Carolyn was not happy that I went downstairs to put a load of laundry in the washer, but I went anyway. Sometimes she fusses the whole time I'm downstairs, sometimes she and I call back and forth to each other playfully, sometimes she amuses herself. This time she must have been feeling a bit vindictive.
It happens occasionally. Kevin or I remind Carolyn that she is not allowed to do something she is about to do, and she responds by immediately going through a series of prohibited activities. But if no one is here to hinder the series, she really only needs one. And the trash can, in front of the basement door, presented itself all too readily.
Unfortunately, the "clean" trash in the top of the can was covered in mostly-dry coffee grounds. So when I returned from my trip below, I found a toddler, a floor, and sundry garbage articles covered in black dust.
Before her name had even completely escaped, I remembered. "If you allow unholy anger to muddy the correction process, you are wrong. You need to ask forgiveness. Your right to discipline your children is tied to what God has called you to do, not your own agenda."* In order to discipline, I could not be angry. I had to be calm. By grace, God caught me just in time. I dusted Carolyn off and calmly took her to her bedroom.
Our discipline procedure ends with prayer for forgiveness, and we hold hands for that. Today, although Carolyn signed "I'm sorry" to me readily, she refused to hold my hands. I could have forced her, of course, but it seems that forcing the prayer that is supposed to close the issue leaves an unrepentant attitude woefully unaddressed. She hugged me over and over, but refused to pray with me. So I kept her on my lap until she was ready. I told her about God's love, about Christ's sacrifice, about sin and repentance and forgiveness. Before long, she reached for both my hands and waited. I prayed, and she cheerfully got down.
I then went to clean up the mess. Carolyn followed me. She would have helped if I had let her, but I didn't want her messy again. So she stood watching and saying, "no, no" over and over. I agreed and reminded her the trashcan was off-limits, thinking that would be the end of it. But she just stood there, "no, no" again and again until I said, "You're right, we don't play in the trash. But you said you were sorry and we prayed and you're forgiven, so we can start over." She gave an emphatic "yeah" and ran off to play, leaving me sweeping coffee grounds.
You could argue that I make too much of these things. Carolyn isn't quite 18 months, after all. But I know she understands so much more than she can say right now. Her physical responses, her expressions, her tone of voice--they are all right for the situation. I know her comprehension is limited. So is mine. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."** She may not comprehend the finer doctrinal points of her sin and guilt, but she is learning the necessary response. And I am enormously, unspeakably grateful for her baby steps. . .and mine.
*Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp, chapter 4. He goes on later to quote James 1:19-20, "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." and comment "If you correct and discipline your children because God mandates it, then you need not clutter up the task with your anger. Correction is not your showing anger for their offenses; it is rather reminding them that their sinful behavior offends God. It is bringing His censure of sin to these subjects of His realm. He is the King. They must obey." and "If correction orbits around the parent who has been offended, then the focus will be venting anger or, perhaps, taking vengeance. The function is punitive. If, however, correction orbits around God as the one offended, then the focus is restoration. The function is remedial. It is designed to move a child who has disobeyed God back to the path of obedience. It is corrective."
**1 Corinthians 13:12