This is in response to a prompt for Story101.
It had been a long day. I was tired and ready to get the munchkins off to bed, just for some quiet – even if it meant quiet so I could get some work done. The living room was strewn with toys and books, and in spite of my multiple requests for things to be picked up, little feet were still running through the house, jumping and playing.
I felt my frustration rising. I felt the threat about to come: “If you don’t [insert desired action], then [insert consequence].” And just before the words escaped, I felt the Holy Spirit lovingly hold my tongue.
There’s a better way. Why do you always go to the negative first?
I changed direction. I mustered up my excited voice and made a promise: if we can get this done in so many minutes, then extra stories before bed.
There are few things we love more than books in our family, so I had their attention. A flurry of activity began, silly clean up songs were sung, and well before the timer rang, the living room was spotless. We laughed and cuddled. Bedtime was happy and peaceful.
But ultimately, my heart was humbled and struck with the realization that I struggle with grace. Negative reinforcement comes naturally as breathing; positive reinforcement – not so much.
My mind flashed back to hundreds of moments all at once, tears cried into my pillow or on some bathroom floor, after yet another well-meaning person in my life tried to bring out the best in me by being incredibly hard on me. I heard it called so many things – tough love. Discipline. Character shaping. Preparation for the future.
And at some point, people didn’t have to be hard on me any more. I was plenty hard on myself. I learned to not disappoint or let down people who loved me and invested in me. No matter how high their standard, I would make mine higher. No matter how harsh their consequence, I would punish myself harder.
The result? I not understand holiness in the context of grace. I do not understand the pursuit of excellence in the context of unconditional love. I do not understand failure in the context of redemption. And it has taken the hurt looks in the eyes of my children when I have been too hard on them to help me finally see this.
And so I take a deep breath, inhale, reaching for grace and a better way. And I let go, exhale, releasing the unhealthy thought patterns, the impossible standards, the relentless striving. How many breaths will it take for the old to be uprooted and a new heart to be formed in me?