I had a tough evening with my youngest son the other night. He’s 11. He disobeyed. And the reality is that he disobeyed disrespectfully and defiantly. He announced that he would not do what he was asked — and he would not do what he knew was right.
“I don’t care! You can’t make me!!”
And since I’ve been slightly maturing in my parenting (thank God!), I employed what has arguably evolved into one of my more effective techniques. With disappointment in my eyes and thus no affirming glance, I closed the door and quietly walked away.
My son began to sob.
Actually, he sobbed for quite some time that night. Those tears were hard to hear, always seemingly piercing my own heart and soul. Yet I knew at least for an initial while, I needed to allow his tears to flow.
Why was he crying?
Because I walked away? Because I was disappointed? Because of no affirming glance?
While each of the above certainly had both impact and merit, none served as the cause of the cry. My 11 year old bawled because he chose wrongly.
Josh was so grieved by his defiant-but-intentional choice of wrongful behavior, that he grieved his own iniquity.
“Why?! Why did I do this?” he cried uncontrollably. I kid you not; it was uncontrollably for quite some time. Josh was bothered by his lack of virtue; he was dismayed by his willful wrongdoing.
After allowing the tears to flow for several minutes, I re-entered his room and held him tight. At first I said very little, as the tears continued, but so did the outwardly, now cavernous contrition. He was unnerved by the obvious fact that his wrongful choice came so intentionally and easily. Part of me of wondered if he was shocked that he was actually capable.
As I finally tucked him that night, watching my budding adolescent fall asleep with swollen eyes and still with tears, I sat and wondered what I could learn… what each of us could learn… When we make wrongful choices — so intentionally and easily — are we shocked that we, too, are actually capable? Do we wrestle with our own wrongdoing? Are we bothered by our own, manifest lack of virtue? And are we dismayed?
Too often I think we miss that — we miss the growth that comes from individual, reflective wrestling because we instead surround ourselves with people who simply “amen” our experience and thus numb our negatives — as opposed to hold us accountable for both the wise and poor choices of our lives. We are quick to shame the Petraeus’s and Sandusky’s, but far slower in examining any wrongful actions, motives, or thinking that takes root in our own hearts.
We live for the moment, allow emotion to trump truth, and often allow moral behavior to be relative with each evolving circumstance. The challenge is that circumstances will always change; such is a perilous pattern.
As is no secret amidst these pages, my young son has Down syndrome. Please — no sympathy necessary. Josh has taught me more in life than I ever could have known without him. He has taught me and stretched me in ways previously impossible. There is nothing lesser about his life; there is only more blessing in mine and in so many others’ lives because of the joy and wisdom he so freely brings.
One of Josh’s many marvelous traits is that he doesn’t allow all the “crud of life” to get in the way — circumstances and emotions never interfere nor trump reality. And the other night, when it was obvious he had made a wrongful choice, there were no excuses or exaggerations. There was only the honest grief that he failed to choose wisely.
We continue to learn, as it is often the child that leads the adult well.