Like many of us, Matthew, my six year-old son, continues to learn how to handle BIG feelings. Just today he was having trouble listening and obeying my instructions so I took away a privilege. At this point the little guy became very upset with BIG reactions. Once my little negotiator realized he couldn’t talk me into restoring his privilege, his upset escalated. This interaction was heading south while negative emotions intensified.
At this point we were driving home and he started saying he wished he was never made. Talk about painful and intense! When I heard this, I synchronized with him. I validated his BIG feelings and affirmed that he must be very mad and super sad to wish he was never made. I shared how his absence would make Mommy, Daddy and little brother very sad since we love him and are glad he is in our family. Next, I mentioned that because Jesus is the One who made him, we should ask Jesus if there is anything He would want us to know about this. After a few moments of listening, Matthew said he didn’t hear anything because he wasn’t listening. It was clear to me this was not the right time to force an interaction with Jesus but some mutual quieting was needed.
My husband Chris and I make a purposeful effort to interact with Jesus on a daily basis, during good and hard times. This daily pursuit of interaction with the Living God is what we and our colleagues call an Immanuel Lifestyle. We desire to pass on this example and teach our boys the same purposeful skill. Because of this goal, we have given the boys practice since they were young. This process works best if the boys begin from a place of appreciation and gratitude, so we start out by inviting the boys to talk about something that, “makes them smile.” Next, we encourage them to ask Jesus what He wants each of them to know, then we suggest they pause and pay attention to thoughts or images that come to mind. After several seconds we follow up with the question, “Did Jesus give you any ideas or pictures?” and we wait for a response. We help the boys sort through the responses in their heads in order to figure out whether a thought brings them peace and if it lines up with what Jesus might say to them. As parents, it is important that we maintain our connection with Jesus as we walk with our children through this process and help them discern their thoughts. We have had success with the boys since they were 3 years old, although their responses are more consistent as they grow older.
Now back to Matthew’s BIG feelings. So, after some quieting and a bit of time passed, I entered his room, sat on the floor and started playing with him and his Legos. While we were playing, I asked him to tell me about something that brings a smile to his face. Matthew quickly shared about his favorite swing set from our summer vacation. After a few minutes of reminiscing, I mentioned how sad I felt earlier in the day when he was sad and mad, and he wished he wasn’t made. He looked down for a moment then I suggested we ask Jesus what we should know about those BIG feelings. After asking and listening, Matthew shared that he had a picture of Jesus standing in front of him with a BIG smile on His face. This made me smile. I affirmed that this picture sounded like a gift from Jesus since Jesus is glad to see him. I then suggested Matthew ask Jesus what he should know about the image in his mind. After a few moments Matthew said with a smile, “Jesus said He is glad that He made me because He loves me.” This thought gave both of us BIG grins! I suggested Matthew follow up once more to see if there is anything else Jesus wanted him to know. Now Matthew answered that he had a funny movie in his head, so I suggested he check in and ask Jesus what Matthew should know about the funny movie. Matthew replied, “Jesus likes to be silly with me because He loves me”. We ended the interaction with giggles and big smiles.
While I have no doubt there will be more moments where BIG feelings arise, and possibly other times Matthew wishes he wasn’t made, at least now we have a foundation we can build on. Now I can refer him back to this so that Matthew can reconnect with Jesus.
I share this because all of us can model what it looks like to talk with Jesus about anything and everything. Our children, grandchildren, friends and community can learn that Jesus is a good place to turn to during moments of joy or when painful emotions and problems strike. We do not have to be perfect parents but skill practice goes a long way. One of the best gifts we can give our children is the opportunity to discover that Jesus is always present and available. In this way God’s patient and gentle presence becomes a never-ending resource to carry them through the ups and downs of life.