Monday, June 21, 2010

To Forgive Is Divine

Have you ever had one of those moments in life when God just pins you down like a scrawny wrestler on a mat with with a heavyweight and so clearly drills something into your mind that it seems like He's shouting it from the heavens directly at you? I have those moments fairly often, but that could be because I'm so stubborn that I need a little more intervention than most of His children. God, being the ever-so-pateint gentleman that He is gives me plenty of chances to catch His drift before He has to resort to such measures, but for reasons I cannot fathom, I tend to ignore His still small voice and gentle nudge until He has to bombard me with a visual picture.

It's kind of like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in order to cover his indescretion. David was swimming in his own sin and was so blinded by it that he couldn't even see how wrong he was. So the Lord sent Nathan to David to paint a picture for him so clear that David would recognize his sin and become angered by it. Nathan told David a fictional story about a rich, powerful man who had everything stealing one poor man's single little lamb. David became angry at that fictional man's sin and said that man deserved to die. Then Nathan gave him the clincher: "You ARE that man!" That was a clever way for the Lord to show David the reality of his own sin. He knew that while David was having a hard time recognizing his own sin, he would easily recognize the same sin in someone else. Why do we do that? Why is it so easy to ignore and justify our own sin, yet become so angry when someone else commits the exact same sin?

Every now and then, the Lord sends a "Nathan" into my life to show me my flaws when I have a hard time seeing them in myself. And it happened to me this week. My husband had done something to make me angry (I know - it's shocking that my human, broken, sinful husband would do something to offend me... but he did). I became particularly mad a this offense because he did something that he has done many times before, and he knows very well how much it offends me. I've begged him for years not to do what he did, and while the sin has become less frequent, he still does it from time to time. Shortly after he committed this offense last week, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit, felt guilty, and confessed it to me. While I appreciated the confession and saw that as a mark of maturity, I was still so mad at what he did. I didn't want to let him off the hook so easily. I couldn't believe he would still do what he did after all these years of my begging him not to, and I just couldn't seem to forgive. He kept apologizing and asking for my forgiveness, but I wasn't willing to extend it. He kept apologizing, and I kept being mad. I shamefully admit that this went on for a couple days. I felt the prompting of the Lord to forgive him several times. I was reminded of what Scripture says about forgiveness and my own sinful state, and I was reminded of my love for him and the wonderful husband he is... but I just wouldn't let it go.

Finally, a couple days later, I was driving down the street alone. I was a little distracted (and in a bad mood because of the turmoil in my home) and not paying much attention to the cars around me. I started to get over into another lane, and I hastily made the move without really looking to see if there were any cars next to me. Now in my defense, the lane I was getting into had just begun so there shouldn't have been anyone in the lane, but a tiny little car sped into the lane from behind me and happened to be right beside me when I started to merge into his territory. I swerved into his lane and almost hit him when I saw his little car inches away from my larger SUV. I narrowly missed him, swerved back into my original lane, and then properly merged in behind him. Even though he probably got over quicker than he should have and was speeding, it was my responsibility to look for him before I got into his lane and I almost hit him. It was my irresponsibility, and I was sorry for almost causing an accident. I waved to him and mouthed the word "sorry" so he would know I was sorry. He threw his hands in the air and yelled at me with a disgusted look on his face. I rolled my window down to let him know that I was truly sorry for my mistake - maybe he couldn't see that I was sorry. This time I said, "I'm SO sorry," and he again made rude gestures and yelled obscenities at me. That made me furious. There I was trying so hard to apologize, and he wouldn't accept it. Then I spoke these words aloud, "What a miserable little man - HE WON'T EVEN LET ME BE SORRY!"

That's when my very own words pierced my soul like a lightning bolt from heaven. I was that man! Oh how ashamed I felt when I realized that he was my Nathan and I was David. I was so disgusted that this man (a stranger) wouldn't accept my genuine apology while I had not accepted my own husband's for 2 days. God used that simple situation in my day to show me my hypocrisy - and it worked. I did forgive my husband. And I'm ashamed that it took that kind of knock over the head to get it. When will I ever start heading the still small voice of the Spirit that says, "Do this?" Oh how I long for the day when I will have the maturity and the wisdom to both recognize my wrongs AND correct them, without the Lord having to send me a Nathan to spell it out in a real-life, kindergarten-level scenario. But oh how thankful I am that He loves me so much and so wants me to grow up into Him that He takes the time to teach me on my level. Our God is an incredible Father. And I am thankful for the way He parents me. But most of all, I'm thankful for His undying, unending, never-failing love for me that transcends my stubborn heart and covers for my many weaknesses. Now if only I could learn to love like that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choose Your Battles

