Monday, April 4, 2011

Teach your parents well

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.

For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations. O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no gods! “Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”
 - Jeremiah 16:10-21

The writings of the Hebrew prophets are chock full of scenes like this: God is angry, angry, angry, and is going to punish us! Yet that judgment is always placed beside a passage of mercy—usually God promising to bring the people back after their exile. I find that the best way to handle passages like this is to look through the lens of parenthood. Doubtless, people anthropomorphized God in the first place by looking through that lens.

My daughter Sarah threw a fit over something at bedtime. She wanted me to read her a comic book. I’d had a long day, and for some reason I didn’t want to read her a comic book. I asked her to pick out something else. And that’s when the screaming began.

So I took away her story—that is, I said I would read to her tomorrow night, but not tonight. Stories are central to our bedtime routine, and I never like to take them away, but it was the right thing to do. We moved on to the next step in her routine, when Christy reads her a story. After that comes “quiet time,” three minutes of silence often punctuated by thoughts about Sarah’s day.

As I sat down for quiet time, Sarah said, “Dad, I’m really sorry.”

“I know,” I said. “I don’t like taking your stories away. But sometimes Mommy and I take things away from you to teach you how to control your emotions.”

“I know,” Sarah replied.

“You know,” I said, “Sometimes your emotions—especially anger and frustration—can become so strong that it feels like they’re controlling you.”

Sarah smiled. “Instead of you controlling them!” She got it.

I said, “Sometimes it feels like they sneak up behind you and grab you by the throat and try to choke you!” That got a good laugh. “Grownups deal with that, too. We also have a hard time controlling our emotions sometimes. But it’s something you’ll get better and better at as you grow up, and it’s Mommy’s and my job to help you.”

It was a wonderful conversation. Suddenly that screaming fit seemed a world away. And then, in the silence that followed, Sarah said, “Dad, I have a question to ask you.”

“Yes, Sarah?”

“Why don’t you like to read me comic books?”

Huh. That was a really good question. And I didn’t have a really good answer. Certainly I have the right to say, “No, I don’t want to read that--let’s read something else.” But would it have killed me to read her a comic book? Probably not.

Here are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with a classic parenting song: “Teach Your Children.” Of course, children teach their parents, too.

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