Doing It The Wrong Way
"That's it! Don't say another word!" I shouted in a tone and volume that made even me cringe. Before I allowed conviction to mellow my tone, I crescendo-ed, "You are done, young man! If you cannot think of One. Nice. Thing. to say to the members of your family, go sit by yourself on your bed. I have had it!" (Did you notice how I told him to talk nicely while speaking very un-nicely? Yes, one of my finer moments.)
My precious little heathen marched himself into his room and slammed himself on his bed, and lay in a state of stock-still "defiance-obedience" - my word for exterior compliance combined with interior resistance.
The cherry on top of my gold-medal parenting was when I stormed into his room, handed him a Bible, and ordered him to memorize Ephesians 4:29, "so that you can learn how God wants you to speak!"
For the record, Ephesians 4:29 states, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (NASB)
Oh the irony.
It had been a bad day. A. BAD. Day.
This strong-willed son of mine had argued with me, berated his sisters, blamed his brothers, complained about school, and argued about chores. He had stepped on my last nerve hours ago. Since then every act of defiance and complaint had been salt in the wound. I would ask God to help me, think of the "right" way to respond, and then re-enter the fray. But with each incremental infraction, my resolve weakened, my agitation rose, and my volume increased.
Then.....I lost it. Royally.
When the blow-up occurred, the entire family was affected by collateral damage. The other kids disappeared- probably running for cover. Realizing Mom had reached the point of no return, they concluded it wisest to avoid contact until normalcy reentered the home.
Finding myself alone in the kitchen, I slammed bowls around and threw food on the counter- because families still expect dinner, even when there is a crisis. Chopping vegetables never felt so good, though my fingers were in mortal danger. I started praying out loud. The kids already saw me act crazy- what was yelling to the Lord in the kitchen going to do, confirm their suspicions?
"What do you expect Lord? What am I supposed to do? He wants to be in charge. He deserves to be punished. He deserves 40 lashes and walking the plank. You are going to have to show me how to parent this child, because military boarding school is my only idea!"
Gently, my Lord soothed my ruffled feathers. His peace began seeping into the edges of my spirit. His thoughts filtered into my thinking and opposed my faulty reasoning.
"Do I give you what you deserve?" The thought startled me. I deserved death and hell. Yet God gives me forgiveness and life every day, even the days when I am at my worst.
"When you deserve to walk the plank, what do I do for you?" I wasn't sure if that was my own thought or the Lord's, because I had never heard God sound like a pirate. But the question was valid. When I defied the Lord in stubborn rebellion, He often used Scripture, just as I had given to my son. But He never harshly sent me to my room and required me to get truth in my head and fix myself. Instead, His Spirit sat beside me, filled my heart with truth, working conviction and change in me through His love.
My hand slowed and I stopped murdering the poor, defenseless vegetables. I sank to the floor, crying and asking for forgiveness. And guidance. I needed guidance on how to right this ship and get back on course.
Thankfully, With God There Is A "Rest of the Story"
Praying for both the humility to apologize and the resilience to not back down, I entered my son's room and sat next to him on his bed. He lay on his bottom bunk, arms crossed, jaw set, eyes steeled. It was like perching next to a block of concrete.
"I am sorry I yelled," I offered without equivocation. I suddenly felt the need to justify my actions. I would not have yelled if he had not pushed me over the edge, so really it was not all my fault, it was his as well....... No. I would not add anything to my apology.
"Okay," he barked.
He wasn't giving an inch. Of course not. He is strong-willed. His entire personality never gives an inch.
"Have you worked on that verse yet?" I asked. His Bible lay closed beside him, obviously not cracked open since he got here.
"No," he seethed.
Please help me Lord to be lovingly consistent. Help me to not yield on truth. But also give me tenderness to reach his heart.
"Scootch over and I will help you." My concrete-block-of-a-son moved just a a smidge- enough to have moved, but not enough to let me in (strong-willed kids are GREAT at "disobedience-obedience.") I lay down next to him, half on and half off the bed.
Resisting the urge to sermonize about the verse, I decided to let the Spirit have full reign with the inspired Word of God. I just read it, bit by bit, out loud, and he repeated the words.
A small miracle began. First, his rigidity slackened. He moved over a bit more and I edged my way closer to him. We kept repeating the words, calmly and quietly, and all of a sudden I saw a tear escape his eye and his head leaned over on my shoulder. I encircled his now-soft body with my arms and we just lay there, letting the Spirit heal us.
Convicted by the words I had led him through, I sincerely apologized, "I am sorry I let my frustration take over. There were lots of unwholesome words out of my mouth that didn't give you grace. Please forgive me."
He forgave me and returned the apology.
"Son, you have a stubborn spirit. That is not all bad. God needs stubborn people who will stand for Him and who will not be afraid to speak. But without Jesus your stubbornness will be selfish and your words will be hurtful. Do you want your words to build people or tear them down?
"Build them," he whispered.
"Yeah, me to. I want to build you up. God wants to help us do that. May I pray for you?"
With his nod, I began praying, and God revealed to me new ways to pray for my son's heart. The idea was not that he would not be so stubborn (yes, I had been asking the Lord for that), rather I needed to be asking God to channel that stubbornness for His purposes. God created, formed, and programmed this young man correctly. Though sin corrupted the design, it still wasn't mistaken. It just needed constant training.
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child
I had another decade with this son that included praying, arguing, talking, arguing, losing it, repenting, praying, talking, and so on. But this one moment on his bunk bed was pivotal in my understanding of how to steward this gift of a son.
Here are the principles that carried me through:
- Do not question the design God placed in them. Stubbornness, energy, opinionated tendencies, talkativeness, etc., are all abilities ready to be honed into powerful weapons for Kingdom work. These are the ingredients needed in great leaders!
- Do not EVER compromise. Strong willed kids need to know down to their toes that their parents mean what they say. They are on the hunt for weakness. NEVER be weak.
- Craft opportunities for them to lead. They need practice while under your guidance to develop ways to lovingly apply their leadership abilities.
- LOVE THEM. Cuddle up next to them, walk alongside them, assist them. Give them a vision about how God can use their uniqueness. Since parenting this child often involves difficult conflict, it is vital to grab onto opportunities to be on their side and to have fun.
- PRAY. Pray for each character quality that you are afraid will land them behind bars! Ask God to use those very things to the glory of His name. Timid souls do not slay dragons. Rather it is the stubborn, loud, talkative, justice-bent, head-of-steel, resolve-of-granite person who is not only willing to charge the wall, but can also rally the troops to follow.
Dear parent of an extremely strong-willed child- have hope! Believe God- He has beautiful plans for this bottle of terror and potential. As parents of this type of child we have been called into a special work of the Lord. We cannot do it without continually and completely leaning into the Lord's wisdom and instruction.
Pray to the Creator of your child. There are beautiful and surprising tactics He will show you. Be strong and very courageous! This son, who almost was the end of me, is now a dragon-slayer. He loves his wife well and cares for his family. He stands for justice. He is still as stubborn as the day is long, but God gave him a path where that is a requirement.
So parent that strong-willed child to the glory of God and by the skin of your teeth! God is right beside you the whole time.