By Elizabeth McKinney
The country song has it right: “You never really love someone until they’re gone.” I’m having a realization that this song is probably written about school cubbies. Now that they’re gone, I’ve never loved them more.
We’re just a few weeks into virtual school with four elementary-aged kids at home and stuff is everywhere. I’m staring at my countertops all covered in chargers and keyboards and iPads, dry erase boards and all the pieces for crafts that must be saved for a certain date in the unforeseeable future.
The other morning my oldest daughter decided she was over it too. She grabbed all her belongings to keep them with her. But when she forcibly tried to cram them all in, she broke the zipper on her brand-new backpack. When I asked her what happened, she looked up at me through her tears and said, “I think I’m just angry.”
We miss school cubbies.
The truth is, I’m angry, too. I’m trying to hold it together but it’s leaking out of me like a pipe that’s about to burst. First, I rage-cleaned my garage and basement. That’s fine. But then at a soccer game, I clapped back at a kindergartener who was telling her grandma that my dog bites. It wasn’t until after I snapped in a sharp tone, “She does not bite!” (from quite a distance I might add) that I realized I might have a problem. Defending my puppy’s honor to a five-year-old is a pretty embarrassing thing to do. But, more importantly, it’s not who I want to be.
So here we are. Some of us are breaking zippers and some of us are snapping at random kindergarteners. A lot of us are needing extra grace these days for being a little on edge.
“What do you do with the mad that you feel?”
Mr. Rogers has a song called, “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” I’ve been asking myself that question. My friend who’s a counselor recently said, “Anger is what motivates us to action. But when we’re not able to change our circumstances, it needs to turn to grief.”
Grief?!?! That means admitting that there have been some real losses. And, I’m no counselor, but I’ve seen enough grief cycle graphs in my day to suspect where this is going. I seem to remember the word “acceptance” on that chart somewhere. I consider it for a brief moment: Accept and grieve the things I cannot change…
Nope. I’m still over here in resistance.
But the “mad” and the resistance that follows are seeping into my parenting, too. After praying with my daughters at night, I hear myself responding to their frustration and anxieties with words like: “This won’t last forever, honey.” And “It will eventually come to an end.”
Though there’s nothing wrong with trying to spark some hope in my girls, these words are inadequate for two reasons:
- They don’t really address the deeper concerns of their hearts. Our kids need help processing now more than the encouragement to hold out for some unknown end date.
- They don’t speak to the problem of “next time.” As much as I don’t want to admit it, there will always be hard things we’re facing.
In the days that follow, I open my Bible and I’m convicted of alternative hope-giving words I could have offered:
- “God is with us in this hard time.” (Is. 41:10)
- “He’s using this painful time to shape us in beautiful ways.” (Rom. 8:28)
- “He cares about the things we care about.” (1 Pet. 5:7)
These words help focus our hope on God, rather than on our circumstances.
Where’s the “Easy” button?
I’m more of a pain-avoider type, so it doesn’t come naturally to me to reach for these hope-giving words. I love adventures, travel, and open options. Not deep diving into hidden folders on my kids’ iPads where there are additional assignments we must find. The main question I’m asking is: Where’s that easy button to make my problems go away?
So far, I’m noticing pandemics don’t have one. Neither does parenting four kids. And I don’t think my anger has one either. I’m also seeing that neither a bag of Doritos nor a glass of wine at night nor scrolling on my phone help make it easier. Not even our vacation made my worries go away; everything was right here waiting for me when we got back.
My Instagram feed and the culture around me tell me that money and vacations and good food will make things better. But my experience and the Bible tell me that:
- None of these things give me lasting happiness, and…
- Pain and loss are an inevitable part of living in this world.
This means that I need to decide if I’m going to let the noise, the chaos, and the disappointments embitter me. Or if I will let God use them for good in my life.
Jesus and the “Eject” button
Jesus never hit the easy button, but he did hit the eject button. And it shot him out of heaven and right into our brokenness. He traded his world of order, comfort, peace, and pleasure for our world of disorder, sorrow, chaos, and pain. And instead of running away from adversity, he ran toward it. Not because he loved pain but because he loved us.
At times, I’m overwhelmed and overstimulated, frustrated and just plain sad. But tonight, I pull out that grief cycle chart and pray these words:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can. And thank you for Jesus, who is with me, is using this in my life and who never ran away from pain but ran toward it for my sake.
The Bible gives parents perspective, encouragement, correction, and so much more. Especially when times are hard. In this post, Keith Simon shares ten Bible verses that are good for parents to remember.