A Serious Time Out

I learn a lot about God through parenting. I learn about what it is to love and also disappoint with the way that love is expressed. Discipline is a perfect example. I didn’t ever really understand that part in scripture where it says that The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), until I started putting my daughter, Esther Hope, in timeout.

She cries, she argues, and then she wants a hug. She feels alone and hurt and like her world is falling apart. She’s 3, and this timeout feels like it’s the most serious thing she’s experienced. And yet she has no comprehension that it’s only because I love her that I do it. I want her to grow up to be a decent human being, and so part of teaching her how to behave involves some sort of dicipline.

Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have been feeling like I have been put in a serious timeout. It’s actually been very much like how it must be for my 3-year-old.

I cry, I argue, and then I want a hug. I feel alone and hurt and like my world is falling apart. The stay-at-home order felt like the most serious thing I’ve experienced. And at first, it doesn’t even cross my mind that perhaps this is happening because God loves me. Perhaps part of teaching me involves this kind of discipline–a serious timeout.

I could write probably four different blog posts about the different lessons that God has been teaching me during this time. I will focus on this major one right now: Provision.

I’m the type of person who will plan out a day to the T. Those of you with children can imagine how this usually goes for me. If I’m honest, the fact that my kids have completely thrown off my routine has been a consistent point of contention for the past four years–because pregnancy did that too, let’s face the facts.

Planning out my day with timetables and routines doesn’t leave room to be surrendered to The Lord, nor does it leave room to be present to the reality of needy children. The plan is usually tossed, yes, but there is this lingering resentment in my body, as if tossing the plan isn’t suppose to happen. As if surrender and flexibility and presence is a burden.

When the stay-at-home order was issued, both my kids were old enough that I could have a somewhat regular schedule for each weekday. Gym on Mondays, Leader’s Meeting on Tuesdays, story-time at the library on Wednesdays, BSF on Thursdays, groceries on Fridays. Each nap time, I had a focus for that day, and even though my plans would need reworking, I still had several pillars to fall back on and to ground me. But they were my pillars, and they soon crumbled when everything was cancelled.

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God put me in His serious timeout and told me to think about my choices. Why did my patience thin so much when needing to be present with my children? Why did I feel being flexible with their schedules and needs was a burden? He didn’t ask these questions in an authoritative tone, but in a loving manner. He didn’t scream at me out of rage to go sit in a corner and think about what I’d done. He quietly nudged me into a safe space to reflect upon the ways in which I had been functioning during “normal” life.

I do not believe my wiring for order and structure is wrong, and I acknowledge that God has designed me this way. I do, however, see how I have made idols of my own schedule and plans. The problem with this is that these are not always The Lord’s plans for me (Proverbs).

But knowing this, for some reason, doesn’t make me less likely to fall into the trappings of over-planning or trying to prepare in ways that I’m naturally inclined to do. And it’s because of just that–I’m naturally inclined to do it. To change this, I needed to come to the root of the issue, which was staring me straight in the face as I wrestled with these frustrations about my tossed-away routine as well as this new anxiety of an unprecedented virus infecting people around the globe and in my own neighborhood.

Deep down, much of my desire to plan and prepare was rooted in a fear that what I needed would not be provided for.

Each time I got irritated with a change in my schedule, I feared that I would not be provided with enough time.

Each time I felt anxious about not knowing the next step, I feared that it would not be provided for me, and I’d be left stranded.

Each time I felt frustrated with unchecked items on my to-do list, I feared that I would not be able to provide whatever my to-do list promised at the time: a clean house, a perfectly balanced budget, the best “stay-cation” schedule for our family…

But here’s the thing: Provision happens in the present, and oftentimes, we don’t even realize it’s impact until it’s in our past.

I was craning my neck to look ahead so that I could get a jump start on providing what only God can truly provide. But as I rested in the quiet moments of being at home with my kids–the episodes of Daniel Tiger, or threading toothpicks through the colander, all sprawled out with the pots and pans on the kitchen floor, I could see where God had already provided more than enough.

