“I wish you weren’t my mom. I wish you were dead!” My jaw dropped in horror--how was he capable of saying such a thing at three years old? Where did he even hear those words? I quickly prayed about how I should respond. Immediately I knew it was okay to let my tear-filled eyes spill over. “Go ahead. Let him see how he hurt you,” was the impression of wisdom I felt.
It was Thanksgiving, and I had just denied Lincoln his request for a cookie. We had shared a piece of pie, and I had told him it would be our only dessert. Then his great grandma offered him cookies and I said no. He began to throw a full-on tantrum in the middle of the entire extended family. I calmly picked him up and ushered him to the nearest closet to discuss the issue privately. Once there, he spat those horrible words at me. To onlooking relatives, it seemed like a tiny issue to go to war over. However, I knew it was yet another battle with my strong-willed firstborn. He needed to know I would keep my word. Screaming and kicking would not--could not--warrant his success. We had a long talk trying to get at the heart of the issue, but he seemed unrepentant and headstrong as ever. He issued words of apology, but they were flat and out of obligation.
The previous Easter, I sat on my friend’s couch nursing my newborn, watching my one-year old play, as Lincoln opened the front door and ran out of the house toward the street--against my directions and stern voice, of course. I unlatched my baby, and began chasing after my stubborn toddler. I disciplined him. We went full circle. He was unrepentant...again. He even tried to escape the house again. We repeated the exercise, but I wasn’t seeing any fruit. When it was time to go, I carried him out of the house while he was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was also a bear to the other children that day.
The few weeks after I had our third son, Lincoln gave me such a run for my money. He knew being consistent was going to be a challenge while I was healing and caring for an infant, and he went to war on me. The strong will we began to see at nine months was in full force now. I tried to give him as much affection and love as possible because I knew he was going through a huge transition, but his behavior went beyond excuse. He was calculating and manipulating. Even one of his loving grandmas quipped, “Makes you understand how some people can beat their children, doesn’t it?!” I began to wonder how I was going to raise my three little boys with any semblance of consistency--or productivity--with this willful one challenging me every waking moment. I worried that God had allowed them to be closer in age than I could handle. I felt like I was in over my head in a role I wanted to succeed at desperately. Each passing day made me realize more and more that these children were souls… representing an eternity. I longed for each of them to choose life, but I was realizing more and more how little control I had over that choice.
These are just a few of the examples of the battles I’ve had with Lincoln. When we first had him I can remember gazing at him with my husband, delighting in each one of his expressive faces. He brought us so much joy. Once we looked at each other and said, “I know what everyone says--that someday there will be times he will be disrespectful and disobey us, but I can’t picture that happening, can you? I know he will, it’s just so hard to imagine!” We were so naive. I know. When you look at those precious newborn cheeks, and those sweet fingers clasping onto yours, it is hard to picture that child being capable of evil. The world says we are born innocent, and we learn to do wrong. (How they think evil gets introduced with everyone being born innocent, I have never understood.) The Bible says we are born sinful. With submission to Christ we overcome our sinful natures. The world offers defeat. The Word offers hope.
I knew this truth up and down, and absolutely believed it. But recently I was convicted that I was believing the world’s lie. When my son would disobey (and all of the disciplining seemed to have no effect) the whisper in my ear, “If he’s capable of doing this at 3, what will he be like at 17?” confirmed there was a gap between my head and my heart. I was taking part in this lie and it was causing me to despair.
I wonder how many mothers are struggling with this very thing. If you are looking down the road at your child and losing hope, you are not viewing the future biblically. I’m not condemning you--I get it. The fight to hope is hard. That’s why it’s called the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12)! But we must believe God to be mighty in our most precious treasure--our children. If we don’t we will despair, and the necessity of consistent discipline will make us grow weary. The hope is what makes us press on.
You see, Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB) says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” Our God is the God of the Promise. Our God is the God of the Impossible. Our God is Faithful. Are you seeing your child through the view of His Mighty Hand?
Recently, I came across these words from Betsy’s book. They confirmed what God was challenging me with:
“Do not believe that a strong-willed child will automatically be a rebellious teen…. Strong-willed people are some of the most exciting people in history and God can use them greatly for His purposes when they have learned to submit that drive to the Holy Spirit to work through them… Many people believe that only strong-willed children rebel. But the will of any human being, left unchecked, lives in defiance against God.”
This word of encouragement is also a challenge: We must be diligent with each of our children. Even my mild-tempered, obedient two year old has a self-serving will. I need to guide him in overcoming his sinful nature as faithfully as I am trying to help Lincoln. Our children may rebel, but let it be because they chose it, not because we haven’t faithfully done our parts.
Honestly, it’s a little hard for me to put these words out into the blogosphere. Lincoln has brought me so much joy; I don’t want to focus on the negative. However, I want to be real and offer hope to other moms. Honestly, now I am exposing these words without any fear. One day he will read these words and we will laugh because they are far from who he has become. Just recently, I am finally seeing the fruit of our discipline. This week, I overheard Lincoln helping his frustrated two-year-old brother do a puzzle, “Ryder, rejoice in the Lord always! Can you try this piece? Here you go. Yay, Ryder! I knew you could do it! Good job!” He consistently encourages and protects his brothers. He is getting his passion more in check every day. He yells out almost hourly, “Hey Mom, I love you!” He picked me several flowers from our garden yesterday and told me, “I did it because I love you, and I want to make you happy.” His heart now desires to bless others, not just serve himself. Thank you, Jesus!
If you could test drive children like you test drive cars, I may have said, “This model looks great, but can I have something with a lot less horsepower?” But you can’t. And now I can wholeheartedly say I rejoice in that fact. God gave this young man to me. This strong-willed little boy taught himself to read at three. He potty-trained in a flash right at two. When I said it’s time to throw your pacifiers in the trash, he whipped them in without looking back. When he decided to ask Jesus into his heart, he insisted on leading the prayer. He will be a history-changer. And I have a front-row seat to this transformation. To God be the glory!
Will you join me and “laugh at the days to come” with your entrusted ones (Pr. 31:25)?