“Stay with me, I’m scared. I need ya,” Robert said.
Sigh. What can you say if your kid insists he is scared? When he asks me to stay, I pray for him. We talk about who we can trust in always. I might sing a song. One night, I remembered a verse in Philippians – “whatever is true… whatever is lovely… think on these things.” I changed the words a bit – what is good, wonderful, marvelous, fantastic, true – and I told Robert that God wants our mind to think about good stuff. Then we thought of something good from the day: chocolate chip cookies. It seemed to work! I was happy to have found something that would help him.
Robert has just turned four. But when he was three (and even now, though slightly less frequently), we had some major power struggles. Some, he has won hands down. Day after day of tantrums, hearing “no,” hitting, crying (a lot of times the crying is me), yelling (also me), etc… and I feel like we are no longer ourselves. It’s exhausting knowing that you will have the same struggle tomorrow over a task that is part of life’s routine (brushing teeth, putting pants on, taking medicine, to name a few). On those exhausting days, honestly, I sometimes found myself frustrated, thinking, “I just don’t want to even see him right now!”
After a particularly rough day, I sat down exhausted, frustrated and not liking being around little people anymore. Those words from Philippians came to mind and I thought, “Is it time to think of what’s true… lovely… etc. about my son? About who he is?” I realized that I could spend more time looking at these challenging traits in a positive light: instead of seeing him as stubborn, I could think of him as determined or goal-oriented.
I read a lot about parenting and child development – not just for myself as a mom, but for my work also. Through my reading I’ve learned that “strong-willed” children often turn into successful adults. They become people who can express ideas, chase after their goals and become good leaders. I hang onto this tightly (by my fingernails some days).
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8
Right before this verse, Paul mentions conflict. That conflict is probably between two people working towards the same goal. Maybe they are close friends, on the same committee at church? But the more I’ve pondered this verse in light of clashes with a single-minded toddler, it makes sense to find its setting here, in the absence of serenity and calm. Why would we be exhorted to think of what is praiseworthy in the middle of calm and peace? Or, what is lovely, good or admirable for that matter? Those are usually the last things I’m thinking about when my son is on my last nerve and we are in an epic battle of the wills.
But, it’s there, in the middle of frustration, hurt feelings, and just not knowing what to do next, that we really should think of all of the beauty that draws us back in for more. Back to the struggle of teaching an easily frustrated child how to dress himself. Back to lovingly engaging with that really difficult person at work (we’ve all had at least ONE of those). Back to why we even jumped into parenting/marriage/missions/this new job… whatever… in the first place.
I wish I did this more than I do. Too often, it’s something I think about as I cry over the terrible way I responded (again) and how I’ve hurt someone I love (again). Like all new behaviors, it takes time to adopt into a new normal. What follows this verse in Philippians is a reminder that if we do these things and the other practices mentioned in this chapter, the God of peace will be with us. Right there in the middle of tantrums, disagreements, and all the rest of it, bringing peace and, I hope, wisdom to know just how to move forward.
When I look for the good things about my son, I can go on and on! He works hard at school, loves his friends, and has a great dinosaur roar. He loves to cook, play “I Spy” in the car, sing silly songs and eat popcorn. He will argue with me over who loves whom the most and is thrilled to see Dad walk through the door in the afternoon. Just like all of us, though, he has his rough edges. And so do I.
Thanks be to God, we are growing together.
How are you called to grow through this verse in Philippians?