Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Archer and the Arrow

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

Speaking of children and arrows…

Lily shot an arrow through our downstairs bathroom window not long ago. I was giving Ben a bath in the tub that sits just below said window. Yes, glass crashed into the tub. I extracted Ben very quickly. No harm done. Threw open the curtain and my eyes soon focused on the metal point, followed by the blaze orange shaft, now held fast by the screen it had first penetrated.

As my eyes focused out from the window to ten or fifteen feet outside the window, there was Lily. She was just slowing down, having hurried toward the window after her mistake. She looked horrified. The tears and apologies started immediately. I told her to go inside and wait for me in our room. I yelled for Beth and passed off the naked bather Ben so that I could attend to my little archer.

Now, first off, let me say that Sam’s “Little Bear” bow and arrow set is normally only used by him after parental permission has been granted. I’ve been with him enough that he is allowed to shoot it on his own, as long as his target is situated wisely and he is careful. Lily, on the other hand, has not yet been granted this privilege. I have no idea what thought process convinced her it would be okay. Probably there was no substantive thought process. But, hey, she’s a kid. I did some really dumb things when I was a kid. A lot of dumb things, actually. Like the time when I tried to puncture a pressurized aerosol can (there was still a lot of that fun spray stuff swishing around inside!) or the time I accidentally threw a baseball through one of the stained glass windows at our church or the time that I tried to do an “endo” (a.k.a. "stoppie") on my bike when I was traveling downhill way too fast. Anyway, setting up the target on the ground about 10 feet from the house, directly below the bathroom window, is probably not going to be a problem for an experienced archer. But Lily isn’t exactly Susan Penvensie…yet.

So, how do you respond as a parent? How do you deal with your little arrow when she shoots one through your window? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to straighten your precious little arrow, and not snap her spirit?

Did she need to be disciplined? Yes. But not so much for breaking the glass. She didn’t mean to do that. The real problem was that she took up arrows and bow without asking permission. She knew better. Zinging an arrow WAY over her target is, in a way, a problem (I want my girls to be crack shots, of course!). But I know she wasn’t cackling as she nocked that arrow, “I know what I’ll do to Dad! Give him another DIY project! Let’s see how he is at window replacement! Hahahahaha!”

Was it a costly mistake? Yes. Do I feel like paying that cost? No. Does she need to know, in a gentle and clear way, that mistakes have costly consequences? Yes. But what she didn’t need was me to “make her pay” in an angry, hold-it-over-her-head sort of way. What we parents tend to do, when our children make costly mistakes, is load the cost to us into the punishment. It’s why a dad angrily yells at his young son when he accidentally spills his milk at the dinner table. The dad has had a long day and wants a peaceful dinner. And no one better threaten that. He doesn’t want anyone else to take even another ounce, let alone a pound of flesh. So, 6 ounces of milk on the table means the child has “taken” comfort and peace from dad. And the dad is going to make him pay. Usually with interest.  So, the reaction goes something like this. “What in the world???!!! What are you THINKING?! C’mon!!! UHHHHHH! Don’t just sit there! It’s spilling over the edge of the table! Grab your napkin and stop it! (slams down fork on plate, stands up angrily in a huff and leers down on child who is now frozen in fear and filling with shame) C’MON! UHHHH! Why can’t we just sit down and eat dinner in peace?! Why can’t you be more careful?!”

He’s tired of the demands made on him through the day and he’s empty. He didn’t come home full of gospel grace and peace and truth. He came home empty, so he’s going to be on the take. He’s going to bite and devour. He’s got nothing to give and no strength or desire to serve.

The exchange could be simple. “It’s okay, buddy. I know you didn’t mean to spill it. Can you run and grab the paper towels and help me clean it up? Just try to be careful when you reach for the food in the middle of the table. It’s really easy to forget about your milk glass when you pull your arm back toward you plate.” Instead, it turns into a tantrum – Dad’s.

I’ve been guilty of such paternal tirades. To my shame, it wasn’t all that hard to write the “hypothetical” verbal reaction of the father. And yet, by God’s grace, I’ve been repenting and seeking more grace to come home full of grace and peace and truth to love and serve my family.

Back to Lily. So, how do you respond? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to sharpen your precious little arrow, and not snap her spirit?

One of the pieces of parenting wisdom we have been thankful for is the principle that discipline should be the result of rebellion and/or clear disobedience to parental authority, not for accidents or mistakes you haven’t yet prohibited. If your toddler opens your cabinet and distributes the contents of your flour container around your kitchen like a budding Jackson Pollock, don’t discipline him. Should you tell him, “No” with clarity and firmness? Of course. But this first act of flour art wasn’t necessarily borne of rebellion. He was curious and having multisensory fun, not sinisterly scheming against you. That being said, after that first fun event, and your clear flour flinging prohibition, you should most certainly discipline Billy for any further flour forays. He’s willingly disobeyed your clear command.

I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lily was not thinking of breaking windows, threatening the chubby flesh of her beloved baby brother when she took up bow and arrows. She had no intention of costing me a couple hundred dollars, or the time spent on another house project. She apparently wanted to show the neighbor kids her brother’s archery equipment and (presumably) her archery skills.

So, with Ben safely in Mommy’s care, I walked up to our bedroom to talk to my little archer, praying all the way for wisdom. I know she loves dearly her little brother. She was a wreck over the thought of harming him. She had already paid dearly. She did need to be disciplined, but I wanted it to be clear to her what for.

I told her first off that I loved her and gave her a big hug and kissed her head. I told her that I knew that she didn’t mean to break the window or endanger Ben. I did tell her what could have happened; not to turn the knife, but to reinforce the potential seriousness of such mistakes. I told her that God had protected her little brother, for which we can all be thankful. I told her that the window would have to be replaced and that she couldn’t afford to pay for it. I didn’t say this with a sneer, but calmly and clearly in order to reinforce the grace and truth of the gospel. We have all sinned and made mistakes and we can’t pay the cost of our sin. Jesus came and paid our debt for us. I wanted my fatherhood in that moment to reflect the willing love of our Heavenly Father. He didn’t send his Son and deal with our debt begrudgingly or bitterly. He did it willingly, with all his heart.

After all that, I did then tell her I needed to discipline her, but again made it very clear that it was because she had taken and shot the bow and arrows without asking me. In that regard, she did know better. After disciplining her, I hugged her and told her again I loved her. I held her face in my hands and looked her in the eyes and told her that it was over. She could be at peace and turn the page.

I want her to know, in times like this, that she doesn’t have to work her way back into my favor by being extra nice for awhile. She is not loved based on her performance – loved more if she’s a help and not a bother. She is loved because she is my daughter. My love is not fickle or something she has to work for. It’s just as clear and strong when she’s done something costly and dumb as when she’s done something cute or helpful.

Oh, how I long to faithfully reflect my/her Heavenly Father, and raise her in a home with gospel grace and truth pervading the atmosphere. We fail at this all the time. And we pray all the time that we will grow to do it better.

Her wheels were turning through all of this. She listened to all I had to say. She pondered it. And I watched her walk out freed and happy. I know she doesn’t fully grasp the cost to me, but she doesn’t need to know it all.

The will of my little Lily arrow needed bent and straightened that day, but I sure didn’t want to break her spirit. One day all too soon I’m going to have to nock her and shoot her out into this dangerous world. I can’t guarantee her flight path and destination, but I sure want to do all I can to shape and sharpen and set her trajectory. I’m so thankful for this little moment. I’d replace a hundred windows if it meant a hundred more times the kind of gospel grace and truth investment this situation afforded.

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

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