I had enough time.

I had enough space.

I had enough resources.

I even had enough sleep and downtime, something I didn’t know how much I needed.

This timeout wasn’t a punishment, it was God’s way to showing me His goodness and provision that has surrounded me this whole time.

This isn’t new for God. He’s used to this kind of thing–people forgetting who He is and what He’s done for them.

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In Exodus, when the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness, newly freed from slavery, they didn’t know what God’s provision would look like in the future. They only looked back to remember Egypt.

But then, in the moment, honey-bread rests with the drew, quail flies into waiting nets, water pours from a rock.

God’s provision is in the moment. It’s right now. It’s not for me to know how it will be in the future. But I can trust that it will be. I can trust that it is.

This is only becoming clear as I look back to remember, something those same Israelites and their descendants were instructed explicitly to do by God Almighty Himself.

This is what He was nudging me to do during this time of unrest: remember His provision, and also, to become aware of it in this moment.

This was something I was not naturally doing in my everyday routine and rush. And even with more time on my hands during the stay-at-home order phase of the pandemic, it has become an act of resistance to not look ahead. Life is slower because of it; I am not on social media, I do not binge watch the news, I do not stock up on toilet paper or Clorox wipes. I have had this time to work at resting in the provision of The Lord, at trusting in His love.

And I realize I have only had this time to do so because of the serious timeout He’s put me in through this global pandemic. Don’t worry–I am not so self-centered as to believe that all of this was so that I could learn a lesson. But I’d also be foolish to think that God would not use a crisis for good–to strengthen the faith of His people and help them to lean into His goodness and love.

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This is one of the many things He has done for me. And I will remember it.

This is what redemption is. This is what provision looks like.

My kid would never…

toddler wearing green hooded jacket pointing right index finger

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I feel like this is an obligatory post. Like, every person who has children has come to this conclusion and so why in the world would anyone need to read about it? But if I’ve found anything to be true, it’s that we read about what we know deep down to be true anyways because it reassures us and realigns us with the truth—the truth about this life, and the truth about ourselves.

So here it is: I used to judge people by how their kids acted.

If a child refused to eat their vegetables, I would think to myself, “my kids will eat whatever I put in front of them.”

If a child threw a tantrum about having to leave the park, I would silently assure myself that when I became a parent, my child would know exactly what was expected of them when it was time to leave anyplace. They would NEVER behave in such a way.

If a child pushed another kid, was unwilling to share, hit their parent, said a cuss word, or was flat-out disobedient, I would judge the parents hardcore. I would absolutely know that my kids would NEVER do those things because I would be a better parent than whoever this child’s unfortunate mom and dad were.

Parents of children older than mine, I humbly ask for your forgiveness.

Today, my daughter, who is a pretty awesome little girl if you ask me, was having a meltdown at 7am because, for whatever reason, 5am is the new start to her day (and my day too), and she gets pretty darn exhausted rather quickly. She would not eat her broccoli at lunch, and she cried giant crocodile tears at the library because she wanted to continue to play with the plastic ice cream cones, which she would NOT share with the other kids. And that was just today. Last night she pushed her cousin off of the four-wheeler bike because she wanted a turn and also refused to give her little brother a goodnight kiss…

Yes, to my utter dismay, my 2-year-old is not perfect. And contrary to what I previously thought, I am not in much control of what she does or doesn’t do.

This is not to say that I do not or will not take responsibility for things that my kids do. This is simply to say that I now understand that there are just some times that kids do things that do not reflect what their parents have taught them or how they were raised.

But here is what I’ve learned:

I’ve learned that when I judge other people, my brain cannot distinguish these judgments as separate from my own self-talk. This is backed up by brain science, actually. When we even think negative, judgmental thoughts about others, our brain registers them as evaluations about our own selves.

All these times I have looked at kids with that side and rolling eye, and have labeled their parents as “bad” or “unworthy” or “lazy” or “unfit”, I have really been evaluating the type of person and parent that I am or will be.

