It is the responsibility of parents to raise their children, nourishing their hearts and minds. But I find, as often as not, that they are teaching me more often than I teach them.
I really wish that I longed for reconciliation with my heavenly Father as desperately as they long for reconciliation with their earthly father. For some reason, one of my son’s favorite things to do is to kick me under the table at mealtime. It doesn’t hurt, as he usually has stockinged feet, but it’s more an annoyance than anything. It also makes me feel sort of claustrophobic; there’s nowhere I go to avoid being kicked by a kid. To move away from Joshie puts me closer to Abbie (at our table, anyway), who enjoys the pastime about as much as her brother, but without the sinister, little-brother element.
Anyway, Joshua does have a very tender heart, and is incredibly cute when fighting back tears that often accompany a rebuke. And he’s the best apologizer in our family. So he kicked me under the table at breakfast, and I told him sternly but quietly, “Joshie, don’t kick me please.” Then I forgot about it. Happens all the time. About a minute later he looked at me sincerely, and in his slurred, two-year-old dialect, said, “Daddy, I sorry for kicking….” and then he trailed off like he usually does, given his limited vocabulary.
It was small, but for that minute he was evidently thinking all was not right with the world. I told him I forgave him and thanked him for apologizing. And then in the next instant I thought, “I wish I were like that.”
I could give countless more examples. Every week they (my kids) do it to me. Practically every day. Last night I snapped at Abbie, and apologized for doing so a moment later, and she immediate quipped, “I forgive you!” with a smile. Again, I thought, “I wish I could do that. I wish I could immediately forgive without the slightest hint of a grudge or personal grievance toward others, with a more earnest longing for reconciliation than for my own personal interests.” Once that apology comes, everything is right again. Until it does, they don’t know if they’re in the doghouse or what, and they are totally aware that I’ve blown it.
And we try to always end our discipline sessions with a hug, and try to train our kids that extending forgiveness and a hug are normal with each other, too. We’re not perfect, but it takes a lot of drips to build a stalactite (or a stalagmite for that matter), and little moments like these add up over the course of a childhood…or lifetime.
I desperately want for my kids to be familiar with the gospel elements of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy and grace from their relationships with us, and from what they see in their mom and me (and our relationship with each other). When they hear what Christ has done for us, it ought to make sense (while still being wonderful) because they see it all the time in discipline sessions and our own relationships. That is a lofty goal, but it is a goal nonetheless, and I think about it all the time.
But then there are just as many times when I am the student rather than the teacher.