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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do-Over

School is getting hard in our house.

Where once there were idle afternoons and evenings with no homework, no material to study for tests, no papers to write, projects to manage, or chapters to read, now we have it all.  Nightly.  No more declarations of “I finished it in study hall.”  Teachers are no longer saying “I don’t give homework” on back-to-school night.

Until this year, school work was so different from when I was their age.  Daily math worksheets, books to read, reports to write – all of these were normal parts of my day, starting in elementary school.  It continued until my last day of graduate school.

Now my eldest is juggling math concepts along with social studies papers, blog entries for language arts, and studying, studying, studying.  He’s never done this before.  He hasn’t ever brought home much schoolwork. Now he brings several subjects to study and learn every night.  It’s fine.  School is different now.  My kids are smarter than I ever was.  I’m not complaining.

But it’s hard.  For all of us.

Teaching a teenager how to study, how to prioritize assignments, how to manage time – it’s not for the faint of heart.  I know how to do this.  He wants to do it himself.  I can see the gaps in his efforts.  He wants me to leave him alone.

The other night, there was yelling and swearing and general gnashing of teeth.  Yes – we use this phrase in our house.  There was gnashing of teeth.

I want a do-over.  I want him to go back to elementary school, where things were slower and easier, and he was more apt to listen to his mother.  I want to have better prepared for this and given him homework to do when the teachers didn’t, so he could practice the skills he needs now. 

More than this, though, I want a do-over on the gnashing of teeth part.  I want to take back the shouting, my frustration.  I want to eat my words, bitter as they are.  I want to have responded to an assertion of “I don’t have to memorize this” with aplomb instead of an f-bomb.

I want to be given another chance to shut up, already.

As I get older, my words haunt me more.  They are the source of my greatest sins.  More than pride, stubbornness, lack of faith – the words I say reveal my heart and drive my actions, and they are what God uses most to teach me life lessons.  I learn through words, written and spoken. 

And those which should have been left unspoken.

I can’t count the number of times I wished for a do-over on situations that end with me saying words that harm others or show a glimpse of my character that I choose to keep hidden most times: the rash emotional tempest that shows itself for a moment in times of extreme frustration and exasperation.  As quick as it comes, then it’s gone.  But the effects are lasting.

There are no real do-overs in life.  We can’t go back in time and take back what was said or done.  Once it’s out there, it’s out.  The consequences of our humanity can be painful and cringe-worthy memories about what we have done, a tarnished impression of our ideal selves that we leave with others, and wounds that we inflict without lifting a hand.

But we can do better – there is always another day, another chance for improvement.  We can make better choices.  We can choose our words and actions more carefully.  We can apologize for our actions. 

When we reach out to others with humility and sorrow, we show them love.  We show them that they are worthy of better than what we have given them.  We say we’re sorry for our behavior, for our frustration, for the words that hurt.  We can ask for another chance.

And we can ask Jesus for forgiveness.  We can ask him to help us correct our habits, to be more godly.  To love others instead of tear them down.

Even if those we have harmed choose not to give us another chance, Jesus will come through for us.  Our forgiveness is sure if our hearts are in the right place, if we believe that we have sinned and that only he can make it right. 

I wish I could say that I have no need for forgiveness, that I always do the right thing, that my thoughts and words and actions are always upstanding and holy.  But they are not – I need Jesus’ forgiveness and am so thankful for his sacrifice that wipes my slate clean.  I have no illusions about the true effects of my behavior.

The gnashing of teeth give it away every time.

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When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 

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