I blew up at my children on Christmas morning.
For nearly a week this past Christmas season, my family of four (along with a heap of aunts, uncles, and cousins) had been staying with grandparents for the holidays. We had slept in various rooms, including a tent in the backyard (our two sons with two of their cousins). When other relatives had come to visit and the house had begun to overflow, we set up cots, sleeping bags, and a small heater in my parents’ workshop and slept out there, too.
Now, after all the over-stimulation that accompanies present-opening combined with no alone time for many days, I felt sapped. And I snapped.
My two sons got into an argument with some cousins over a television show. The boys wanted to watch a reality show about offshore fishing, while the girls wanted to watch a cartoon. When my younger son tried to commandeer the TV remote, I pulled him and his brother into the bathroom.
I hated appearing out of control of my children’s behavior to the rest of my family, although I do ponder how much a parent can actually control a child’s actions. But I just wanted my boys to be calm and not stir up conflict. I wanted things to go smoothly. I wanted easy.
When I find myself brewing with anger over circumstances that don’t measure up to the calm-and-easy flow that I crave, I recognize the idolatry present in my heart. I see how much I look for inner satisfaction in outer peace—instead of resting in the One who is my peace.
So, there we are, in the bathroom, where I whisper scream at them. I shudder to imagine the expression I wore on my face at that point. They explained their position in the argument, which I hadn’t fully known when I ushered them into the bathroom for the scolding. We came to an understanding, and I apologized profusely. I felt thoroughly ashamed for losing my temper with them, and I brooded over it—flying off the handle with them at Christmas–the next day, too.
The day after the TV argument and fussing in the bathroom, my family and my sister’s family loaded up and went to shop at a salvage store in our hometown. We typically stop by there on each of our trips to see my parents. As my boys wandered the store with their cousins, I browsed in nearby aisles. I stopped in front of one display, barely noticing what was right in front of me. Cereal? Make-up? I don’t remember.
With slumped shoulders, I actually hung my head as I reflected on the poor parenting choices I’d made so recently. Then I sensed the Holy Spirit’s nudge: Obedience always matters.
Last fall, I’d read the Old Testament story of the Israelites demanding that God give them an earthly king. They wanted a king to lead them and to fight their battles. Even though God had been their King—protecting them and providing for them—they still clamored for a king like other nations had. Eventually, God gave them what they requested, and He led the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as their king.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel made clear to the Israelites that they had done evil by asking God for a king. And yet…Samuel reassured the people even as they trembled with fright about the consequences of their sin. He exhorted them not to fear, telling them that as long as they and the king who ruled over them faithfully obeyed the Lord’s commands, it would go well with them. Their obedience—even after declaring that God was insufficient to be their king and insisting on a human king to reign over them—still mattered. Their obedience still mattered.
I contemplated that truth, the assurance that our obedience always matters, even right after our sin. Even after my explosion on my children that had more to do with my comfort than their cooperation, my obedience still mattered.
The Spirit’s reminder of this lifted my head, quite literally, that afternoon in the salvage store. Instead of shuffling along in guilt, I looked to the Spirit to fill me and empower me to love God and follow His commands. Which, of course, include loving my children. Right there in the after-holiday hubbub of that store, I trusted God more for His forgiveness—and for His strength to obey, no matter where I had to sleep that night.