Late one afternoon, my son, who is nine years old, is getting dressed for his baseball game and is having a hard time finding his hat. My husband walks in from work in a very bad mood. I can’t stand his bad moods because they threaten to disrupt the peace in our home. My husband comments, “You’re going to be late, didn’t I tell you to put your hat where you can find it?” Immediately I feel pressure and fear. My son shoots me an imploring look, “I’m in trouble, help me out”. Frantically, we run through the house searching for his hat in all the usual places. Suddenly, I NEED the hat to turn up in order to calm my husband’s mood and make all well. Though I know it’s not really about the hat, I’m hopeful that finding it will avert all emotional upheaval and the dreaded conflict between father and son will be avoided. Bad news! We can’t find the hat!
My fear directs me to gently talk my husband out of his mood. It compels me to whisper to my son that, “dad’s just having a bad day”. Conditioning tells me I must mediate and control their interaction so everyone will be okay and get along. I must intervene for their good because they are incapable of resolving it positively without me. If I don’t intervene my husband’s mood will worsen. He will use our son’s inability to find his hat as reason for contempt for the child and self -loathing, “If I were a better father my child would be more responsible.” My son will feel the contempt and blame himself for not being “good enough”, all because he can’t find his hat. In the “House of Shame” inadequacies and mistakes are met with contempt and shame rather than grace. Though I am very familiar with those same feelings of contempt and shame, when I see them in my husband I am overwhelmed with fear. This causes me to feel pressure to control. Pressure to “say the right things” and establish “peace”. Pressure to fix everything” and “make everyone happy”. I’m tired of the pressure.
Maybe tonight can be different than all the previous nights of bad moods, lost hats, shoes or wallets, pressure to engineer relationships and contempt for common human struggles. Though I’m afraid to let go and move differently than I have in the past, I want to leave the ”House of Shame” and enter the “House of Grace”. I want to be part of a different dynamic than what I experienced as a child. To do this I will have to pick up the eggshells I have put down, walked on, and forced my children to walk on, for the sake of a “false” peace and the avoidance of conflict. I will have to let go of the lies I grew up believing, like, “bad moods” are grounds for emotional dumping, or conflict prevents connection and isn’t present in “good, peaceful homes”, or not being responsible for your things means you aren’t good. If I can reject the lies it will allow me to see the moods and conflict as avenues for truth and connection. It will allow me to interact with those around me with empathy and understanding rather than judgment and contempt. I will be able to see who they really are beyond my view of who they ought to be. Sharing in their struggles with confidence in their ability to overcome will bring us closer because they will be free to be themselves, honestly revealing the reason for their “moods”, or feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability all the while seeing in me the belief that they are good and want the good. I want that for them and for me because though imperfect we are perfectly loved by God.
Grace arrives and rather than move away from my husband in an effort to shame him for his “bad mood” and contempt, I move toward him. I ask him what he is feeling and why. There is no agenda so there is no advice or “helping”. I just listen and understand. This allows me to walk in his “shoes”. I ask him what he wants and easily I see he is good and wants the good. I can see his mood dissipating as he decides how to move for himself. He says, “I feel badly because I took my bad day out on our son.” I say, “I know, I’ve done it too.” I did know because I too had not learned to express my feelings as a child. Without the tools to manage them it was easy to let anger, resentment and frustration build. Sadly, it resulted in me taking it out on the easiest and most innocent targets around, my children, driving wedges and creating walls between us. In the “House of Shame” being right was all that mattered. I don’t want that anymore, instead I want close, authentic loving relationships. It means accepting responsibility rather than defending or justifying, it means repenting of my ugliness rather than denying it. It’s hard but it’s worth it because by doing so, GRACE ABOUNDS!
My husband calls my son in and apologizes to him for taking his anger and frustrations of the day out on him. He says, “I was ugly and you don’t deserve it. My moods are my problem, not yours, I’m sorry. I want you to know that I’ve lost hats, wallets, keys, and about everything else you can think of at one time or another. It’s part of life’s struggles but it doesn’t determine your value or your goodness. I will be sad for you if you don’t get to play and I know you will be upset, but it will pass and you will learn from the experience as I have. Maybe the coach has another hat you can wear.” I am moved by my husband’s honesty and humility. Watching him extend grace and mercy makes me grateful to God for the opportunity to move to a “House of Grace”.