As I was brushing my teeth the other day, my boys burst into the bathroom. My youngest asked, “Mom, what is the difference between lying and changing your mind”? I looked down at their “innocent” faces, and I instantly knew this was a loaded question. In that moment, I was sort of proud of them. I had no idea what the situation was or what had caused them to ask this question. They stood expectantly, waiting for an answer. I’m usually brilliant (haha), but I was momentarily stumped. Hmmm…what is the answer? What is the difference between lying and changing your mind, or sarcasm or exaggeration for that matter?
How in the world do I teach my boys the difference? As a parent, I frequently change my mind. I tell them what we are planning to do for the day, only to tell them an hour later that plans have changed. Did I lie to them? No… How often have I exaggerated what I am saying? Let me rephrase that, how often has Darryl exaggerated what he is saying?! If they took Darryl’s words as truth, he would be a “staaaaaaarving man” that is “hit by a truck” and “thrown under a bus” every time he is sick!
I took the easy way out and asked them what the situation was. It didn’t take me long to discern that, yes, my youngest son, Declan, did in fact “change his mind and wanted his toy back, but that really my oldest son (Caedmon) should be able to have the toy because it was now in his possession, and he should be able to decide whether or not to give it back, but it really belonged to Declan so he thought he should get it any time he wanted it, but then Caedmon cried and said Declan wasn’t sharing!!!” All I could do was attempt to teach both of them what it seemed they already knew – that they shouldn’t be selfish and that both of them should really be willing to give the toy to the other and that we should share and be kind, etc. Wait – did you get any of that? Neither did they 🙂. They left the bathroom in a big hurry and somehow resolved their issue without any help from their mama!
But I could not stop thinking about what they asked. What is the difference? I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the spirit in which whatever was said was delivered, and the spirit in which it was received.
When communicating anything, body language and tone of voice constitute the bulk of what is actually being heard. Darryl and I started a game in our family to teach our kids what sarcasm and exaggeration was. A few of our kids were super-sensitive any time anyone would tease them. They would overlook the tone of voice or body language, missing the spirit of fun, and only hear the concrete words being said. How often have they cried or had hurt feelings because they have missed the nuances in the words spoken? For example: Declan – “Mom, what’s for dessert today?” Mom, absolutely dripping with insincerity – “Oh, well the rest of us are having cookies, but there’s no dessert for Declan…” It only took a few deliveries for Declan to learn what to take seriously and what not to!
But I’ve also been learning that discerning whenand howteasing, sarcasm, or exaggeration is delivered must out of necessity depend on the person receiving the information and what is going on with them. There was a time, when we first got married, that I would tease Darryl quite mercilessly in front of others on how he was not a handyman when it came to things around our house. Wasn’t it hilarious that Darryl didn’t even know how to unplug the toilet?! I genuinely thought I was teasing him in good fun, because I knew that it didn’t matter in the least to me if I had a handy-man for a husband or not. But what I failed to realize was that, back then, Darryl experienced insecurity regularly in feeling like he didn’t measure up to other husbands because he wasn’t a handy-man or jack-of-all-trades when it came to the house, car, and yard. Each time I cracked a joke, I would unintentionally open the wound that, in his perception, he did not measure up to “the ideal.” Finally Darryl told me how he felt. I can’t say that it was a pleasant conversation and that all was resolved at the end of it – but it began a conversation.
I honestly didn’t understand what the problem was, but I knew that somehow I was hitting a sore spot, and that each time I hit it, Darryl’s wound was kept from healing. So I stopped, or at least I received a look that told me to stop, each time a funny joke in the vein of “handy-man Darryl” came up in my head. As I honoured Darryl in this way, he began to heal. Each day or month or year that went by, Darryl became more and more secure with who God had made him, both in his strengths and his shortcomings. I can’t even tell you how amazing he is – but he needed space to heal. The most fascinating thing is, that as he healed in this area, he became able to healthily poke fun at himself. Now he is secure with who he is (at least most of the time 🙂), and he has no problem if me or anyone else teases him, in the right spirit, in this way.
I know that this is a wide-ranging topic and there are too many nuanced situations to be able to distil all healing and responses into a pat answer. We often use “humour” to put someone else in his or her place (me included), only to be hurt when someone else does it to us. There are people who are constantly sarcastic, there are people who continually exaggerate to make themselves look better, there are people who stretch the truth, etc. In fact, I’m guessing all of us have been there at some point. Our foot is in our mouth before we realize what is going on, and all we want to do is crawl into a hole. Again. But God has been teaching me grace for myself and for others. What would it look like for each of us to give grace to each other? It’s possible through Jesus – seeing others through His eyes.