In our house, it’s not the little boy who cried wolf; it’s the little girl who cried potty. All day long, one false alarm after another. Potty training has been my nemesis in the parenting realm. Not that other aspects of bring up baby haven’t been challenging (certainly, I have the girl who can’t speak on my hands… yes, challenges), but potty training takes the cake. About three months ago we thought Sophie was ready to potty train, so we got the pull ups, figured out the reward system, brought out the little potty, learned the sign for potty, and dove in. And for a time, she was doing great. But then, it turned into a game for her. And now, three months later, we still have the little girl who cries potty. And she cries it most often in the middle of meals when she wants to be allowed to get out of her chair before she’s finished eating. It didn’t take too long to realize what she was up to, and so we began a “we don’t go potty during dinner” rule. (It does bend in certain circumstances, of course.) We told Sophie that she would have to learn to hold it in during meals. Obviously little children don’t excel at holding it in, but it was our way of showing her that she can’t use the potty as a game to get out of her chair in the middle of a meal. We want her to move past the potty “game” and to actually learn the control needed for success.
Learning to hold it in — when it comes to words and emotions — has been a lesson near and dear to my own heart. My mouth can produce quite a deluge, capable of bowling over whoever is in earshot. In a completely contrasting image, I have also felt the inner fire that I believe James is referring to when he describes the tongue as “a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (3:6). A life on fire with the fire of hell – that’s quite an image. Serious business to be sure. Yet, how careless we can be with our words. How we underestimate their power.
In particular, I find that I struggle with critical words. Yes, gossip has its lure, but it’s criticism that always seems to be like a leaping horse behind a gate, trying to burst its way out of my mouth. I blame this largely on my Type A personality. There is a certain way to do everything. To organize every bag, every cupboard, every drawer, everything. (Perhaps I should clarify that this used to be much more true of me than it is now. My children just can’t seem to learn how to organize at ages 3 and 1… I’ve tried, but I’ve had to give in in some regards). My husband can tell you all about this. Just ask him about the kids’ cup cabinet, or the diaper bag sometime. It is NOT just a hodgepodge! (Actually, don’t ask him because he doesn’t want to talk about it.) Seriously though, if something has not been done according to my way, it can be hard for me to just let it go.The struggle is real. I like things done a certain way, and if things happen in a different way, it can be hard for me not to be critical. (Because, clearly, my way is the best way.) (And, yes, motherhood has been one giant lesson in flexibility for me.)
My mother told me once in my teen years that it was not important to let someone know every single time they had done something wrong. (Duh?! But it truly was a word I needed to hear.) Such true and gracious words. So I remind myself continually “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29). Before that word crosses my lips, I wonder, will this be a benefit to those who are listening? Is this for building others up? I don’t catch myself as often as I should, and I don’t always hold my tongue even when the answer to those questions is indeed a resounding “no!” But I’m working on it.
90% of the time I feel like I’m failing miserably at this whole gig. I know that I should watch my words and only give voice to things that will build others up. But my emotions continually get the better of me. We’ve just come off of the flu-pocalypse 2015 here at the Burleigh house, and mommy was cooped up with two sick, cranky kiddos for a week straight. That’s a long time. When I got to leave the house for groceries on Thursday morning, I felt as if the clouds had parted and the Hallelujah Chorus was ringing out. Weeks like this make me feel isolated and overwhelmed, like a work mule who keeps turning around to find more of the same mess that she just finished cleaning up. A never-ending sink full of dishes. Cheerios all over every floor. Laundry, and more laundry. Diapers, and more diapers. At the week’s end, I felt frazzled and in desperate need of a break. In these types of weeks, it’s hard for me not to let my circumstances get the better of me. My frustrations overwhelm me and they inevitably spill out onto those around me. And then comes the turmoil of feeling defeated, despite my best efforts to be the best mommy and the best wife whose tongue remains under control at all times. Fail. I’m no expert yet at holding it in. I guess I need more practice just like Sophie. In these moments I am thankful that there is grace. A gracious husband. A gracious God. Grace upon grace. We sang this week in church “where sin runs deep, your grace is more.” After working on this piece all week and then failing so miserably at my own lesson, it was good to be reminded of God’s grace. We can never fail beyond God’s grace. I like to think that he’s pleased to see us trying, even if we do sometimes fail.