Her tears were flowing freely and the fear was crushing her heart by the time the door opened. The light flowed in through the crack and for a moment hope and relief together rose quickly in response. He was here. She would be alright now. But it was this hope that made his words and tone all the more devastating.
“Monsters under your bed,” he grumbled, tired and agitated, “ridiculous, just be quiet and go to sleep.”
As the door shut, the fading light revealed the frustration and anger in his eyes, and then it was dark again. The fear leapt up, but this time it had an ally. Shame flushed her five-year-old cheeks a bright red, and the tears flowed freely. She was not rescued; she was stupid and an inconvenience. He had not said these words, but the meaning was clear.
No well-meaning parent calls their child stupid and inconvenient directly and with words. It’s not the words our kids hear anyway. The real weight is in our tone, and posture. Without a word the above tired father called his daughter stupid and told her that her fear didn’t matter.
Re-wind and try again.
As the door opened her little heart leapt with hope. She was not alone. She was going to be alright. He was here. She felt the bed give in to his weight as he sat next to her and his big strong
hand rested firmly on her back. It felt so comforting even before he spoke. He was here with her.
“You’re afraid aren’t you honey,” he said in a gentle tone.
“Yea-ah”, she said through her tears.
“I’m sorry you’ve been so afraid, I’m here now, what do you need?,” he asked.
Her fear mattered to him. She mattered to him. He came into her darkness and sat with her. She was not alone, and her fear began to subside.
“Daddy, I was afraid there was something under my bed…” she stuttered, feeling a little silly even as she said it out loud.
“Oh sweetie,” he said, “that would be scary. Well, I’m here now, do you want me to check?”
“No, that’s OK, …I feel better now.” She mumbled as her eyes began to close. She felt safe and protected, and without a word, she knew she was important to her daddy. She drifted of to sleep.
Five extra minutes saved this little girl a lifetime of questioning whether or not she was loved.
For this little girl and every other human on the planet the issue is this. Every human struggle has two dimensions. We deal with circumstances, and we deal with each other about our circumstances. At any time we make the circumstances more important than the each other dimension we run the risk of devaluing one another.
Through years of marriage counseling, I told some version of this story again and again. Most people do not realize that any time people have problems, the problems come in pairs. Not because of superstition, but because of the make-up of the human condition. The evident problem is usually one of circumstance. It is what most people see and respond to. The corresponding problem is the problem of relationship; or, how people will relate to one another around the circumstance.
In the above story, the second dad understood this principle, the first did not.
The second dad entered his daughter’s life and made it clear that he was both with her and for her. He did all this before anything ever came up about monsters and fear. Her fear was addressed by her father’s life connected to her own. Her dad understood the nature of incarnational love. He also understood that love casts out fear, not correct facts.
The first dad, dealt only with the situation. Implicit in this stance, is the stinging message; “your life and your fear are less important than my facts.” A man or woman who would never say the words “you don’t matter”, can often convey this kind of disdain by only dealing with the circumstance and ignoring the relationship.
Incarnate love inserts it’s own life into the life of the loved one. Convenience and comfort are not a consideration, only love. Incarnate love will leave behind it’s own comfort and position to enter fully into the life and world of the loved one. This entrance is not for the purpose of dealing with the problem, this entrance is for the sole purpose of being in the other’s world in order to express love.
In many cases, it is this kind of incarnate love that is the real issue and the circumstances are secondary. For this reason, the circumstance is often resolved by the declaration and demonstration of relationship.
I have seen over the years that kids behavior, in many cases, is a way of asking the parents a question. I have seen it in my family and I have seen it in my two decades of clinical practice. When one or both parents are going through changes, the kids go through changes as well. In many cases, behavioral or emotional changes become evident.
The trap for every parent is the temptation to address the behavior, or the emotion, without first addressing the relationship. The caution to every parent is that when we address behavior without first addressing relationship (and by this, I mean re-entering our kids lives, NOT for the sake of dealing with their circumstance, but as a way of expressing love) we send a very dangerous message to our kids. The message is “Your misbehavior is a way to maintain relationship with me.” You can see how this might inadvertently encourage and even reward misbehavior.
Even worse, this can inadvertently misrepresent God. We too easily slip into the belief that even God relates to us primarily around our behavior, as opposed to the foundation of His never-ending expressions of His love.
The same dynamic exists in the marriage relationship. Typically men are wired to deal with circumstances and women are wired to deal with relationships. When a man and wife discuss the same topic, they might not be discussing the same issue at all. While he is talking about money, she is talking about how they relate to one another regarding money.
When she says, “You don’t bring me flowers anymore”, he actually believes she is talking about flowers. Men, she is really talking about the kind of thought processes and relational attention that results in flowers. Showing up with flowers, while still nose deep in your iPhone is not really what she is asking for.
We are helpers suitable to one another’s needs, not because he needs laundry done, and because she needs her car filled with gas. We are helpers suitable to one another’s needs because we men must learn to think relationship first, and circumstance second. And because women must learn how to value the focus of a man’s mind, in the same way we must learn to value the focus of a woman’s.
All of these thoughts set the stage for what I really want to say.
God enters our life to express love to us and not simply to deal with our circumstances. God not only understands incarnational love. He invented it. God so values relationship over circumstance that the only Person who ever had the right to insist that He was right, chose to leave His position and insert Himself into ours. He could just as easily have imposed His will on us all and forced us to get it right, or destroy us all.
Sadly, we like young children, often believe that God’s relationship to us is really founded on correcting our misbehavior. The reality is God sent His Son as an expression of His fiercely present, never-ending, life-generating love.
But God has this knack for right priorities. He loves first and loves fully.