Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Scripture: Portraits of Love

Last night, after we finished our chapter of Narnia, Benjamin said, "Mommy, where's that verse about a harsh word and a gentle word?"

"The one that says, 'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger'?" I asked.


"I think it's on your door, your bedroom door."

"No, that's the one about the honeycomb," he corrected ("Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones").

"Oh, yeah." I thought a moment. "Maybe that one's on the refrigerator door. Why?" I asked, wondering what had triggered this sudden interest.

"I've found myself thinking about it a lot in my head lately," he said, all thoughtfulness and sincerity.

"Mmm. That happens to me sometimes. Do you understand what it means?" I asked.

"Not really..." he said, his words trailing like an invitation.

So we defined "wrath" and talked about what happens in a conversation when someone is angry. We discussed why a gentle response helps a person settle down inside while a harsh word makes him even more angry. After, I prayed and sang with him and tucked him in bed, marveling that the verses are finding their way into his heart.

Several weeks ago, I had been thinking about how often I return to the Scripture I have memorized, how utterly valuable those words have proven in my life. One of the greatest gifts my dad gave me as a child was that he quoted Scripture consistently enough that the words became engraved in my mind. Years of Sunday School and Bible studies and sermons and reading added to the well of verses from which I draw. They serve as a kind of compass in my life, pointing me true north to what is unshakeable, unchangeable, even as the sand shifts beneath my feet.

Always, they return me to faith, hope, love. Ultimately, they renew my mind, transforming my perspective, and, in turn, my actions.

I long for my kids to have this same reserve of truth to turn to when they're frightened or confused or despairing or tempted to believe a lie. I want them to have these words buried deep in their hearts, not as some kind of prescriptive that meters out rules and regulations and shoulds and should nots for them and those around them, but as a source of strength and comfort and steadiness to rest upon when the vertigo of life sets in. I want them to know the Scriptures for themselves so that when they hear someone else twisting them and turning them into weapons of fear and hate and judgement, they will remember this is what matters: to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.

So one morning while the kids were at school, I hung about a dozen Bible verses up around our apartment: in the kids' room, on my bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator. I chose verses that reflected promises or wisdom relevant to our family's daily life and wrote them in black sharpie on funky notecards I bought at Target for lunchbox notes.

The kids came home that afternoon and immediately ran around reading them all. Abby asked me to read the longer verses with harder words. As I anticipated, they paid attention to them for about twenty-four hours, and then the notecards faded into the background of sleeping, waking, eating, playing, arguing, laughing, crying, loving.

Last night was the first evidence that the words are taking residence within them. I love that Benjamin has found himself pondering that verse. Indeed, as the verbal round and rounds escalate here, I find myself thinking about what kind of response helps and what kind hurts.

Does a sharp response ever help my little people recover from their spiraling emotions? Does raising my voice ever improve the attitude of an incensed eight-year-old? Harshness may temporarily win outward compliance, but it leaves a wake of anger in our relationship.

In truth, I've held on to the premises and promises of Scripture more tightly than ever before as I've navigated the failure-fraught waters of motherhood. No other life experience has magnified my short-comings as clearly as parenthood. No other endeavor has required as much faith in God's ability to redeem me and my messes, my kids and their messes. Daily, I return to verses like these:

"He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it."
"Perfect love casts out fear."
"Love is patient, love is is not easily angered, it keeps no record of always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
"He who is forgiven much, loves much."
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and He shall make your path straight."

Which means daily, I am returned to God, who IS perfect Love and casts out fear of failure and evil and forsakenness. Through Scripture, I am pointed to Jesus, through whom we've been forgiven everything so that we will love without limit. I am reminded that I am not required to keep a record of wrongs for anybody, including myself.

Scripture shows me what Love looks like in a fallen world, and the more I ponder those glimpses, the more I love and forgive. And the more my kids are loved and forgiven, the more they will love and forgive. Through these verbal portraits of our Maker, we come to see the character of God as gentle, kind, forbearing. We learn that he hopes all things, endures all things, and believes all things for us. And we come to know in the depths of our souls how wide and long and high and deep is His love for us and this world.

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