02 June 2011

From the Outside In


A re-post, shared after a family vacation:

Echoes of words bound down the steps and cut my ears. Jagged sound waves from angry lips. My feet pursue the sharp waves as they ring louder and louder as I grow closer and closer to the source. Following their path into the fray of... sibling discord. Once the adult had left the room, botherings, annoyances led to harsh words and mean hands. Once the adult returns, new sound waves quickly rush from little lips, all beginning with those self-protecting pronouns. “He wouldn’t stop...” “But she said...” “He kept on...”

The deafening silence of “I.” Where is the “I?” The one simple word that is really behind all the rest. Me, mine, my... yet, never uttered, never confessed as “I.”

Slowly, calmly, I reach through the jagged waves and ask, seek to find and hear the “I.”

Reluctantly, yet gratefully quickly, they come. Confessions of their own sins, their own rush to harsh words and attitudes that bruise the spirit. I finally hear the “I.” This is what I did, they say. The tone in the room completely changes. The jagged waves of hostility vanish. Sheepish and tender spirits wait for what comes next.

I pause. Normally, I would tell the children that they already know what to do. Because they do. The confessions, specific and clear, would be made to one another along with requests for forgiveness, granted. But today, we needed more. Something to move the reality of forgiveness and love beyond sound waves from the lips to choices of the mind to actions from the heart.

With a quick reminder that one’s character is proven when Mommy and Daddy are not in the room, I told the children to prepare for an assignment. They would serve one another in a simple, yet hopefully memorable way. It was simple: Given that we were on vacation, they would each re-pack a sibling’s suitcase with great attention and love. Each item carefully folded and put into place. Giving it their best. But the challenge was not in the task itself, it was in the attitude they would choose. I required that it be done cheerfully, lovingly, humbly. No one in the room possessed that frame of mind and heart at the moment.

No bother. If you can’t begin from the inside out, do the next best thing, I said. Begin from the outside and go in.

Before touching the suitcase, the first step was to smile. Really smile, until the eyes sparkled. This was the hardest part. Choose to array one’s outside according to one’s choice. To what Another desires of us, the One who created our outsides and insides. Then, hands got busy, taking a smile and spreading it through arms and fingers. Slowly, putting things into place, neat and tidy, while waiting for the Spirit to do the same within. Slowly, true smiles began to appear and sweet waves of quiet purpose floated through the room.

When done, each praised the other for their work with some small spark of genuine gratitude conveyed. It was a start. I built upon the moment and told them that I looked forward to hearing at dinnertime all the other ways that they would discover during the day to “serve their siblings.” That would be the unofficial theme of the day.

One sibling, the eldest, had not given her whole heart. I could tell. She had withheld her best, perhaps still angry, perhaps thinking the exercise was stupid. No bother, she was assigned to make the bed of the child as well. Her first attempt, not her best as before. Told to begin again, she did well. I looked to the other side of the room to see the irony: the child for whom she had not initially given her best had, on his own, quietly made her bed for her without being asked. The seeds that were sown were sprouting in this young boy seedling. The inside was already matching the outside.

And now... I shall pray. Pray that the Spirit will water and spread light on these seeds. That I will take the lesson to my own heart as well. Sometimes, we have to start from the outside in. And as such, so much more is the pure act of obedience that delights my heavenly Father. Start with a smile, a sparkling smile. He will do the rest.

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence
only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and
for it is God who is at work in you, both to
and to work for
His good pleasure.”
--Philippians 2:12-13


1 comment:

Annesta said...

Oh, Sharaya, my dear friend, what a beautiful post. Your children are so blessed to have a momma that prays and that seeks to teach by example and with the word in hand.
May you have peace today and may you enjoy a much needed Sabbath rest tomorrow.
So wonderful to read your beautifully penned words.