I have to admit, I felt like a superhero. It was daddy-daughter late-night date night and I had crafted the perfect plan.
Elle and I would eat chocolate-chip pancakes to our heart’s content, rent any movie she wanted and stay up as late as our sleepy eyes would allow us. I even found a stack of ice breaker cards, each with a fun question we could ask one another. What better way to connect one-on-one with my little girl than having great conversations, right?
Not so fast.
Both my pride and my plan suffered a crushing blow when Elle flipped over a card and, in her adorable broken English read aloud, “What word or phase do you think you say the most?”
Her big brown eyes shot to the ceiling. She crinkled that cute button-nose and sweetly exclaimed, “That’s easy! You always yell, “BE QUIET!”
Almost instantaneously, all of the air escaped my lungs – as if I were sucker punched in the stomach by a super villain mid-flight.
I couldn’t believe that was the first phrase that came to her 5-year-old mind. Not “I love you”. Not “I’m proud of you”. But “be quiet”. It felt more like I was the super villain – in disguise.
I did my best to play off my discomfort and continue playing along, but I couldn’t shake it. Cue the excuses, self-condemnation and comparison.
My mind wandered to my childhood. I came from a family of yellers. Growing up, I’d never seen or experienced healthy expressions of anger. Like the Incredible Hulk, was I destined for destruction?
My mind wandered to my performance as a father, illuminating every memory that validated my daughter’s words. The moments I brought work home with me. The moments I lost my temper. The moments I uttered words I couldn’t take back.
My mind wandered to the day I came across a Facebook post by a friend who went on about how much she admired her husband for not once ever raising his voice at his children in all their parenting years. I’d taught parenting classes encouraging parents not to compare their lives with their friend’s highlight reels on social media, but here I was doing the same thing – convincing myself that I was a fraud.
That night, alone in bed, I broke down. I was overwhelmed by the consequences of my anger and my complete inability to fix this on my own.
Our pastor has often said that it’s in these moments of brokenness that Jesus breaks through. When we’ve reached the end of ourselves, the very end of where our flesh can take us, we realize Jesus in us is more than enough.
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. –Romans 8:1, The Message
As a parent, no one can quite prepare you for the number of times you will be tempted to find your identity in your failures. Some will come from other parents and some will come from your own children. Sometimes you will be your own kryptonite. You will label yourself as weak, angry, irresponsible, too strict, too lenient and so on.
But it isn’t the truth.
The truth is that I have raised my voice at my kids more times than I would like to admit. I recognize that when I yell at my kids, I am sinning and out of control. But because I am in Christ, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit I have access to. Regardless of what is motivating my anger, I now have the choice to respond in my flesh or depend on Christ.
Choosing anger over dependence is not okay, but it doesn’t define you. Like a splinter, a hurtful habit may be in you at times, but it is not a permanent appendage. It’s not who you are.
You may struggle with an old habit, but you are still a New Creation.
You may have found yourself feeling empty, but you are Complete in Him.
You may have made a mistake, but you are still the Righteousness of Christ. You are fully Forgiven.
Parenting is hard. We’re entrusted with nurturing these little humans toward adulthood, all while engaging in what seems like a colossal apocalyptic battle with our identities. Choosing to respond to lies with the truth has the potential to impact not only our parenting but even transform the way our kids will see themselves one day.
Parents, you are free from condemnation – including your own. Though we are not superheroes, by the Spirit, we are given superhero strength. So the next time your mind (or your 5-year-old) tries to convince you otherwise, wrestle with the issue honestly, but always in light of the truth.
Because a new power is in operation.