Yesterday I accompanied my sister-in-law Esther into Savannah in order to care for her 18-month-old, Teddy, while she went to a doctor appointment. Teddy is a wonderful little boy, evidence of God's healing power since he was born extremely clubfooted and today is walking and running around like any other kid his age. But that is not what this post is about today. Today I'm thinking about the incredible influence adults have on children, as we set examples for them with our lives.
While Teddy and I were waiting for his mommy to have her appointment, we spent two hours together playing and interacting. One of the first things I did was to take him into a garden that the hospital maintains as a "Meditation Garden." This means that there are benches, flowers, and a beautiful fountain. I like it in there because there are lots of things to entertain a one-and-a-half-year-old, and it's quiet and breezy. While in there, we were looking at the fountain when another lady came up to us with a little two-year-old girl. (Who, by the way was her niece, not her daughter, whom she was caring for while the girl's mom was at an appointment, and it turns out this lady has two daughters, 12 and 14, and they home school...but I'll leave that conversation for another post.) She started giving the little girl, Megan, pennies to throw in the fountain. Now, Teddy likes to throw things (usually rubber balls,) and when he saw this interesting activity he immediately began to ask me for coins by holding his little hand up and rubbing his fingers together. Within just a few minutes he had learned a new behavior--how to toss a coin into a fountain. Later, after having gone elsewhere and played for a while, we returned to the Meditation Garden, and he immediately began asking for pennies. But wait, before I get to that, let me tell you about another thing I taught him.
After being in the garden for a while, I decided to take Teddy out into a larger outdoor eating area where we could throw the ball and give him a snack. We played for a while, and then I gave him a little container with raisins in it. He ate a lot of them and then started throwing them on the ground. Now, I knew that at home he gets disciplined for throwing food on the floor, so I said, "No, no, Teddy, we don't throw food on the floor." He scowled at me a little, but then obeyed and set his little container down. (He's really a VERY good little kid.) When his back was turned, or so I thought, I scooped up the six or seven raisins he had thrown on the ground so that he wouldn't eat them. But, what to do with them? The nearest trash container was, oh, about 15 feet away. It was hot out, and I was tired. Should I get up and walk the 15 feet? Teddy still wasn't looking (I thought) so I chucked them into some bushes that were handy, right next to our bench. My laziness had a profound consequence. About two minutes later, when Teddy got tired of throwing his little ball around, he walked over to the bench and picked up the container of raisins. "Oh, he's still hungry," I thought. Wrong. He sauntered over to the bushes next to the bench, reached his chubby little hand in the container, and began throwing raisins into the bushes! There was nothing I could do about it. He had obeyed me when I told him to stop throwing the raisins on the ground, but then I had set the example for him by throwing them in the bushes. How could I then tell him to stop? I used the "distract and divert" approach to draw his attention elsewhere, and stowed the snack container in his bag.
After that we returned to the Meditation Garden, and he began asking for coins again. Of course, I had set the example for him by throwing some in earlier, and allowing him to, also. It was at that point that I began to ponder this: what kind of example am I setting for my own children? Teddy learned these new behaviors so quickly, and there would be no sense in telling him "no" when he saw a trusted adult doing them. So I started thinking--which of my children's behaviors that drive me nuts am I directly responsible for?
When my son's room is a mess--have I set a good example with my mess on the kitchen counter?
When my daughter reacts with heightened emotion and impatience to something--have I set a good example with my sudden anger and impatience?
When my kids put off doing something they've been asked to do--have I set a good example with my "just a minute" or "I'll be right there" that doesn't come true?
The list is quite long, and it's too painful to continue in this venue. I'm sure my family could enumerate many areas where my own example falls dismally short of the demands I place on others.
In John 13:15, Jesus, having just washed his disciple's feet, said, "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you." Jesus, our ultimate example. Throughout His life He set us the perfect example, which we are to follow. I always meditate on Philippians 2:1-11 although I know how short I am of the mark. I feel very humbled by these thoughts today, as I ponder the ways I need to change and grow in order to be a better wife and mother--be more like Christ. Thankfully, I know that the Holy Spirit is working in me to produce His fruit in my life, since I cannot effect these changes on my own power.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24