I have grown increasingly frustrated with bedtime in our home. It’s annoying. No one respects the sun’s descent. And no one respects my calm-ish pleas for quiet. Owen is the most cooperative. At least he doesn’t jump on his sisters’ beds or laugh at potty jokes for an hour and a half. He may scream his baby lungs out, but he’s not deliberately going against what I’ve asked and consequently losing every privilege in the world. In fact, I’ve had to make up privileges so that the girls have something to lose. Tomorrow, they aren’t allowed to watch me take out the trash.
Tonight, I did something I don’t normally do. I yelled. I turned on the light and pointed my finger in Olive’s face, gritted my teeth and yelled at her to be quiet. I’m sure I offered the ever-effective caveat “or else!”
The girls looked at me, said “Potty!” and began laughing hysterically.
I stormed off to my bedroom. “Brett!!! You’d better get in there! Your kids are mind-game playing terrorists!”
How hard is it to do what I want?!?
Why can’t I make them? How do mobsters do it?!?!
What is it in me that wants to control or coerce? What is it in me that tries to force my kids or my spouse or my friends to cooperate with my agenda and my current desires?
I’m not asking a lot. I’m asking for simple compliance and complete submission to my will. And everything in me wants to use fear and threats and guilt to get people to cooperate.
No matter how well I justify my high need for control, I’m really just a two-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old body.
If I don’t get what I want, if you don’t do what I want you to do, I’ll yell. I’ll scream. I’ll throw my own manipulative version of a massive grocery store fit until everyone chooses to align with my plan. Or, I’ll let it go once everyone cries so hard that I’m thrown back into the reality of my irrational behavior.
Teaching children obedience is vital. I’m not saying we should be pushover parents. It’s important to firmly shepherd children into becoming responsible adults.
But I can't breeze past what it brings out in me. We have to pay attention to what comes out in us when we’re not listened to, agreed with or admired.
Maybe we respond with deep frustration because we’ve spent most of our lives learning to control people instead of love people. And, in some ways, the former is easier than the latter. Control and coercion are about winning. It’s a power game. We want to succeed, accomplish, and garner approval and affirmation. When we seek to control, we are central.
Love is much more uncontainable. It’s unpredictable, messy, vulnerable and calls for deep humility. And in love, we become keenly aware of how we’re not the center of the universe.
Humility, non self-centeredness—I can’t bring myself to write any of those things on my to-do list.
As ministers of the gospel, we want to impact the world. We want to change the world. We want to influence the world.
But we’re not called to these things. We’re called to love the world.
And that’s much less appealing with fewer measurable results.
What if God was the master of coercion? What if God functioned with us in the same way we do others?
I’m convinced that we’re only as mature as we are in loving others when they don’t do what we want.
I get ugly. I get angry. I’ll use shame or withhold love or whatever I can to get a desired outcome.
But I’m pretty sure I want my parenting and my friendships and my work to reflect the consistent love God extends to me. The love that keeps giving and firmly sets boundaries while simultaneously speaking a language of grace.
We think love is weak. We think love means giving in. But one look at the cross and we’re reminded that love is powerful. Love brings about impact, influence and change. It even brings about obedient children.
But love reminds us our relationships aren’t about us. It’s not about others, either. We love because of who we are. We love because of the centrality of God in the world. We love because it’s the only way to cooperate in the reconciling work of the Savior.
There’s got to be a better way than trying to control. Walk beside kids instead of dragging them to where you want them to be. Trade in your own words for the language of God.
Feel the freedom of laying down control.
And watch God weave healing and wholeness and life around you as you rest in love.