James 3:17: “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings,…” (The Message).
I read a terrific Amish Christian fiction book, Living in Harmony, by Mary Ellis. In the story, there was a secondary character, Thomas, who was one of the ministers of the district. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Amish fiction, but usually the ministers (not always, of course) are depicted as stern, rigid, strict, and just not very fun to be around. Thomas, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He had a gentle strength about him that led his family, his congregation, and those whom he was privileged to influence, with gentleness first, compassion, and lots of patience.
I found myself thinking a lot about this secondary character and wondering why I was drawn to him. Then I realized that even though he was a fictitious character, I was married to my real-life hero. My husband has the same characteristics that this character in Living in Harmony had.
One particular example of his endless patience is as follows. When people get married, each spouse has certain preferences for the way things are done. Some of the preferences help the environment or help make the household run more smoothly while others are just good ideas. My husband lovingly asked me early on in our marriage if I would please tear boxes apart before throwing them away. He was referring to Kleenex, cereal boxes, or any type of cardboard, so that it was more compact in the bag and therefore less waste. It sounded like a reasonable request, and certainly would help us use less garbage bags. However, I was lousy at remembering. Even though I would readily agree on Monday, by Thursday I didn’t remember and would fall back on my previous habits while multitasking and trying to get things straightened up. Every few weeks or so, my husband would gently ask me again if I would try to remember to unfold the cardboard to make the garbage more efficient. It probably took five years or so of his gentle reminders before it became a habit for me as well. Fast forward thirteen years from his first request, and I find myself asking our children to please unfold the cardboard to help compact our garbage. Each time I do that, I’m reminded of the loving way that my husband led first me, and now our children as well. By him taking the approach of patience and gentleness, it actually made me want to take his suggestions instead of resisting him or demanding that my way was better.
My husband leads our family with a quiet, gentle strength. He seeks God’s will for our family and has our best interests in mind. He doesn’t force change. Instead, he quietly and gently points out the right direction while providing endless opportunities for practice, with more patience than we deserve.
I sat back a few weekends ago and just watched my husband in action with our kids. We have three unique children in different stages of life. Our oldest is in middle school and loves hanging out with his dad. He is at the place where he would rather be doing men’s work than inside helping me. I love to watch through the window while they bond. They may not talk in depth about life’s hard subjects, but our oldest is picking up on the way his dad thinks about life, approaches hard work, and pays attention to doing his best. This is his opportunity to positively influence our son without hours of lectures or, “Do it my way.” He uses a balance of quiet instruction along with lots of praise while they complete projects together. He also is wise enough to know that there is more than one way to accomplish the same goal, and allowing our son his own unique spin to a chore or project is just as important as the project itself. I love seeing how our oldest is growing in his self confidence as he sees positive results from their hard labor.
Our daughter is more relationship oriented and it was really fun to watch how she monopolized her dad’s time while we were enjoying some family togetherness. She wouldn’t let go of his hand and sat as close to him as possible all weekend. The gentleness he showed to her, the genuine interest in what she finds enjoyable to talk about, and the fun, teasing way he gets life lessons across to her warm my heart. Nothing makes me fall more deeply in love with my husband than seeing the solid foundation he is providing for our daughter. The example for how her future mate should treat her is shown best through how her daddy treats her first.
Our youngest, at three years old, has already begun the process of breaking away from his mom and wanting to be part of the “men.” Just this week our littlest decided to test his boundaries. After uttering a phrase of disrespect directed right at me, before I could even figure out a response, his daddy picked him up, took him into another room to address the issue in private, and after quite some time, they reemerged with our littlest offering me an apology. Not only did Bill show all our children that day that respecting their mother was a top priority, but he did it in such a way that our three-year-old’s emotional needs were left intact. He wasn’t humiliated, but instead lovingly corrected in private, and given a chance to try again, and again, and again as he didn’t quite learn the first time. His daddy took each opportunity that night to continue to reinforce the line of respect while lovingly keeping intact the emotional bond that they share.
I have talked many times before about how easy my husband makes it for me to follow his lead. I’m grateful for his example because he pushes me, not with words, but through his quiet strength, to be a better parent as well. Even when I’m having “one of those days” where I wouldn’t be nominated for “Mother of the Year,” instead of pointing out how badly I blew it, he usually has words of comfort for me that go more like, “Yeah, you probably could have chosen a different way to handle that.” He then is willing to talk with me about how we can approach the same issue differently the next time, hopefully with better results. He is also quick to point out when he makes a mistake and is willing to brainstorm with me so that we can provide a united front to our kids, hopefully getting better each time.
What about your family? Do either you or your spouse possess a gentle strength that is so vital to your kids’ emerging independence while building them up emotionally and spiritually? If not, what is one positive change you can take to help achieve that goal in your household?