I was first introduced to Helen Lee through a real life friend we share in common. That was the same year she released her book The Missional Mom, which I read with my Mom’s Group here in San Francisco. I so appreciate her book for the hope she offers: that moms who want to live intentionally, who want to engage the culture around them, actually can be missionally-minded in the midst of raising a family. I’m honored to have her with us today.
My ten-year-old son is spewing angry grunts in his room, followed by sounds of objects being thrown around–pillows, thankfully, but a pillow thrown in frustration still projects the thrower’s mood even if it lands soft. I stop by to see what’s caused the little episode and can’t miss the dark cloud hovering around his face. “I can’t DO this!” he fumes, throwing his AWANA book onto the pillow which sailed through the room earlier. “It’s too hard. I’m just bad at memorizing. It’s too much!”
AWANA, a children’s club which typically meets weekly at churches all over the country and world, features a Bible memorization program at the heart of its activities. My son has already finished his book for the year, so the issue is not that he isn’t able to memorize verses. But he has been doing extra credit work to try to earn special recognition, and the final tasks involve effort worthy of that recognition.
I sit down on his bed and invite him to do the same. He stays standing, still simmering. “Do you want some help? I’d be happy to help you. But I can only help you if you have P.A.”
P.A. is our little acronym which means “positive attitude.” It is a short way of communicating a phrase which we find ourselves coming back to as parents, over and over and over again: “Attitude is a little thing which makes a big difference.” As my boys have grown, past the toddler phase, past the early elementary phase, the challenges have become less about teaching basic behavioral rules (“don’t run into the street!”) and more about the shaping of the heart, of building a character that is God-honoring and that will remain steadfast throughout their lives.
And, truth be told, the lessons that I am trying to help my kids learn in these areas are exactly the same ones I find myself needing to work on myself. How many times do I catch myself in a grumpy mood, unable to hide it from my family, and realizing too late that my negativity is spilling over into the lives of those around me? How often have I struggled with letting the mundane realities of life overcome the everlasting truths that could nourish me and sustain me if I just spent even just a second or two to remember them?“P.A, Mom, P.A.!” my son will call out to me when he catches me in those less-than-admirable moments. “You know what you say about attitude!” The same son that now stands before me, still glowering, even while I know that in his line of sight is the very poster hanging in his room proclaiming the very idea I’m about to say. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
I tell him, “I don’t care as much whether you are able to finish all these extra credit assignments in time. But I do care how you go about doing them. I would rather you have a positive attitude and try your best and not finish, than have a poor attitude and finish. C’mon, I’ll help you. Let’s work on it together.”
His anger lessens, he decompresses, and what remains is a still-young boy, struggling to work out what it means to “rejoice in the Lord always” when life makes it hard to do so. We spend the next half hour or more wrestling over his task of learning the ten verses and 228 words which comprise Galatians 3:19-28, and with his newfound willingness to persevere with a positive attitude, he accomplishes what seemed impossible just an hour earlier.
“Thanks, Mom,” he says with a grateful hug. “It was so much easier when I stopped being so grumpy about it.”
True for him, true me, true for us all. I hug him back and pray that I won’t forget this moment myself the next time I’m tempted to wallow in negativity. Some lessons take a lifetime to learn.