If you asked what I would like for Mother’s Day, I would say, “To be outside on an adventure with my family!” But since this Mother’s Day was 50 degrees and raining, I had to settle for second best: Games with my family. A little healthy competition is good for the soul – and our cabin fever!
On the table this Sunday were rounds of Flinch and Ticket to Ride. I love these games because even though there’s some luck involved, the overall results come down to strategy and decision-making, which are skills I want my kids to develop.
Part of the strategy in these games involves deciding whether or not to block another player from making a move. If I’m playing against an adult, I don’t hesitate (although they’re usually the ones blocking me). But with my kids I think twice.
If there’s a “7” out in the middle and I have an “8” in my hand, I have the option to play it or not play it. Knowing the child to my left has an “8” on her stack and has been waiting for several rounds for that “7” to appear so she can play that “8,” I have the choice to hold back so that she can make her move. But I also have the choice to play my own game, thereby blocking her (and dealing with the inevitable tears).
Or say my selected train route goes through Duluth and Winnipeg, which is where the child to my right also happens to be headed. There’s only one direct rail between these two destinations, and I’ve already collected the four black cards needed to secure it. If I play them, I’ll block her (and prepare for immediate emotional meltdown). Or I can let her have it and sacrifice the points.
I want my kids to succeed. I want their strategies to work out. I want their decision-making efforts to be rewarded. And I hold in my hand the ability to make it happen. But forcing the cards to fall in their favor on this turn may be presumptuous. I may think I’m helping them now, but there’s a chance I’ll only set off a string of circumstances that, in the end, will cause them to lose the game!
So, yes, I play my card. And yes, I take the route. Because there ain’t no way this competitive Mama is gonna let them beat me, especially on Mother’s Day!
Being a mom is harder than I expected. When my toddlers tripped and fell, a hug and simple affirmation that they were going to be okay was all they needed to bounce back and start running again. When other preschoolers were mean to them, I could remove them from the situation and redirect their attention. When we prayed, we thanked God for animals, sunshine, and friends and asked Him to help us have a good day.
But middle school is a whole new game. Social and emotional wounds cut much deeper, the bullies can’t be avoided when they’re in your classroom all day, and that “relationship with God” status moves from “simple” to “complicated”. No one could have prepared me for the helpless feeling of holding your sobbing child after a hard day at school, or, even worse, realizing that your child may be struggling but isn’t willing to talk to you about it. Or when you sense something developing in their personality that makes discipline anything but cut and dry.
As a parent and an adult, there are cards I hold in my hand and there are days when everything inside of me wants to play those cards. I want to see my kids succeed. I want to see things work out for them. If there was a magic button in front of me that could guarantee them a win at every turn, I’d be tempted to push it. But chances are, I wouldn’t be doing them any favors.
In Numbers 13 the people of Israel, after being freed from 400 years of captivity and slavery in Egypt, were about to enter the land the Lord had promised them. Spies were sent in to scope out the situation, and though two of them came back with a report of “We can certainly do it!”, the rest said “We can’t!” and the people rebelled (Numbers 13:30-31). The result of this rebellion was a new promise – 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Word of this sentence brought about a sudden change of heart:
When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”
But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”
Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah. (Numbers 14:39-45)
Though their God held every card in His strong hand and could have given them every advantage in battle, He wasn’t about to force the situation. A win at this point was no guarantee of victory in the end and His plan for them was a process. The Promised Land was not the goal, the trust in Him was, and they were going to need 40 years of wandering to develop it.
My God has the ability to give my kids every advantage. He has the ability to make things go their way and force wins at every turn. He has a magic button.
But He doesn’t push it and I can trust His example. When I presume that what my kids need is for me to force my cards for their win on this turn, I go ahead of God. When I act on my own reactions to their pain rather than listen for His lead, I may be setting off a string of events that leads to greater loss in the end. Yes, I can protect, yes, I can help, and yes, I can advocate, but I’m not their Savior – Jesus is.
It would be great if I could end this by saying both girls won their respective games, even though I didn’t help them, but they didn’t – I won them both! (Happy Mother’s Day to me!) I’m sure a day is coming when they’ll be able to take me down, but for now I’ll enjoy my moment of glory 😉
In his poem, Trust in the Slow Work of God, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, “Don’t try to force [it], as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow”. No matter how much we don’t want to see our kids hurting, the pain, frustration, and stress they experience are part of the process. And the trust they’ll develop in Him, rather than in us, will be worth every tear!