Two nights in a row I was up cuddling children that couldn’t sleep. The first night I was cuddling Aidan, Cassie’s son, who was sleeping over and feeling homesick. I had sent him to bed multiple times but the kids just couldn’t sleep. Finally, I brought him into my bed and snuggled in close. Within minutes, his breathing changed and his body became limp. The second night I was cuddling Eve, my daughter. For some reason she couldn’t settle down. So I climbed up onto the top bunk where she sleeps and wrapped my arms around her. Once again, just a couple minutes of snuggling close did the trick. She soon fell fast asleep.
While I was laying on the top bunk the second night it occurred to me that both Aidan and Eve relaxed and fell asleep much quicker when I responded with love and compassion. Reminding them it was time to be quiet didn’t work. Telling them to stop talking didn’t work. Being firm didn’t work. Now, I am not advocating for no structure, routine, or consequences when kids misbehave, but I do believe it takes discernment to know when to respond with firmness and when to respond with compassion.
And that is why just a few days after admitting that I like challenges for all the wrong reasons I created another challenge for myself. This one, I believe, is for the right reasons and it applies to my children too. The challenge, you ask? To use a gentle voice when talking (meaning no yelling or losing control) and to use gentle ears when listening (meaning you stop and pay attention so the person talking knows you’re listening).
I created this challenge for my family because we seem to keep falling into a cycle where I ask the kids to do something and they don’t acknowledge me. So I ask louder. They may start moving to do something but they still haven’t acknowledged me so I don’t know what they’re planning to do. In frustration, I yell and then my kids often say, “but I was listening!” The solution seemed clear to me. If they listen, I won’t yell. And if I don’t yell, they learn a lot more than outward obedience. They learn gentleness and self control.
Also, if I stop and listen to them when they’re trying to tell me something, they don’t go to such great lengths to get my attention. It dawned on me as ironic that I resort to raising my voice to get a point across to my children when they get corrected for the same behavior. I’m afraid that if I dig deep and honestly into my heart I’ll find many similar scenarios, and that is a very sobering thought. So I have challenged myself to change and have asked my kids to keep me accountable. This way, they can learn to control themselves by watching me and I can set an example worthy for them to follow.
The moment of conviction came to me in the example of one of the most godly women ever recorded: the Proverbs 31 woman. And though she possesses many qualities worthy of admiration, there is one in particular that has captured me these past several months, and it is this: Proverbs 31:26 – “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instruction with kindness.”
In one word, she is gentle. When confronted, her response is gentle even if she is being wronged. When teaching others, her approach is gentle even when it seems they will never learn. When correcting her children, her words are gentle even though she is frustrated. She is the embodiment of Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
I used to laugh about the way I get riled up about certain things. Not everything, but some things. The things I really care about. The things that really matter. In my eyes, the reaction was proof of my passion, and life with no passion is bland. I’m not interested in a dispassionate existence. But having children has taught me something important. Hot-headed retorts and firey reactions are not what measures passion. Steadily pursuing a long term change is.
Just as meekness is power under control, I believe that gentleness is passion under control. It is the understanding that a kind response has a long term impact while a harsh one only causes harm. When I react harshly to my kids behavior, then I may earn physical obedience, but I may also lose their hearts. Kindness, gentleness, secures a heart change, and that is really what I desire for them.
It takes a lot of strength to be gentle, something that can only be achieved by God’s divine power working within us (2 Peter 1:3). How do you show gentleness to others?
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23a
Thick and Creamy Squash Soup
It wouldn’t be fall without soup! Squash soup, that is. Here’s how I like my squash soup.
1 medium squash, cut into cubes
2-4 cups of chicken broth (enough to fill the bottom inch of your pot)
1 can coconut milk (or more)
1 – 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
dash of cayenne pepper
Fill the bottom of a dutch oven or large pot with chicken broth, the liquid should come up about one inch. Add the squash chunks and cover. (Actually, adding a little chopped sweet potato or carrot to this makes it even better, but just squash is yummy too!). Set the burner to medium-high to high heat and steam the veggies. That’s right – steam them! Watch the liquid levels carefully to make sure you don’t burn the squash to the bottom of the pan.
When the veggies are fork tender, add the can of coconut milk and the spices. With an immersion blender, liquify everything until no chunks remain. The soup will be thick. You can add more chicken broth or coconut milk to loosen it up if you like. Taste and adjust the spices. Enjoy the yummiest bowl of squash soup ever!