We've been working with the kids on talking to each other for the past year. Really, ever since Evan could express himself, we've been building relationship phrases into their vocabulary. I read and re-read the oldie but good read "Siblings Without Rivalry" twice this year. And taking care of a toddler who need scaffolding on how to express his frustration or disappointment has really cemented phrases like the following.
Please talk to your brother/sister first. I'm confident that you can work it out.
What did __ say? (Have child repeat what their sibling said)
What should you do? What should you say?
What suggestion do you give? Ok, how about another?
Is that acceptable to you?
Great! I'm so glad you worked it out! You guys figured it out by talking and listening to each other!
Well, some push back has crept in over the past few weeks. Push back that sounds like screaming even after a parental reminder to talk calmly. Push back that sounds like, "I can't say it!" (you mean, you won't say "I'm sorry."). Push back that looks like, If I'm not looking at you, then I cannot hear you.
And then radical death happened.
There's a particular, small snuggle friend (that's what we call stuffed animals) who is adored by both kids. They build him block houses, take him on tricycle rides down the apartment, and Evan even slept with him as part of his bedtime menagerie.
After the usual prompting and walking through how to talk calmly to one another to work out a solution, both kids still made poor choices to test the boundaries of conflict resolution.
I warned them, "If you cannot work out a solution with each other, then black kitty must go. Not just out of sight for a day or two, but into the trash. Gone forever. Your friendship with your brother/sister is more important than any toy. People are more important than toys. Try working it out again."
Two chances with my help, right there modeling phrases. And due to their choices, I had to get out the scissors and cut up the snuggle friend into the trash as they watched. Man, that was hard! They totally lost their composure.
We all hugged as they cried. And I explained the radical move.
"Nothing is more important than the relationships God has given us. Especially our family, and church family. When you yell at each other and stubbornly don't find a way of working it out, it cuts the other person's heart. I would rather cut up black kitty, than let you cut each other's hearts.
Papa and I love each other more than anyone, except God. If anything was getting in way of me loving God, Papa would ask me to get rid of it forever. If anything -- any book, movie, music, even my sewing, gardening, or how I think about something -- if anything got in the way of loving God first and Papa second, then I would have to cut it up, throw it out. I would do the same for Papa.
And we're doing the same for you. I love you more than any toy in this house. And you need to love your brother/sister more than any toy."
Still, so hard. Nick let me go to yoga soon after this incident, and helped explain it when going over sparkle sticks at the end of the day (no one earned a Love Others stick). He put them to bed while I was gone to yoga, the wonderful father that he is. Nick and I later wondered, is this an incident for counseling twenty years from now? Or will this radical move help nip greater relationship harm in the bud? We'll be praying.
It makes me think of Jesus' Kingdom Constitution (that's how I think about Matthew chapter 5). Jesus outlines what living under God's authority and rule looks like. It's so much that we value as humans, all turned upside down in God's economy and in God's honor book. When Jesus comments on the common sin of adultery, he takes it to an extreme:
But here is what I tell you. Do not even look at a woman in the wrong way. Anyone who does has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, poke it out and throw it away. Your eye is only one part of your body. It is better to lose an eye than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Your hand is only one part of your body. It is better to lose a hand than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:28-30)
Pretty easy to dismiss as adults, right? I'm not committing adultery against my spouse, or breaking relationship with God. But so many little habits, so many peripheral ways of thinking about "What does it mean to be human?" "What does it mean for God to be in control?" "Why has God put this family together?" get in the way of deeper, complete, trusting relationship.
- Engagement and distraction with media -- music, radio, tv, internet, video games, etc
- Trifling reading -- non-edifying fiction, shallow magazines, advertisements and catalogues, etc
- Habits and chores that must be done - now! - at the expense of quality time
- Anything, even that which is precious like an eye to me must be sacrificed and thrown away for the sake of God or my spouse
Have you ever done something radical for the sake of your relationship with God?
Or with your spouse or kids?
What's the biggest thing you've given up?