Let your gentleness be known to all ... ~ Phil. 4:5
I wasn't trying to hurt my daughter. But I wasn't trying to not hurt her, either. And sometimes, that's the same thing.
Tera was six--old enough, I felt, to learn how to brush her own hair. Now, I'm not a monster (although you may disagree by the end of this post). I didn't simply toss the brush at her and say, "You're on your own." No, we went through Brushing 101 together first. I showed slides of various brushes, discussed the pros and cons of both natural and synthetic bristles, demonstrated the proper gripping stance, showed her how to start at the bottom and get the tangles out before moving to the top, and took her to a brush factory so she could get a real feel for the product.
She passed the course with top scores. She handled her final project (bed-hair) beautifully. So I assumed we'd have no problems. What I didn't count on was the soon-apparent fact that she didn't like brushing her hair.
"Tera!" I'd call up the stairs. "We're leaving in twenty minutes. Make sure your hair is brushed."
I'd check about ten minutes later. "Are you ready?"
And then, five minutes from go-time, she'd come galloping down the stairs and I'd discover the truth. She hadn't detangled so much as a single strand of hair.
"Didn't you hear me?" I'd ask.
"Then why isn't your hair brushed?"
"I didn't want to."
The first time or two, I felt perplexed. Then I moved straight to "vexed." The child was defying me, pure and simple. Worse than that, she was making me late. I have enough tardiness issues of my own without additional help from my children.
Soon, I dispensed with the niceties altogether. "Brush!" I'd yell upstairs. "Or I'll do it for you."
It didn't take long for her to figure out the threat in that sentence. What I was really saying was, You do it or I'll do it. One of us will be gentle. Guess who?
Oh, it grieves me to have to bare my soul this way. But there's a good lesson in all this.
When the five-minute point arrived, and I called her to my side, nine times out of ten, she hadn't heeded my warning. Her hair would be a mess. And I'd shrug my shoulders, sigh, and say, "Then you've left me no choice. I'll have to do it for you." Like I said at the beginning: I wasn't trying to hurt her. But I took no great pains to ensure that I didn't, either. If I encountered a tangle, I removed it. Without tenderness.
"Ow!" she'd exclaim.
My answer was always the same: "If you don't like the way I do your hair, you should probably do it yourself." I wanted her to wise up.
One day, my sister arrived to pick us up after just such an ordeal. "Why is Tera crying?" Tarri asked.
"She didn't like the way I brushed her hair."
Tarri groaned. "Oh, I so remember how I felt every time Mom came at me with that brush. My heart pounded while I waited for that first thump on my head. I just knew it was going to be awful."
And I turned to my sister and actually said, "Oh, Tarri ... if I'd known, I would have brushed your hair so you didn't have to go through all that."
The second the words left my mouth, I heard Hmmm. Just like that. I heard a heavenly "Hmmm." I'm familiar with that sound. It always means a "talk" is in my future. And sure enough, later that day, I got alone with God and heard the rest of the conversation.
I went out on our front porch when we got home and sat on the swing. And the moment I quieted down, God asked me a question. Could you not be gentle with her for my sake?
He couldn't have spoken more clearly if he were sitting next to me on that swing. I heard--and felt so convicted, I burst into tears. I'd been approaching Tera on the basis of principle. She needed a lesson. She had to learn. She couldn't get away with defying me. I even comforted myself with assurances that such skills ensured her independence down the road.
But when you take principle out of the equation, sometimes your footing crumbles. I thought about it for about two seconds, and then I made a promise. "Yes, Lord. I can treat her gently for your sake."
The next morning, I got my chance. "Ready?" I yelled up the stairs.
"Yep," she answered back. But when she came down, I saw it wasn't so.
"Bring me your brush," I said.
She gave me a fearful look, slumped her shoulders, and trudged reluctantly back upstairs.
I waited for her on the couch. "Sit right here." I pointed to the carpet between my feet.
She sat, and tensed.
I held her hair in my hands and imagined that it belonged to Jesus. I imagined that somehow, I'd been given the privilege to bless him with my brush. And I imagined that through my slow and careful motions, I might convey just a tiny bit of my love for him.
With every stroke, Tera relaxed more. And when I finished, and her hair was shiny and smooth and beautiful, she turned and smiled at me. "That didn't hurt at all, Mom."
No, it didn't. It actually felt quite wonderful.