Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Make It Right": how my preschooler helped me understand forgiveness and penance

I cringed when I saw her wiggling in her chair in the restaurant.  “Hey,” I whispered, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”  She wrinkled up her nose, as I knew she would.  “I already go-ed.”  I tried to subdue the growing frustration in my head.  I bit my lip and sternly and coolly said, “Let’s go to the potty….right now.”  Cue the dramatic crying, the stomping, the protesting.  She knew she did something wrong, and I probably embarrassed her.  Of course, a four-year-old can’t really process those emotions that well.  Thus, tears.

Back in the car, I buckled her baby brother first.  The lateness of the day was made apparent by his tired whining.  Let’s just get everyone home and in bed as soon as possible, I thought.  By the time I had coaxed little baby’s flailing arms through the straps of his car seat, she still had not buckled herself.  “You have to the count of three to buckle yourself, and then I will do it for you.”  The annoyance from her “accident” was quite evident in my voice.  Finally my impatience, coupled with her grand frustration, bubbled over.  I tugged at the car seat straps while she swatted my hands and wiggled her legs, trying to prevent me from reaching the buckle.  I gritted my teeth, trying not to completely lose it.  I put my face right into hers, holding her wrist, all the while repeating, “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”  Customers in the parking lot witnessed everything.  I was so embarrassed.  

Somehow, she gave up the fight.  I finished buckling her and drove home, fuming.  I was mad at her for causing a scene, and at myself for not being able to handle it.

No one said a word, whether it was out of the tension, exasperation, maybe even mere tiredness, or a combination of the three.  Nevertheless, the car ride gave us each some time to calm down.  When we got home, I unbuckled her and mustered up a much warmer and approachable voice, “Look.  You made two mistakes tonight.  Now is your chance to make them right.  Your first mistake was not using the bathroom when you should have.  We can make that right with a quick tubby.  The second mistake was to scream and hit me when I tried to buckle you in.  You can make that right by saying sorry.  So what do you say?”  She had her tear-smeared face down while I gave my explanation, but when I put the question out there, she seemed a little surprised and perked up a bit, as if she realized that a simple apology was all there was to fixing a wrong.  “Sorry,” she mumbled and sobbed.  I helped her out of the car after a great bear hug and encouraged her to head upstairs for the bath. 

The rest of the night she was quick to respond to the bedtime routine and more than happy to help with her baby brother.  Forgiveness had released her and she beamed in her freedom.  And her willingness to help and take care of her bedtime obligations was her affirmation to me that she had forgiven me for my impatience and shortness.

Kids need to know that they are loved, and demonstrating forgiveness confirms that love.  Without a forgiving hug, a child will wallow in their own self-pity until they start to believe that somehow, they became “a bad kid”.  Forgiveness gives a child closure.  I doubt her misbehavior would have magically ended had I maintained the stern face and cold demeanor.  

Give kids a way to make it right, because the freedom of forgiveness is incomplete without it.  A punishment alone teaches a child that the mistake is bad.  But no consequence at all dismisses the misbehavior and eliminates the responsibility.  The “making it right” strategy gave my daughter an exit for the shame of her mistake.  It channeled her stubborn independence so that she could take care of what she could control.  In short, she knew she was forgiven, and she was able to move on.

Getting a kid to say “I’m sorry” is not all that difficult, but having them appreciate the meaning behind the words is the tricky part.  For them to fully comprehend their responsibility and take control of the mistake, they have to know forgiveness.  Where there is love, they will be more willing and eager to “make it right”.

Do you know you are forgiven, or do you still hold on to your guilt, like the child who continues to commit the same misbehaviors?  Do you assume responsibility for your actions, or do you avoid thinking about it, uttering a meaningless “sorry” as a jaded and aloof kid? 

In our own grappling with sin, let us never forget, the battle has been won.  Our sins were nailed to a cross.  Let us serve Him then, and “make it right”, not because His sacrifice was insufficient, but because our  love and gratitude for Him is abundant.  For when we start to comprehend the immense love and forgiveness of Christ, the “make it right” desire bubbles over, and we beam like a preschooler eager to show her mom how well she brushed her teeth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A former Evangelical's perspective on the "Hell-o-vision"

I've recently started an online class through Holy Apostles Seminary, as part the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) program.  It does not count for a grade, but it has been an intellectual exercise to keep my mommy brain alive and kicking, and a way to meet other (highly intelligent), passionate Catholics.  Oh, and the best part is that it is FREE.  So because I have so much free time being a SAHM (that was sarcasm), I decided to do it.  The course explore's the Vatican's take on media, and more specifically social media.  Here are some thoughts I've pondered in doing my reading and writing my discussion responses on the discussion board:

I was raised in a very conservative, right-wing Evangelical church (I converted to Catholicism in 2010) and any reference to “media” was predominantly negative.  “The liberal media” was a frequent moniker.  Unfortunately, these opinions on mainstream media demonstrate an incomplete perspective because 1) the name branding is primarily based on American political “culture wars”, and 2) they highlight only the dangers of mass media.  Conversely, what I understand from Pope Paul VI's Inter Mirifica is that there is potential for good in the use of social communication, whether it be television, movies, or radio.  Information can be used so that “all can contribute more effectively to the common good and more readily promote and advance the welfare of the entire civil society.” Even the portrayal of a moral evil, if done with moral restraint, can be used to serve a greater understanding of humanity and goodness.  One movie that comes to my mind is the recent rendition of Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman.  There are some troubling images of poverty, hopelessness, and even violence, but the themes that override the scenes of misery are redemption, selflessness, courage, and above all, the resiliency of the human spirit.

Viewers (or listeners) have the responsibility of choosing a media source that upholds their spiritual well-being.  In other words, one must be discerning of where there information is from, and that they are filling their minds with that which is noble and good.  That does not mean one has to throw out the television or refuse to turn on the radio for fear of hearing inappropriate language, for example.  Nevertheless, with the freedom to choose a certain media comes the responsibility to discern its spiritual worth. 

Freedom in Christ does not mean a list of "thou shalt not"'s, in a legalistic checklist.  And it doesn't mean the freedom to do whatever in the name of love.  It is about self-restraint and choice, choosing what God wants for us, which ultimately will give us the greatest freedom from the burden of sin.

Do what God commands, not out of guilt or out of force, but simply out of love for Him.  The Truth will set you free.

Thanks for reading.