Alarms went off in my head. My mind shifted gears rapidly, snapping out of my thoughts and paying attention to what I was hearing. Tara and I were in the living room while my oldest daughter and oldest son—5 years apart in age—were in the kitchen. I could hear them but couldn’t see them (we actually want to remove that wall…).
My ears heard the unmistakable sounds of a fight starting.
Sizing up the situation in a split second, it seemed she was doing something or another to annoy him. Who knows what it was? Maybe she was moving the mouse on his computer while he was playing a game. Maybe she was sticking her fingers into his lowest ribs—you know that spot right below your armored chest and above your guts?—where it almost tickles and almost hurts and is completely annoying. It could’ve been any number of things; teenage girls are experts in this area.
Before I had time to react, the confrontation came to a head. A chair pushed back. Voices raised. Physical contact was made. My son breathed heavily and my daughter softly started crying.
I’ve written often about my reactions to situations like this. Specifically, I think of an article a few months back about my default settings. It’s my nature, my instinct, to take over, dominate, fix, label victims and criminals, drop consequences, and mandate apologies.
No spark came. Grace (there’s no other reasonable explanation) prevented the gunpowder in my heart from igniting. I breathed. I rocked slowly on my favorite chair.
Tara made eye contact with me, confirming my suspicion that she felt it, too.
I’d never be so bold as to pretend to know what God feels. I cannot assume what he thinks as he watches his children all across the world beat the snot out of each other day in and day out. Each of us simultaneously abused and abuser. Each of us needing both a hug and a stern talking to.
At that moment, though, I thought I had a pretty good idea.
After some probing questions, I invited my son to apologize. He did three times.
His first apology was dismissive and angry.
His second apology was exasperated and elevated. He knew how this was supposed to work! She was supposed to forgive him!
His third apology was low and sincere.
I thanked him, looked at Tara, and passed her the baton. We had discussed previously that our teenage daughter only hears one of two things when I talk to her. “You’re beautiful,” or, “you’re worthless”. At that moment, there was no chance of me saying anything helpful to her.
Tara invited our daughter to offer forgiveness and apologize for her part.
She left the room without a word.
It took time for this episode to be resolved, our daughter is like her mother in needing space to process, but it was resolved with mutual apology and forgiveness.
From my rocking chair, I had felt the crushing blow of a knife ripping into my body. The hurt between them reverberated out and into the rest of the family. As parents, it was our duty to heal the wound, but we couldn’t legislate or command the healing. All we could do was encourage and invite.
St. Paul writes often of all Christians together being one body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is an incredible reflection on this reality. Verse 26 says:
“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it”
It turns out that families are also a body. Blows and harsh words between siblings, between parents, and between siblings and parents send shockwaves through the whole organism.
We know this, but what do we do about it?
If you’re like me, most of the time you go around punishing bad behavior, as if cutting deeper will stop the bleeding. Of course, proper discipline and consequences are important, but do we also facilitate healing?
Your family is a body, a miniature image of the fellowship of Christians with Jesus as their head. I beg you to not only do what you can to protect your body from the dangers of the world but also tenderly heal the wounds received from outside and in.
Neither Tara nor I could’ve stopped the confrontation between our children, but we chose to focus on healing instead of pushing the blade separating our kids deeper.
I pray for the same grace next time; for me and for you!