Entering the Third Dimension

If you’re a parent, you might be familiar with the phenomenon of waking up in the night in total panic about something regarding your kid’s health or education or future or whatever. That’s me tonight. I’ve spent the last two hours talking myself down.

In the process of doing this, I realized that I have always viewed most of the people in the four gospels as two-dimensional — as supporting actors in a story, or as extras who get one line in the beginning of the show so you can care about them when the plot kills them off 10 minutes later. But indeed they were not so superficial.

All the parents who asked Jesus to heal their children were just like me, except they had it much worse. Their kids were dying or chronically tortured by illnesses. By the time they met Jesus, they were hopeless. Remember the guy who said, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief”? He didn’t just say that like he was ordering a double cheeseburger. He said it with anguish.

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9

When this father cried out tearfully, it was visceral. These weren’t the small tears you can blink back as they squeeze out of your eyelids. They were the kind that pour out uncontrollably in huge sloppy drops. The kind that come when you worry about something for a long time, but you continually stuff it down in your gut, until something forces you to deal with it. The kind that come when you realize a problem is truly out of your control, and you don’t know how to proceed. The kind that come when you finally meet someone who can help you, and you see hope is possible for the first time.

This guy was desperate. He loved his son with his entire being. He couldn’t bear the thought of missing an opportunity to help his son. This father thought the only problem — at least the only problem he cared about — was his son’s condition. Jesus saw there was more to the story. Jesus frequently provoked people to acknowledge the real issues driving their beliefs and behaviors. He not only saw that the boy needed healing — He also saw that the father needed restoration of hope. Jesus considered spiritual and emotional healing every bit as essential as physical healing.

Right now, I’m realizing that prayer and Bible reading are essential to my spirit. I’m also realizing that I have anxiety issues that are not intermittent, as I’ve always thought they were, but chronic. I’ve simply become less effective at stuffing them down. I believe Jesus when He described the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Counselor. I also believe I have specific problems that need to be dealt with by working with a counselor. And that’s OK, because like Paul said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1

Many times, God does this work in us by means of other people. As Christians, we seem to be OK with giving that help. We need to be just as OK with receiving it. Considering our human need for community and relationship, I think it’s supposed to be that way.

When Kids Lie

This morning, a friend of mine asked Facebook what to do, as she’d just caught her daughter (about 4-5 years old) lying to her for the first time. One of the responses was a suggestion to get the Berenstain Bears book on lying. I have an intense dislike for that book, because it is what taught my literal, concrete 4-year-old how to lie in the first place. He understood what they did, but he did not understand that it was wrong, or why it is wrong. This made the process of dealing with lying even more difficult.

My approach had to be multifaceted, and went like this: If I caught him lying, I took away privileges. This had to happen multiple times. If this is our ONLY approach, however, it just makes kids better liars, so more is required.

We talked about how lying ruins relationships. I asked him questions to help him understand how he would feel if I lied to him. I think my example was promising to take him somewhere he liked, and then saying we weren’t going there because I was only lying. You have to be careful with what you pick, because if it’s something that can happen on accident, you’re almost guaranteed to have it happen and be left with a kid crying “you lied to me!!”

I also watched very carefully to learn his “tells.” His tell was that he stared at me *very* intently, unblinking, when lying.

I also learned that lying was habitual — it quickly became his default response to any question, even if it wasn’t an “incriminating” question. I realized I had to break that cycle. I did this by 1) pointing out a lie when I saw it and/or asking him to rethink his answer, and 2) prefacing a question with “I’m going to ask you a question; please think about the answer before you say it.” But the most important aspect of this is to remove the opportunity to lie whenever possible. Instead of “Who made this mess?” you say “There’s a mess here; please clean it up.” They’ll say “But I didn’t do it!” which is when you say “That’s fine; please clean it up.” That usually worked for us, but if they persist, you say “I clean up messes all the time that I did not make; you can too.” In this case, you’re using children’s heightened sense of fairness to your advantage. By saying, “That’s fine,” or something like it, you’re not condoning lying — you’re taking away some of its emotional power over you, the parent.

Phrasing things this way reduces the practice of lying, and also lets them know that things will get done either way, which makes lying pointless. Your goal is to take the power of out lying. As people with little power over their lives, children need choices, but lying must become an unattractive option for getting those choices. Using the mess example I gave above, you could say, “Would you like to clean this mess up before lunch, or after lunch?” You’re circumventing the thought processes that lead to lying, and, you are replacing it with a healthy form of power.

Essentially, as a parent, you have to work the problem from multiple angles, and you have to give them internal ownership of the problem. Your role as a policeman (external ownership) has to be temporary. You have to acknowledge what they already know, which is that sometimes, they will get away with lying. Some Christian parents will say “God doesn’t want us to lie,” but that’s not any more effective than telling them not to lie to you. So you have to break it down — why doesn’t He want us to lie? Because it ruins relationships, and relationships are very important to children. Right now, lying is not at all connected to your child’s relationship with you. If you can talk about it in a way that helps him or her empathize with your hurt and disappointment, s/he can begin to internalize it and own it.