Yes, I might get that little rush of superiority and ego boost, but very much like the crash after a sugar or caffeine high, it’s not long before I’m wallowing in a judgment hangover that can only be cured with… more judgment.

One moment I’m all like, “Wow, her son just completely disrespected her. I would never let my kid get away with that. She must not be very consistent. I’m a way more intentional mother…”

And then the next moment, my little one does the unthinkable and throws a tantrum that has everyone at the Target check out line staring at us, thinking Lord-knows-what, and all I can do is keep the judging cycle going by getting defensive…

“Well those people have it easy. They all can afford a babysitter so they can go shopping by themselves, or their kids are older and less needy, or they probably have had way more sleep because they don’t have a newborn at home… how dare they judge me! Don’t they know they I am doing the best I can? What type of person judges a mom based on what their two-year-old does? Nothing is wrong with me… it’s them…”

 Except I don’t recall that I’ve just done the exact. same. thing. If—big ifthey are even judging me at all in the first place! They might, in all reality, be thinking something sweet like, “oh poor thing, I bet she’s exhausted and her little one is too. I sure hope she can find some time to rest and won’t beat herself up too much about how her kid is acting right now.” And wouldn’t that be sweet, and way more helpful, understanding, and honestly accurate too?

It’s then that I am reminded of the responses I want to have. And the fact that the actual cure for the judgment hangover isn’t more judgment at all. It’s compassion. It’s love. It’s a raised hand saying “me too girl; I get it”.

If my brain cannot distinguish between a commentary on someone else and a commentary on myself, then I want to rewrite my judgment commentary entirely and break this cruel, defensive cycle.

Because if judging other people makes me feel all the stress and shame I am doling out on them in my mind, then it’s working the opposite way I want it to. Deep down, my inner “mean girl” is hoping that judging people will make me feel better about my own self. This is why behind most every “mean girl” is actually an anxious, nervous, insecure little person—hurt people hurt people, right?—and my own inner “mean girl” is the same.

I don’t want to be judged for what I do on very little sleep, or for how I feel on my worst of worst days, so why would I want to be judged for what the little human I birthed, who has entirely no shame at all, does on a non-regular basis? I don’t.

So I’ve got to stop judging my fellow mamas and papas who also don’t deserve it. We are, in fact, in this together, if we want to be. And I do.

Also, I recognize that most of my judgments come from an entire lack of knowledge and experience. Case and point: I rarely judge a mama with a kid younger than me, and I find that most of these “my kid would NEVER”’s have popped into my brain far before I had even conceived a child.

But this entire revelation, which I think many of us with little humans running around our homes have also come to, has made me wonder how much of the way I judge people for other things is the same.

If I judge a person for being out of shape, does it also make me think poorly about my own body?

If I judge a person for their lack of preparation, does it also make me harsh with myself when I miss a deadline?

If I judge a person for how they choose to spend their free Saturday, does it make me also judge myself when I am not a productive or restful or… (insert whatever “should” is on my latest list at the moment)?

And I think it does. I think my judgments of others keep me trapped in judgments of myself. I judge because I think judgments protect me, but in truth, they make me put up the perfectionist façade and pretend like I’ve got it all together when I really don’t. They make me defensive and angry, and thinking the worst about others and about myself. In short, judgments are not helping me or doing anyone else any favors.

So this one is for my fellow mommies and daddies, but also for anyone at all who has ever judged anyone…(Think you don’t judge anyone, just listen to a few minutes of a radio station that plays music you dislike—we ALL can be judgmental at times.)

Let’s stop this judgmental cycle. Let’s choose to assume the best of one another. Let’s stop pretending we’ve got it all together when we really don’t. Let’s put an end to this negativity that keeps us all trapped. Let’s realize that thinking or saying “bad” about someone else does not make us “good” or better. Let’s be kind, understanding, and gracious to one another, if for no other reason than because it helps us be kind, understanding, and gracious to our own selves. I’m assuming you could also use a little extra grace around here, and so could the closest two-year-old’s mommy near you.

“Today I release the judgments I’ve used to protect myself. I am safe.”