Thursday, March 18, 2010
Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Lessons from the Dock
I've heard parables described as "earthly stories with heavenly meaning." I'm so glad that Jesus spoke in parables because I'm one of those people who needs the spiritual Cliff Notes for life. And in my daily walk I often find some kind of lesson from everyday life (some past posts about them are here). Sometimes I think it's God tapping me on the shoulder with something He's trying to teach me (other times it's more like a kick in the rear when I'm being stubborn). And sometimes my tired brain comes up with an analogy to help me teach my children a life lesson.
My children are precious . . . but even precious children need correction, guidance, and an occasional dose of perspective. Often when I'm talking with them, they look as glazed as a Krispy Kreme donut. I'm yapping away like Charlie Brown's teacher (wamp wa wamp wa wamp) and their little cartoon bubbles are saying "Hmmm, I wonder what's for dinner" or "I'm going to nod my head in agreement with the hope that she'll stop talking."
So I make up stories to help them "get it." And today I'm going to share the one that seems to be the most effective with my kids (and one I actually used this week). This story is usually told when my children are not acting responsibly, or are expecting much of me and/or my husband yet offering little in return, or I see a pattern of poor habits and am trying to get them back on track.
My talk starts with: "Life is like a ride in a boat. Right now the boat you travel in is with your family. And in the boat of life there are three kinds of people. First, there are the ones who row. They keep the boat moving forward and on the right course. Then there are people who just sit there as passengers. Not rocking the boat, yet not contributing to move it forward. Last, there are those who continually tip the boat over or row in the wrong direction."
At this point if I hear the mental crickets chirping, I ask them to look me in the eyes while I'm talking. (Then the cartoon bubble reads: "Man, those are some dark circles." )
I continue with, "Dad and I are primarily the ones who row. It is our responsibility and privilege to move the family forward and keep it on course. But sometimes Dad will be traveling for work and I'll be rowing by myself. There may be times that I'm sick or busy with something (a sick child, a writing project, a church/school event) and Dad will be doing much of the rowing."
"Most of the time this isn't a problem because the waters are calm and the load is manageable. But sometimes there's too much loaded in the boat and it's more weight than any one person can carry. It can also be exhausting when the same one or two people do all the rowing by themselves."
"When you guys were younger, we did not expect you to row. It would have been too much for someone so small. So we were content just to have you as a cute little passenger. And we knew that often you would rock the boat by not sleeping through the night or make a mess that you weren't able to clean up. But as you have grown, your weight in the boat is greater thus the need for you to help row has also grown. There are times that it's fine to sit as a passenger--it is a joy to serve you--but there are also times it would be appreciated to have that love shown through service from you. And on occasion you rock the boat with your words or actions. This is difficult because you are now capable to tipping the boat over, adversely affecting the whole family."
At this point, I might have one of my children tune in long enough to say, "I don't get it. We don't own a boat." And that is the time I would be tempted to whack him or her with my figurative oar. But I refrain because I am a woman of great self-control. (My husband is not allowed to comment on this post.)
So I will give some examples to help him/her understand. Some starters would be: "If a child has the blessing of being fed a home-cooked meal, he/she is capable of putting his/her plate in the dishwasher. If he/she is granted the privilege to participate in a sport/activity that requires mom to spend massive amounts of time driving this child to practices, then this same child should use their time wisely with school work and household chores to show that they can manage both and to free mom up to spend time with the other children when home. If this child has a mom willing to do his/her laundry, then the child should put soiled items in the hamper instead of leaving the PE clothes in the backpack to marinate then complain on PE day that the items are not clean. (Of course, my children would NEVER do that.) If he/she would like to have a friend come over to spend the night, then he/she is responsible for making sure the condition of that room does not give their guest nightmares."
The appropriate response to my "Now do you understand?" is "Yes, ma'am." An even better response would be, "Thanks so much for all you do. I'll try to help out more." Words that are not allowed in our home are "it's not fair." I rarely hear those three words because my kiddos know I would let out a moan similar to a cow giving birth, then proceed with another analogy from my mental mommy stash filed under "It's Not Fair Analogies" involving a story about a pitcher of water, or a tube of toothpaste, or if I'm really frustrated maybe the one about toilet paper. (Okay, I don't really have a life lesson about toilet paper, so don't tell them. They haven't yet called my bluff.)
Anyway, the boat analogy was quite effective yesterday. Brad is out of town and it was Arts Festival Day at the girls' school and I was a parent helping with it. I had to get the five of us out the door by 7:15 a.m. (three of us in Wild West attire), drop the boys off (thanks, Martha, for watching them!), and sit in crazy traffic trying to get there. One of my kids gave me a "parenting opportunity" and all I had to say was, "Do. Not. Tip. The. Boat. Over." I heard that much needed "Yes, ma'am" and suddenly, all oars were in the water rowing in unison.
As much as I would like to think this little story only applies to my children, I must admit that this analogy comes in adult-size, too. As I question what I'm doing with my life I must also question what I'm doing in the boat. Am I content to just sit in the boat, in the pew at church, on the sofa at home? Embarrassed to share my faith or unwilling to go outside my comfort zone to serve others--thinking I'm glorifying God by just "being a good example." Or am I tipping the boat over by missing opportunities to witness, or ignoring others in need when it would require sacrifice to help, or choosing my way over God's plan. I need to be willing to row, even when the waters are rough and I don't know where the Almighty Current will take me.
Okay, I know I'm not Hans Christian Anderson so thanks for making it this far. If any of you have your own "Lessons from the . . ." kinds of stories, I'd LOVE to hear them. Feel free to share in the comments section or send me an e-mail (email@example.com) with your story or a link to your blog and I'll share them in a post.
Gotta run. I need to get the kids to bed and the boat to the dock.
Wearing My Life Jacket,