Growing up, I lived a couple of houses down from a red headed boy named Bradley. In the picture my memory conjures of him, his face is sprinkled with a handful of freckles and his ear-to-ear smile is missing some of its Chiclet-like teeth. He was older than me, but I was bigger and stronger. I was the boss of him. Once, in an effort to bolster my superior position I bit Bradley – hard. My mom, who was ironing nearby, contemplated stepping in but instead waited and pretended not to see. She knew I needed to respect his humanity and he deserved the chance to earn that respect. And boy did he. He drew back his flaming red head and bit me with such force that the power struggle came to an abrupt and mutually respectful end. We played very nicely together after that and she was able to finish her ironing.
My kids are getting older and as much as I try to control their outward behavior, it is becoming utterly clear that I cannot control their inward motivations. As such, they occasionally fight over whether they should watch Pokémon or American Ninja Warriors and other such uber-important issues. Words like, “I promise that if you both treat each other kindly and in a way that earns the other persons trust, you will not be disappointed and I won’t have to lecture you anymore and the only consequences you will face will be positive ones,” are often floating around in our house. Kindness and trust are foundational elements. I long for my children to understand that if our choices are “trust builders” rather than “trust destroyers” and if those choices exhibit kindness, there’s a pretty good chance we will make wise choices.
Stepping back from stories like these, comparing them with how I treat those I’m in relationship with today, I marvel at God’s brilliant design. The very best of his creation was humankind. He ordered our lives. He set us up in families and then called himself Father. He gave us brothers and sisters with whom we had to share a room or sit next to in the backseat of the car on a ten-hour road trip to visit Aunt Betty. Then he called those of us who believe in him brothers and sisters in Christ.
I recently attended the funeral of an older woman whose body lost the cancerous battle it had been fighting for years. At one point in the service, her adult children stood on stage shoulder to shoulder speaking one at a time of their mother’s love. Of her goodness, strength, and willingness to care for others outside of their family. Of the parties she threw and her living joy. It felt as if the room itself and all contained within, leaned forward and wanted to be a part of such a family.
God designed us to be such a family. His asked his children to stand together, to love him and one another as brothers and sisters, and to speak of his goodness.
Too often though, left to the whims of my flesh, I still try to bolster my own superiority. Too often I strike with biting words. Too often, it takes someone biting me back before I realize my own disrespectful and condemning attitude. Too often my choices are trust destroyers. But I am learning. I’m learning to listen and to speak slowly and softly. I’m learning to apologize and to forgive. I’m learning that kindness breaks down barriers and being trustworthy opens doors.
Patient love. Kind love. It can change a person’s life. A love that is full of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control requires holy interference. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It hurts. It stretches. It exposes my weakness.
Just to keep it real – in the middle of writing this article, I about bit my son’s head off because he mentioned that five of the blueberries he had eaten at dinner were sour. His words were, “I have eaten five sour blueberries.” What I heard was, “Dinner sucked. You’re a bad mom. I hate my life.” I did not respond to him kindly or patiently. I destroyed trust. Storming off, I barely made it upstairs before I turned around, walked towards him, grabbed his hand, walked him into another room, said “I’m sorry”, held him, and hopefully rebuilt trust. I told him I hadn’t enjoyed making dinner. I hadn’t put much effort into it and knew it would barely pass muster. I had been too busy sipping out of a glass of depression contemplating things I had no control over. Holding on to me, his tear filled eyes granted not only forgiveness but understanding as well. My faith was renewed. My hope assured. He offered me patience and kindness.
This love is something I will stand for and get better at as I practice with my family and friends, with those whom I agree and disagree, and even with those who consider me an enemy. This patient, kind, and trust building love is worth everything I have in this world because, on the cross, this love has already won.