It's Sunday morning and I'm rushing to get out the door on time. Breakfast is finished, the kitchen is cleaned, and the kids are all dressed and ready to go. Because we're having people over after church, I'm not just trying to get us out the door but also trying to keep the house reasonably tidy in the process. I pop upstairs quickly to get changed myself and to grab an extra change of clothes for the newly potty trained 2 year old. As I'm doing this I hear the voice of my 4 year old calling up to me. "Um, Mom, you should come down here. Ella's doing something crazy."
Sighing and glancing at the clock, I come downstairs and into the kitchen where Josh is standing looking rather helplessly at the scene unfolding in front of him.
The kitchen floor is covered in tin foil, saran wrap, and parchment paper. It's everywhere. I can barely see the floor underneath. How is it even possible that she made a mess like this in a mere couple of minutes?
Because we're rushing to leave, because I'm a parent who struggles with impatience to begin with, because tin foil and saran wrap and parchment paper aren't cheap, and because I'm just plain old annoyed that Ella has chosen this moment to do this new thing, I feel a surge of angry frustration.
I'm quick to become angry with my child.
In that moment, for reasons that I can't explain or maybe just because of His intervening grace, I didn't immediately swoop in with angry words and impatient gestures. I just stood there in silent frustration.
In that moment of quiet, Ella turned to look up at me. Her sweet, impish face was sparkling with joy and, with a sweeping gesture to the shiny curly twirly "mess" around her, said, "Look what I made for you, Mommy. Isn't it beautiful? I made it just for you."
The Slow-to-Anger Parent Doesn't Assume Heart Motive
Why are we so quick to assume motive and assign malicious intention when it comes to our children? In other relationships in our lives we are more careful to at least try to hope the best about people. And yet with our precious often innocent little ones, we can be so quick to assign motive and assume that the reason they've made a mess or done whatever it is they've done is because they're just trying to be little jerks messing up our plans. I mean, of course we'd never actually say that or even think that. But when we jump to conclusions and are so quick to get angry at them, that's essentially what we're doing.
We're assuming the worst about small people who have given us every reason in the world to assume the best. My children love me. Your children love you. Sure they're not perfect and they even sin against us at times. But when we're honest, so many of the times when we respond in quick, ungracious, angry impatience, our children have been innocent of any wrong heart motive. That should matter to us. Our children's hearts should matter to us. And sometimes when we're quick to become angry we don't even allow an opportunity to find out the motive of their heart.
The Slow-to-Anger Parent Replaces Anger with Love
When I think back to that moment in my kitchen with my daughter, it wasn't just that being slow to anger was a right response or a wise response. It was also a life-giving, love-producing response. When we're slow to get angry, sometimes this beautiful exchange happens. Our anger isn't merely repressed or replaced with indifference. Often in that moment of quiet, of slowing down the response, anger is replaced with compassion and tenderness.
We might still be annoyed. But when we're willing to change the rhythm and pattern of our instinctive anger, it's almost like we're given a moment to clearly see the amazing little person standing before us. With Ella that morning, I was still annoyed at the mess, in some ways. But I wasn't angry. In pausing, in being slow to anger instead of reacting in anger, I was given the time to listen, to see, to love, and to change my response to one of grace.
That morning in my kitchen, as Ella and I cleaned up her creative expression side by side and put things back in their proper place, the words of instruction and discipline were likely much the same as they would have been if I had spoken them in anger. The content probably wasn't all that different, but the tone was altogether changed. Instead of angry sounding words, they were soft, gentle sounding words.
The Slow-to-Anger Parent has a Perfect Fatherly Example
One of the most beautiful descriptions of a father is found in Psalm 103. We see this picture of a Dad who is patient, kind, gentle, and compassionate. The words of this song remind us that our Father has compassion on us, in part, because when He looks at us He remembers our frailty and weakness. Shouldn't we do the same? Shouldn't I, as a mother, look at my 2 year old or 4 year old or 6 year old and remember that they're children, that they're young, that they're learning? Shouldn't I have a heart controlled not by anger but by compassion?
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust. ~ Psalm 103:13-14That's our model. In our parenting, we imitate Him. We look at our children in the good moments and the bad alike, and we're compassionate toward them. A few verses earlier in that same psalm King David writes these words about our Father:
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. ~ Psalm 103:8In Christ, that's the Father each one of us belongs to and that's the kind of earthly parent each one of us should long to more and more become. Merciful. Gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love.