One day, I opened my front door and walked into a warzone.
A child screamed, “You are so MEAN!” and another replied with throat-tearing anger.
They ran to me with accusations, tears. I commanded deep breaths, but the raw emotions were just too strong. Charges of the worst kind brought before me, loudly, by two children with wet cheeks and red eyes.
It was impossible to sort out. Each child’s view was raw, skewed, and conflicted with the others’. I didn’t see what happened.
But I could see what was in front of me. Two kids, with hearts like fists, clenched in anger; in anger and hurt. Their ears were closed to reason, and the anger everywhere escalated. My own heart was balling up, and I was tempted to smash them all for being so irrational and dramatic.
What to do? We needed to be to church in 10 minutes. Do we try to stuff it and go? Do we skip and sit in this house full of burning anger until it’s all sorted out? I wasn’t sure. So I guessed. We went.
And God's Word poured down like cooling rain, and the storm settled a bit.
After church, the children were much calmer, ready to forgive and forget and move on as if there had never been a war in our living room. Sorry children, this mama prayed for wisdom, and it does not seem wise to simply pretend this never happened. Your throats still hurt, don’t they? Perhaps your hearts do too. Let’s talk.
I sat them all on the step.
I couldn’t find the gasoline. It would have been much more spectacular if I had.
I tried to kindle their imaginations instead.
“Children, imagine that I have a small pile of twigs in my hand, and one of them has a tiny spark.”
They look, imagine. Two start looking for real sticks I can use, and a red leaf for the spark, and someone offers to get matches. (No, please stop. Sit down. Thanks, but no thanks. I really just need you to focus right now.)
Again, my hands. “A spark. A tiny one, like a tiny little conflict. Someone is sitting in someone’s chair. Someone accidentally bumped someone. A tiny problem.”
We pretend to see the smallness.
“Now, what would happen if I poured some gasoline on this little spark?”
Boys jump up, arms wide, yelling “Ka BOOM!” I nod and then, look up to the sky, helping them “see” the bonfire. I pull back my hands.
“Oh, it’s HOT!” I exclaim. It is hot, and it hurts.
I shake off the bonfire in my hands. Again, we imagine the tiny spark.
“What would happen if I poured water on this tiny spark?”
“It would go out.”
Right. And there would be no explosion, no heat, no out-of control hurt.
(The younger children gaze off. Wet twigs are boring. But the older children nod with understanding)
“When you live around other people, chances are, you’re going to get hurt. It could be because they do something on purpose, or it could be an accident. But know, that this is part of life in this world. You will feel hurt and frustration and anger. Those sparks will come.
“When we get hurt or angry, we are tempted to lash out. When we do, with our words or actions or even attitudes, it’s like adding more to the fire: more twigs, more gasoline, more flames. And then the other person lashes out, and the fire just gets bigger and bigger until everyone is hurt and it’s out of control. That’s what I think happened here, do you agree?”
“Now, let’s go back to the twig with the spark. If we pour water on it, it goes out. How can we ‘pour water’ on a conflict?
“We can forgive,” says one with arms crossed.
“We can let it go.”
“We can use kind words.”
They are not happy with these answers, but they know they must be said.
“Right, you’ve got the idea. You can reply with kindness, or remove yourself from the situation if that is not possible. You can even pray for the other person like Jesus says. The bottom line is: love. Love puts out the fires, and cools our tempers like water.”
(More nods. No smiles.)
“This is really hard isn’t it?”
“Let me ask you something else: If there was a real little fire here on the front porch, what would you have to do before you could put it out?”
“Go in the house and get a cup with some water.”
(‘No, a bucket.’ ‘No, a cup would be fine.’ ‘Not my Mickey cup.’ ‘GUYS! Focus!’)
“None of you have hands full of water right now, do you? You’d have to go get some water. It’s the same thing with this kind of love. God knows our hearts are sinful. He knows we’d rather fight back, and be mean, and add gasoline to the fire. But thanks be to Jesus, we don’t have to act that way. Jesus gives His love; Jesus gives us water.
“So if you’re in the middle of a conflict and nothing is coming out of your mouth but more gasoline, more fire, then you need to stop, leave the situation, and go get some water. And we get it by praying to Jesus, by reading His Word, be receiving His love for us. So, next time we have a blowup like that, let’s all try to remember to 'go get some water.'”
Hugs and prayers follow. They are dismissed. As they walk through the front door, more sparks ignite. I watch them as they clomp through the front door, and I see more sparks fly out from under boots that step on other feet. But the sparks go out quickly, this time.
Father, forgive us for hurting each other. Fill us with your love and help us love each other. Refresh us Lord ,in Jesus, Amen.
Refresh us, Lord, with your gifts from above.
You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
let salvation spring up,
let righteousness flourish with it;
I, the Lord, have created it.
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water
welling up to eternal life.”
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Do you find it hard to "cool" the conflicts in your life?
Do you find it hard to "cool" the conflicts in your life?