I grew up in a swamp. During the American Civil War, General McClellan lost wagons and cannons in the mud of my home county, and while I was growing up we had a constant task of improving the ditches and culverts that kept our country lane above water.
Here’s the thing about water: in the right place and right amount, it’s extremely beneficial, but in the wrong place and wrong amount, it is extremely destructive. This characteristic is also true of the multiple qualities and traits in our children’s personalities. The stubbornness that so frustrates us when we are trying to get chores accomplished is the same determination that sends a budding engineer back to his LEGO® figure again and again until his vision matches his execution. The ease with which a child can walk away from a half-finished task to do something else can become a skill of reaching out to others and bearing their burdens. Just like the water on my parents’ farm, though, it takes vision, perseverance, and much hard work to turn those apparent weaknesses into strengths.
It also takes a willingness to provide a place for those traits to blossom. We need to do more than set up barriers to prevent the water of our children’s personalities from escaping appropriate boundaries. We need to provide channels into which those strengths can flow.
It wasn’t enough to just build up the sides of the road so that the water couldn’t overflow. It always rained more than we thought it would and if the water sat in enormous puddles we harvested a fine crop of mosquitoes after a while! Instead we had to dig ditches with gentle grades to lead the water away to the neighbor’s pond where it could serve a useful function.
It’s not enough to say, “Don’t be bossy!” (one of the current issues in our household) to a child. There is no way we can make enough prohibitions to cover all situations. We need to give instruction—(“You need to be a good leader. Let’s look at how some people in the past have led and see what made them good leaders.”) We also need to give encouragement—(“That was good leadership the way you encouraged your brother to keep trying when the two of you were moving that box for me. Do you see how that helped him to work harder?”). It’s so easy to say, “Oh, the children are fighting again! They are just kids—that’s what they do. I’ll just separate them all and hope they get out of this phase soon.”
But are we raising children?
No! We are raising adults; and we must train, instruct, and disciple until the water of their characters flows in deep streams in the desired directions.
It’s hard work. Sometimes it will feel as if you are trying to get the water to run uphill! Sometimes it will just be easier to put up a barricade and call it a day. Hold on, mamas. This is your calling, and surely the Living Water will give you grace as you seek to bring your little streams to Him.
Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones, and Chicken Bones on living in a house full of young children, unending questions, and abundant grace. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and be sure to read her post here every other Tuesday!