When I had my first child, almost 8 years ago, I was determined to tackle the parenting role with flawless precision. I prepared myself by taking every class offered, reading every book written, and learning everything I could about being a great parent. And it's a good thing I did, because that first child turned out to be about as strong-willed and difficult as they come, and I needed every bit of ammunition I had acquired.
One expression I had always heard other parents say was "choose your battles". In other words, some things are worth fighting and some things are not worth the time, effort, and emotional strain. Well I got where they were coming from, but that just wasn't my style. To me, those people who "chose their battles" just didn't have the stamina and determination to stand up and fight every fight. But I did. I was not down with choosing the battles - I was the Commander in Chief, and I was not only going to fight every one of them, but I was going to win them. And I did. I used every ounce of my being to control that child and make sure he did everything the way I wanted him too. No matter how hard the task or how strong his opposition, I dominated his will and shaped him into an obedient, respectful little person who didn't dare step out of line. Now don't get me wrong, I loved him abundantly and showered him with affection during this process because I strongly believe that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. But through all the hugs and kisses, I won the battles, and I won them decisively. All that hard work paid off. I now have a well-behaved child who is a joy to be around, excels in school, and actually enjoys following the rules. Mission accomplished.

Strangely, the rules seems to change when I had my second child. I was six years older, no longer had the energy I once had, and now had twice the work load raising two kids instead of one. There was homework and lunch-packing added to the diaper changing and spoon feeding. Twice the laundry, and twice the mess. Let's just say I soon realized what it meant to "choose my battles".
I just don't seem to care as much anymore. I love my youngest son equally, and I devote as much care and attention to him, but I just don't seem to have the drive to win that I used to have. I'm still a firm believer in discipline, but perfection is no longer my goal. I've let myself (and him) off the hook a little more. I must admit, I surprise myself sometimes with the way I react to a situation: I've even said to myself, "Aren't you going to do something about that?" only to walk away in sheer surrender. Don't tell anyone, but I've even committed the worst "mommy sin" ever (in Mandi's parenting Bible) - I've shoved a cookie in my one year-old's hand just to shut him up. I know, I know! It pains me to even write that! This morning while walking through the grocery store, my youngest refused to sit facing forward in the kart. He kept turning around backwards with his feet sticking out above the child seat. Now if that was my oldest child, I would have turned him around as many times as it took until he was sitting up straight, facing the proper way, with both feet in the right holes and a smile on his face. This time, however, I looked at the little misfit (with cookie in his hand by the way) and said, "Fine. Sit backwards if you want. Hang your feet over the edge. I don't care." That battle was just not worth fighting in that moment. I just wanted to get out of there with my groceries and my sanity.

Amazing what 6 years can do to one's parenting style. Oh how we change as the years go by. And oh how different we are from God - the ultimate parent. He was the same parent in the beginning of time, and He will be the same at the end of time. He never grows weary, never loses stamina, and never gets overwhelmed by His workload. His philosophy remains the same. His style remains constant. And we can count on His consistency day after day after day, until the end of the age. Nothing we do is going to throw Him off or cause Him to have a bad day. We can't exhaust Him. And even better, we can't exhaust His love for us. And thankfully for me, He will never throw His hands up and say, "Fine, do what you want, I don't care!" His level of care remains the same, no matter what we do to exhaust it. So the next time you think you expended your resources with your heavenly Father, think again. His account never runs out. He has just as much time and energy for you today as he ever had and ever will. And the great thing is He WANTS us to use Him. His word says, "Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you" (1Peter 5:7). There's no limit. You can never cast too much. He can handle all the burdens you give Him and then some. And He does it with delight.
Are you carrying a burden that you were never meant to carry, simply because you've neglected to cast it upon Him? Are you worried that you've somehow exhausted Him and He doesn't have the energy to keep dealing with your "stuff"? He gladly wants to deal with your stuff, so go ahead - throw it His way. And remember, no matter what kind of strong-willed, hard-headed child you are, he will never grow tired of parenting you. And here's just a little side note: He created you that way, so He knew exactly what He was getting. Thank God that He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever... and we can count on His perfect parenting no matter how we stray. So these days, I will keep choosing my battles and trying to make it through raising my second child with my sanity in tact... while God keeps choosing to fight every battle on my behalf with the guarantee of victory. Amen to that!