Before and after my father died, we took turns cooking large family dinners in Long Island. One night, as I was cooking alone for eighteen, I heard myself erupt at my beautiful 16 year old daughter for not helping me exactly the way I wanted. I hadn’t explained what I wanted, of course, but that didn’t stop me from getting angry with her for not being able to read my mind. Then I heard myself speak in honeyed tones, the very next moment, to my nieces and nephews. The contrast shocked me. It meant I had control, but somehow I hadn’t chosen to exercise it. Instantly, I resolved not to lose my temper with my daughter EVER again.
When I finally sat down at the dinner table that night, one of my brothers said to me with an amused smile, “Caroline, do you know Aesop’s fable about the sun and the wind?” I’d missed that one. Clearly. My brother said, “the sun and the wind made a bet about which of them could get a man to take off his coat. The wind blustered and blew, and the man just drew his coat more tightly around him. So the sun came out and shone down on the man, and he took his coat off.” My brother paused. “You were the wind.”
I knew that.
My brother mistook my silence. “You were,” he said. “I heard you.”
“I know,” I said. “I was just trying to decide whether it had worked being the wind. All the work for the dinner got done.”
“That,” my brother said, “Is because YOU did it.”
I laughed. He was right. Being the wind hadn’t worked at all. It had just driven my daughter away. Instead of getting me more help, my anger had resulted in less. So I resolved then and there to be the sun, the little darling shining sun, full of sweetness and light. Shine, shine, let my light shine.
And the next night, cooking the next dinner, I erupted at my daughter all over again.
The strange thing is that I’d really tried hard not to lose my temper. I’d gone on a long walk. I’d prayed. I’d asked for God’s help. All to no avail. I felt the words of St. Paul as if they were my own: “I do the very thing I don’t want to do.” Romans 7:21. Yes, stress brings out the worst in us. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I was grieving my father. Yes, I could have used paper plates. I could have ordered in. I could have taken more time to teach my 16 year old how to help me in a non-stress situation. I could have started asking my nieces and nephews to pitch in. I could have walked away, thought quietly for a moment, and figured out how best to get help. I’d overdone it.
But the fact is, that bad stuff – the way I blamed my daughter – is stuck in our hearts all the time. When the bad stuff comes to the surface, it shocks us. We can paper it over, and succeed in speaking sweetly to nieces and nephews, but the people closest to us see what’s really lurking within. We see it, too, and we hate it. We can despair, despise ourselves, rationalize, blame others, look for distractions – and we do all these things – but we can also, eventually, hopefully, turn to God for help.
And He gives it. When we’ve failed enough, and broken every resolution we ever made, we’re finally ready to listen to the voice of Truth. The problem is, sometimes the voice of Truth tells us things we don’t expect. In my case, what I discovered first was the Truth about my own heart. There’s a lot of anger in there. And God let me stay there in that Truth for a while. Because, guess what, I spoke in the same way to my daughter two more times over the past few weeks. My daughter is kind. She’s understanding. I’ve apologized. But speaking in anger hurts her. It hurts our relationship. And ultimately, it drives people away when we need them most.
So why don’t we always listen to God’s voice? Why do we continue to do the very thing we don’t want to do? Why, in other words, are we imperfect? Is there more Truth to be learned than just the sad Truth about our imperfection?
I know one thing. I cannot sit here and write that I will never lost my temper again. I can’t say I will always be the sun. But I can say that I know the Sun – and I mean that in all of its glorious punnery. I know the Son.
The Son of God shines His light down on us. He loves us in our inadequacy. He is always there, always shining on us, offering us grace, mercy, forgiveness and love when we deserve it least – because He alone knows that’s when we need it most. When an exhausted two year old child has a temper tantrum, even we humans know to scoop her up and hold her tight until her raging turns to tears. We’re less good at doing that with adults. But God knows exactly how to parent us. He knows when to scoop us up. He knows when to hold us tight. He knows when to “quiet us with his love.” Zeph. 3:17.
And yes, of course, He knows when to discipline us. He knows when to allow our relationships to suffer to the point that we really do learn how to hold our tongues. But my guess is that God scoops us up and holds us tight far more than we realize. We expect Him to be the wind, but He is always the Sun.
When we start to listen to the voice of the Son, we learn how much Love there is there. We begin to bask in that love. We unfurl. We begin to release, just a little, all the things we’ve clutched tightly to our chests. We start to trust. We start to release our anger to His healing light, and melt into sweetness instead.
I can make all the resolutions I want, but ultimately, I can only throw myself on God’s mercy. And the more I understand how kind God is with my inadequacy, the more able I will be to be kind to myself in my own inadequacy, and kind to others in theirs.
When we mess up, we want to hide from God. But that’s exactly the wrong response. He wants us to lift our faces to the Sun in the very moment of our greatest darkness. He’s grieved when we choose to harden our hearts, but He’s not surprised. He wants us to turn to Him for healing and forgiveness over and over – no matter how many times we lose our temper – and go on trusting Him to help us. He doesn’t give up on us, ever, and He doesn’t want us to give up on Him.
The voice of Truth tells us the truth about our weaknesses – but it also tells us the Truth about God’s sacrificial love. God doesn’t live inside us because we deserve it. He lives inside us because He loves us – even when we don’t love Him back, even when we harden our hearts. All we have to do is ask.
That’s what melts us. That’s what makes us take off our coats. That’s what makes us lay down our arms. It’s what makes us surrender. And ultimately, somewhere, somehow, in admitting our faults and finding God’s Love, that’s what puts sweetness in our hearts instead of temper. Because the sweetness will shine from within – not from us – but from the one true source of Love. The more we bask in the undeserved love of the one true Son, the more that Sun can shine through us. Ironically, paradoxically, thankfully, there, where we least deserve it, we find the most Sunshine and Love we can possibly imagine. It is there, in God’s grace, that God overcame the world. He wants us to take heart. He wants us to experience His peace. And only in His peace, can we radiate Him to others.
posted by Caroline Coleman on July 10, 2012 in carolinecolemanbooks.com