I watch the butterfly meander through the crowd, seemingly oblivious to the excitement just below its fluttering wings. Its laidback beauty and grace provide a stark contrast to the parents on the edges of their seats yelling things like, “Hustle!”, “Stay with it!”, and “Kick it in the goal!”
It’s so easy to get caught up in encouraging our children to be assertive, persistent, goal-oriented people. It’s so easy to cross the line and start conveying that they have to be aggressive and cold-hearted to achieve worldly success. Sometimes this is taught by conscious instruction, and sometimes it is taught simply by the tone of our voice.
While we do want our children to be strong in their faith and maintain an ability to fulfill their God-given mission in life, it is important that we also remember to instruct them in the ways of compassion, gentleness, and mercy.
My hometown experienced a tragedy recently. A mother and her young daughter were killed in a house fire. The fire was arson and the person who set it had carefully poured an accelerant around several rooms in the house before igniting it.
Who is this criminal who is now being charged with premeditated murder and facing the possibility of life in prison?
The mother’s 14-year-old son.
These stories are heart-breaking. Our hearts break for the lives that are lost and for their loved ones left behind. But my heart breaks especially for the boy who set the fire. A boy who is obviously so separated from God that his heart and soul are gravely ill. A boy who is showing no remorse. A boy who is screaming for love.
This is an extreme situation, but as parents we can’t help but wonder, “What went wrong?” and “How do I ensure my children will remain whole and holy people throughout their lives?”
The truth is, we all have free will. And no amount of external gun control, law enforcement, and moral formation will remove the human tendency to sin. The world is full of weapons that can deeply wound others. We’re not just talking about guns and accelerant here. Actions, words, and neglect all have the ability to instill despair and kill a soul.
We must convey to our children that kind and gentle words speak with greater volume than yelling ever will. We must teach our children that a loving touch carries more force than an aggressive one–that compassion and love are what soften our hearts and help us to remain open to the grace of God
It’s the little things that matter. The pleases and thank yous, the tone of voice, the loving pats on the back, the listening with understanding and patience, the encouragement to live a life of virtue and turn away from sin. We do all of these things for our children, and they do all of these things for us.
If the tone of voice was disrespectful, have your child repeat her statement back to you until it conveys love and respect. If you catch yourself asking your children to complete their chores in an exasperated, impatient tone of voice, take a deep breath and try again. Lovingly teach them what they need to do if necessary, but always with kindness and gentleness. If your son hits his brother, sit down for a conversation and encourage forgiveness and hugs. If you feel your temper rising, leave your children in a safe place (or with your spouse) for a moment until you are ready to discipline with control and compassion.
I feel as if I fail so often in these areas. Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out can cause us to fall so short of going the extra mile for our children. But it is in this extra mile that we exhibit God’s strength. It is in this extra mile that God picks up where we fizzled out and parents through us. This is when the critical formation occurs for both us and our children. This is when our hearts become one with God’s and our children follow suit. This is when we cast the devil aside and refuse to allow him to worm his way in to our family’s spiritual strength.
So what became of that butterfly flitting about unnoticed among the crowd of parents focused on soccer victory? It wasn’t long until I heard a small child exclaim, “Look! A butterfly!” and that butterfly flew proudly off, his mission accomplished for the day.
Our children respond to beauty and grace. They notice it. They are captivated by it. Capture your children’s hearts and souls in the net of God’s love by filling your home with gentle words, kind gestures, and compassionate silence. Arm your children with the strength of a butterfly that they will seek to conquer the world and obtain the love they crave with gentleness, sensitivity, and mercy. As St. John Bosco said,
“This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.”
Copyright 2013 Charisse Tierney