~by Christine Gough
Last week my youngest son did the unthinkable. Well…maybe “unthinkable” to the mind of a 40 year old. But, it was “artistic expression” to a three year old. After taking a quick trip to the bathroom, I came out to our living room. And it was way too quiet. My expected fears led me to look at our new couch in apprehension.
Sure enough as I squinted and looked more closely, a fine yet very distinguishable brown line came into view. It wove its way up the back of the couch. It meandered along the top of the L-shaped sectional. The brown line ran down the arm rest and came to rest in a dark back-and-forth pattern along the front leg. Our brand new couch. Our not even 1 month old NEW couch. The lava volcano inside me came to life and words unrepeatable here started coming out of my mouth in rapid succession. Two choice words over and over. In a very tidy A-B-A-B-A-B pattern. Maybe 50 times.
After picking up the culprit and putting him safely out of my reach in a very long time out, I went to take a closer look. My eldest found the pen and of course it was one of the recent 99 cent “Back-to-School” deals I’d scored at Target. And thus, the marker didn’t have the magic words “washable” stamped on the side.
I promptly grabbed the phone and called my father-in-law. He truly is THE stain master with uncanny abilities to help deal with the impossible. After a few minutes of heated words from me, I started calming down enough to allow the smoke to stop pouring out of my ears. We chatted about orphanages being part of the official “couch warranty” program and then I hung up.
I was greeted at the door by my 7 year old, holding a wet paper towel, having attempted to start removing the marker. This same eldest son also held up a contract for me. In neatly written, mistakenly spelled letters, he wrote, “I, Mommy, promise NEVER to use naughty words again!”, with a line and place to put my signature, along with the date.
We are working a LOT on expected vs. unexpected behaviors in our household lately, and yet I don’t think I was prepared to have it thrown back in my own face. My kids are the ones with UNEXPECTED behaviors for their ages. And c’mon??!?! HE WROTE ON THE COUCH WITH MARKER!!!! But unmoved, my eldest stood there with a clipboard, pen and the promise for me to agree to.
Was my mouthful of patterned expletives called for? Was it “expected” behavior for a 40 year old mom? And even if it might have been “expected” in such a situation, was it fair for my eldest son to call me on it?!
Either way I answered those questions, I knew one thing. I couldn’t sign that form. My best intention is that I will hold my anger and express my frustration appropriately. But signing in permanent pen, promising to never again swear or use naughty words, felt like a conundrum.
While I HOPE I won’t react quite so severely again, I know I’m human. I have seen myself break promise after promise, despite best laid plans, and felt the reminder that a human-made-promise seems almost MADE to be broken.
We promise to love, honor and cherish another in marriage, uttering those words for many to see and witness. We promise to take care of our children, to feed and clothe them, and to surround them with love. We promise to show up on time and do our jobs to the best of our abilities when we sign a contract. But it seems like a futile act, when we KNOW we are bound to mess it all up. Over and over. Time and time again.
How do we help our children and even ourselves, understand the infallible nature of God’s promises when they see the exact opposite from those they love and trust? God promised to never wipe out creation again after the flood. God promised God’s very presence to be with us through the Holy Spirit. God promises a never-ending, always and forever love to surround us.
As I attempt to hold these two realities in tandem for my boys it feels impossible to reconcile it all. As a human, as a mom, as a teacher, I break promises over and over. How do we help those in our care understand our best intentions, our false starts, our missteps, our “re-dos” are part of our own sanctification? How do we remind them that unlike us, we are held by a God who doesn’t need a re-do. A God who doesn’t neglect to follow through or keep a promise?
For me, it comes down to conversation. Open, true, honest, often hard conversation. Sharing space and words together. Talking through mistakes. Admitting the places we failed and fell short. Predicting the times we will, no doubt, mess up in the future. These connecting points give important “lines in the sand” for us to come back to. Moments to reconnect and remember our best intentions. Our goals. And the importance of reconciliation after mistakes.
While I might have chosen not to sign that specific contract my oldest son drafted, I have promised a few things. One, I will do my best to deal with my anger in a less foul way. Secondly, that we will keep circling the wagons. Gathering. Talking. Sharing. Restarting. Trying it again….in hopes we too can keep the promises that really matter. And turn to the God who loves us so deeply when we fail. And finally? Only washable markers will now be available for the kids.