He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break. Matthew 12:19-20
Over the summer, I was hosting a barbecue for twenty-two people. I had left everything until the last minute: cleaning the house, setting up the yard, making the food, etc. Every aspect of that list is the recipe that cooks me into a stress mess. I could feel the usual symptoms: pounding head, frantic motions, extreme impatience. I could see the train wreck coming from a mile away and I was trying so hard to derail it. My guests were people I love. I was so excited to spend a beautiful summer evening with them. I had a vision in my head of feeding the twelve kids first, then getting them settled in front of a movie inside while we adults all kicked back at the Italian style banquet tables I had set up on the lawn, complete with flowers in jelly jars for added beauty. It was that image that was motivating me to get it all done so that I could be stress-free and present when my guests arrived, not distracted and still running around when they got here.
So I was praying, praying hard. I was asking God to help me do it differently this time, to not lose my cool as the clock ticked closer to company time. But, despite the prayers, Mason approached me with some issue and I blew my lid! Honestly, for the life of me, I can’t remember what he said or did. The real truth is, he was just the trigger that set off the explosion that was just waiting to happen. And explode I did: yelling at him at the top of my voice.
It was then that I realized that the windows over my kitchen sink were wide open, and I was just a foot away. On the summer air, what I was screaming, and how I was screaming it, could probably be heard three houses away.
What disappoints me most, and shames me to the core, is that I didn’t care how my tone, volume and words affected my eight year old. What I cared about was if my neighbors heard me. That is what had me stopping in my tracks, lowering my volume, taking a gulp of air to restore my patience.
Jesus had every reason to raise His voice, cry out in the streets, and quarrel with those who were committing injustices. But other than His outburst in the Temple, when He was trying to restore respect and reverence to God’s house, He was as gentle as a lamb, as peaceful as a dove. He never screamed and yelled. Screaming and yelling accomplished very little. In fact, it closes people down, pushes them away. Kids learn nothing from a mother who screams, except to copy her and scream at others. That’s a lesson I never want to teach my kids.
I’ve put a lot of thought into that day, wondering why, if I was praying so hard to keep my patience, I couldn’t. I wondered if I wasn’t praying hard enough, soon enough. I started to question whether God was listening or not.
Time has clarified for me that prayer, or being heard by God, was not the issue, my expectations were. I had set the bar so high for myself that I had nowhere to go but down. There was no reason why having a summer barbecue meant I had to clean all the bathrooms, dust every piece of furniture, vacuum every surface, and prepare an overabundance of food, especially when I was trying to do it all at the last minute.
I truly believe that God did hear me, but He chose to answer my prayers differently than I was asking. He knew that there was a bigger lesson that I needed to learn. Had He smoothed things out and slowed down time so I could accomplish it all, He would have been enabling that obsessive over-achiever in me that thinks everything needs to be perfect, even at the last minute. Had the preparations for that barbecue gone smoothly, I would continue on that path, always keeping the bar that high, always pushing and pushing, until I push myself over the edge.
Instead, God taught me through my shame. Although my shame didn’t come from how I thought my son perceived me (unfortunately), my shame did come from how I thought my neighbors would perceive me. Despite its source, shame is a wonderful teacher. Once you feel that badly about yourself, you never want to put yourself back in that position again, if you can help it.
And help it I can! I can lower the bar; good enough is good enough. The point of the barbecue was to spend quality time with people I love, and to make memories with them. It wasn’t to impress them with how clean my toilets and floors were, or make myself crazy in the process, then take it all out on my children.
I’m throwing another party next week: a Murder Mystery Dinner. My goal is to limit my expectations of myself, focus on the fun we’ll all have, and pray to God to be my pacesetter and partner. He may not be here physically in my house to help me vacuum and scrub a toilet, but if I set my expectations appropriately, I’m positive He will take the pounding from my head, the frantic out of my actions, and the impatience out of my being. Then there’s no doubt that I’ll keep my cool during the preparations, interacting with my kids the whole time with patience and love, as if my neighbors were listening.