The other day my 10-year-old son got in trouble in school again.
His troubles began when he was 2. My sweet, precocious and very active little boy suddenly began having tantrums. My husband and I were separated at the time, and I was pregnant. I attributed this out-of-the-ordinary behavior to his age and the circumstances.
But it never stopped.
Eight years later, he’s been kicked out of four child care providers and has been suspended from school several times. It’s not a normal week if I don’t have at least one conversation with my son’s teacher, assistant principal or principal. I have these horrible, tense conversations with the adults in his life, listening as they describe his latest failure, and I feel their judgment. I feel their blame, and I fight the urge to wheedle.
So when DJ came home from another rough day, I sent him to his room to wait for me. When I went in, he was sitting on the floor wrapped in three blankets, his face and head covered.
“Why are you sitting there like that?” I asked. He took the blanket from his face and looked at me.
“I don’t want to be this way.” I could hear the truth of his words in his voice. “But I feel like I can’t change.” There were tears, but not the hysterical kind. They were resigned tears. My heart broke (again).
I sat down on his bed and invited him to sit next to me. We talked about how hard it is to change our thinking and our actions, how it’s like making a new path in a wildly overgrown wilderness. We talked about Jesus, about the power the Holy Spirit gives us to change. We talked about how it’s not easy. As we talked, I looked down at his knees, knobby and ashy and small, next to my own. I put my arms around him and I held him very tightly for a long time. I thought of the people who only know him as a trouble-maker, and I wished they could see him now. This little boy is my son, my baby, and he’s worth loving and knowing! This isn’t a choice for him! I feel like I’m the only person who knows that or cares to know that … and even I forget sometimes.
I disciplined him. Then I hugged him again, and I left the room.
It’s not always like this. Most of the time I’m impatient with him. Most of the time I’m angry with him. Over the years I’ve sobbed, I’ve raged, I’ve pleaded. I’ve been defensive and embarrassed. I’ve been sad and scared. I’ve been fierce and I’ve been torn. I’ve been depressed, and I’ve been indifferent.
This year in particular I’ve been angry at God. How much did I have to pray before he would make all this go away? How much faith did I need? Didn’t he care that our lives were miserable? I came within inches of abandoning my relationship with the Lord. I mean, the skin of my teeth, you know?
In the meantime, I have prayed generally for patience (an area of great weakness for me) since I got saved. I’ve prayed to see people through Christ’s eyes, to love the way he loves. I want to be this great Christian and I want God to answer all my pious, silly prayers …
The other day my 19-year-old son said he wanted to join the military. He wanted to be an officer, so he wouldn’t have to salute people, they’d have to salute him. I said, “Why do you always want the shortcut to the perks, but you’re not willing to do the hard work to earn them?”
Speak for yourself, Sparky. What a dumb-ass I am.
Look, if this is what it is … and it is … then what am I doing? Sitting around being pissed at God instead of learning to love my son the way Christ loves him and me: patiently, overarchingly, graciously, hopefully, and consistently. I don’t believe God sends hard things solely to teach us a lesson. On the other hand, I don’t know why this is our lot. But it is. Ugly and hard and messy as it is, I just won’t waste it anymore. I don’t think it’s a situation God created solely to answer my prayers. But the situation itself has created an opportunity for God to answer my prayers. So if there’s a lesson in this somewhere, if nothing else, I want to learn it.