Growing in Understanding

For the last few months I've been reading a Proverb a day for the main part of my devotional time. When I first started this routine, I thought I would get bored quickly. It turns out that no matter how many times I've read a particular chapter before, I always seem to take away something new. I write a bunch of notes in the margins of my Bible. And since I revisit the Proverbs based on the date of the month, it's always encouraging to see the different lessons I have learned as time has passed. With that, I'd like to share my most recent and biggest take away from Proverbs.

Over and over again, I have read the word understanding. It stuck out to me in the verse Proverbs 17:10 where it says, "A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool." As I have looked through the chapters of Proverbs, I find that I've actually underlined and remarked about many verses with this word understanding.

I've shared recently about the journey that the Lord has taken me on over the course of the last two years or so. I have gone from feeling like we should spank Amelia to we shouldn't spank because of my lack of self control. But even in that, I struggled with having reactions that didn't line up with the new path of parenting we had embarked on. And now arriving to the present, more often than not our discipline and responses towards our children's behavior are more thought out and intentional rather than being a big, emotional reaction. As I have thought this over the last week, I'm finding how crucial understanding has been in our parenting shift.

I think of my relationship with Danny and the amount of understanding that he has had towards me over the course of our relationship (married and not married years accumulated are over 11 years). He takes time to hear my thoughts even when we both know they are irrational. He listens carefully. Danny asks questions so that he can understand more fully where I'm coming from. This investment in our relationship makes me feel loved and cared for and heard. As he models understanding towards me, I do the same for him. Back and forth it goes. As those moments add up to fill one another's hearts, life happens and we hit bumpy patches. I say or do things that require him to call me out. Having a relationship foundation strong in understanding one another sure makes those moments of reproof easier to work through. I can take his criticism to heart because I know that he cares for me. He has shown it over and over again. If Danny didn't take the time to listen and care for me and ask questions meant to know my heart deeper, I would be very reluctant to hear his criticism. If he over-reacted emotionally towards my poor decisions, I would be more likely to blow him off and act even more foolish.

Of course, on the off day that we don't do the extra work of understanding each other, the opposite is not that we beat each other and "put lashes on the back of a fool". Likewise, the majority of our population of parents don't do that with their children. But imagine what it would be like as a child to have a parent verbally lash out over less-than-desirable behavior. Think about what it would be like for that child to be yelled and screamed at, to be told that they need to stop crying and just get over it. Think about what it would be like to always feel as if you were unheard and misunderstood. It's easy for me to think about because I was that kid. What I had to say as a child did not matter because I was just the child. In moments that I tried to verbally process how I was feeling, I was rarely empathized with. More often than not, I was silenced.

un·der·stand·ing /ˌəndərˈstandiNG/: (adj) sympathetically aware of other people's feelings; tolerant and forgiving. (noun) a mutual agreement, especially of a private, unannounced, or tacit kind.

Another reason it is easy for me to imagine a misunderstood child is because I've looked into the face of one. I know what it's like to angrily yell at Amelia in a moment of emotional reaction. I know what it's like to see her face when she feels completely abandoned and unheard. I see her face go from "Please help me, Mama!" to "We are not on the same team. Let's battle."

She's just like me... her emotions have a tendency to flip in a quick second. The instant that I am angry and lashing out at her she dishes it right back. I can lash out at her a thousand times with my tongue by speaking unkindly and angrily at her, demanding that she do what I say or else. I can grab things from her when she's not listening and just do stuff for her in an attempt to hurry routines along. I can do and say all those things but Amelia is not going to respond to me in a cooperative, understanding way. She isn't going to want to do anything for me or with me because she is now angry and feeling like we're in a battle.

But the moments that I choose to stop, get on Amelia's level, and just hear her, she melts into a puddle. When I ask her gentle questions -- Can you tell me what you're frustrated about? -- or empathize with her -- I know you don't want to do that right now. That must be really hard. -- she's just right there with me. She cries. She might even yell a lot. But she's rarely yelling at me if I have established my calm and strong control. She's going quickly with the emotion because she's 5. She is learning that it's ok to feel frustrated!! In this house, we are working hard to establish that it's acceptable to have feelings. It's great to express feelings. The key in this process is learning how to do it in a healthy way. In all honesty, this is something our whole family is learning!

"People with understanding control their anger;
    a hot temper shows great foolishness." Proverbs 14:29

After feelings are adequately expressed, we work together to find a solution for whatever the problem is. The problem can be anything from frustration over not getting to play with a particular toy to the fact that I'm setting a firm line about my decision over something. Whatever the case is, if I just take a moment to understand where Amelia is coming from, she is quick to realize that I am for her, that I am on her team, and I have everything under control. She realizes there's no battle to fight. Just like Danny's calm, loving responses over time have built up our marriage, so do my responses build up the relationship I have with each of my girls. As I've practiced this more consistently, I have noticed Amelia's heart growing in tenderness towards my correction. There have been so many times in the past where she would do the normal kid thing of asking over and over again or insisting on her way. But recently, as we all grow and change, she has started responding with, "Yes, Mama." or if she doesn't agree, she will calmly state her perspective and offer a compromise. It's a beautiful thing each time.

Now when I read Proverbs 17:10, I remember the value in taking time to understand my children. Each and every time I help them know that they are heard and cared for, we are forming a mutual respect for one another. Then, when criticism, discipline, or correction comes, it's from a place of deep understanding.

From there, we can do some great work together.

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