purifier there.
But here’s the thing. I’ve also seen progress. There have been times when my kids are LOSING IT, and I can feel my blood pressure rising, and I think “water purifier; transform their energy.” And I do. I don’t lose my cool. I listen. I absorb what their little bodies and psyches can’t handle on their own, and it’s transformed, and I am (totally by grace) able to give back love and peace.
This (like much of parenting) feels like two steps forward and one step back. It’s not easy, and it’s not as consistent as I want it to be, but it is worth pursuing, so I’m committed to it. The simple image of the water purifier has been really helpful to me. Remembering that concrete visual can be enough to take my vision beyond myself and connect me to Jesus. And that’s powerful, because His example is what compels me.
It reminds me of something I heard Pastor Matt say once… something about getting “beyond me.” Maybe he was on to something there.