Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Hearing Aid Fund

Sometimes, my young charges do not receive, with joy and thankfulness, the academic bounty I labor to set before them.

About 2 weeks ago, struggling with a head cold, I explained to E8 the instructions for his language arts assignment. He was to rewrite a passage, adding descriptive adjectives to make the passage more interesting. While I was explaining the assignment to him, he was grumbling, “I know! Do you think I’m stupid?!” When he returned, having copied the passage verbatim without adding any adjectives, I had the audacity to insist that he redo it correctly. At this point, he roared directly into my ears. My ears did not stop ringing for over an hour. This resulted in the creation of the hearing aid fund.

A mason jar now sits atop our microwave bearing the label, “Hearing Aid Fund.” Every time someone uses their voice as a weapon, yelling loudly enough to potentially damage someone’s hearing, the guilty party is to put a dollar into the hearing aid fund, to cover a (very small) portion of our future hearing aid expenses. This was all well and good. After 3 or 4 more explosions, E8 has done a much better job of controlling his voice, if not his heart attitude. Then came the time I had to put a dollar in.

I had a pretty good reason. H2, who is in the throes of potty training, was wearing a pull-up diaper that morning. While I was finishing our morning lessons, he suddenly entered the kitchen, stark naked, and threw the diaper, now wet, onto the kitchen table. I looked him right in the eyes, and screamed at him. Just like E8 had done to me earlier that week. Wow. I don’t like it when that kind of ugliness comes out of my kids, but I like it even less when it comes out of me.

I have had other lapses. There was the afternoon when H2 reddened my bedroom. While I thought he was napping, he found a red permanent marker atop a box in my room and proceeded to decorate the bedspread, pillowslip, wood floor, walls, boxes, and plastic drawers. He also found a test tube from a fish tank water test kit, broke it, cut his finger with it, but kept quiet because he knew I’d come and spoil his fun if he made a noise. My first inkling of the mess upstairs was discovering the broken glass on the steps after he’d already come down. There were bloody fingerprints on a few objects, though I only noticed them after I’d spent some time untangling the thread from my sewing machine that he’d wrapped around various objects in the room, tidying up the curriculum items I’d taken out to show a friend that he'd strewn on the floor, and vacuuming up the broken glass. That time I yelled to keep him (and everyone else) downstairs while I tried to diminish the hazardous nature of our bedroom floor. When I started finding the bloody fingerprints, I stopped seeing red and was able to speak gently to him to ask about the injury (it wasn’t serious). But I had to think: before I knew he was hurt, why was I unable to speak kindly to him, to gently request the other children to help keep him out of the way, instead of resorting to a default of increasing the volume – and then, so suddenly, to change to a much more kind, effective approach when I found the blood? Wasn’t my anger like broken glass in its own way, cutting up the atmosphere of peace in our home and hurting my children?

Yesterday, I didn’t yell at H2. I roared at the world, though, when I got up from doing some necessary school planning at the computer and saw the mess in the living room. My deduction of the train of events is that H2 had removed a clean towel from the basket of unfolded laundry, placed it in the toilet until it was sodden, and then dragged it back into the living room and set it on the couch, where the water seeped in for however long it took for me to find it. I was still fuming at him (and snapping at everyone else on the slightest provocation) until church this morning. Perhaps it was just the opportunity to sit still for a few minutes, but suddenly this phrase came into my mind:

A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

I’d read this quote from Amy Carmichael many months ago. The full quote is, “If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

I know nothing of Calvary love.

Calvary love is the love of the one who had all the rights and privileges of being God, but willingly emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. If I am unwilling to clean up a mess, even a disgusting mess, without yelling or grumbling, what do I know of the love that gave up even his own life to serve and save me?

Calvary love is patient and kind; it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. Love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

I’ve heard these passages before (Philippians 2, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4:7-8). I’ve memorized them. “God, I know! Do you think I’m stupid?!” But when I lose my temper and yell, or complain at the sudden jolts and jars that reveal the true state of my heart, I know I have a long way yet to go before I know anything of Calvary love. Am I so focused on the minor irritations of this life that I am unable to listen to Jesus? Have I been spiritually deaf?

O Lord, sometimes, I do not receive, with joy and thankfulness, the lessons in love you labor to set before me.