I have heard the adage time and time again:"You don't have to teach a baby to sin." As a mom of three small children, I quickly learned that this couldn't be truer! The cherub-faced cuteness began to wear off when my daughter started acting on her inclination to hit. Hitting was her preferred method of expression. This heavy-handed little girl wielded her back-hand with the power to smite anyone who stood in opposition to her! So I had to roll up my sleeves and dive into the dirty work of behavioral modification with a two a year old.
A major source of irritation in her world, like most toddlers, centered around toys and her older brother claiming ownership of said toys. It was within these heated debates that she seemed to throw out all the carefully planned behavior training that I had given her. She would quickly revert back to that handy dandy one-two punch to prove her point.
My daughter's tendency to regress got me thinking about my own spiritual life. While we may train to respond to adversity with Christlike grace, far too often we revert to an outburst of rage highlighting our own depravity. Maybe we don't swat at people with our hands but perhaps we do lunge at them with our words. Maybe we try to manipulate our spouses by employing the silent treatment or we take cheap shots at our co-workers with sarcasm and passive aggressive tones. When we use these defense mechanisms, we are no better than a two- year old protecting her favorite toy. However, there is good news! We too can be trained to align our emotions, frustration, and expression with the will of God. Not only has God given us the power to change by renewing our mind through Jesus Christ ( 1 Corinthians 2:14-16), but he has given us a pathway to victory over the frequent relapse of the flesh.
2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 "For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. "
There are two important factors to remember when modifying your own reaction to adversity:
- You must realize who you are really fighting against. While it may seem trivial to compare my daughters epic battle for toy dominance to our own spiritual warfare, it really is not too far fetched. Every day, Satan is prodding you to see if he can get you to respond in an ungodly manner. When the clerk in the grocery store mouths off at you Satan is rooting for you to rely on your sin nature and reply in kind. Yet scripture shows us that we are not fighting an earthly battle but a heavenly one in which God has already empowered us to defeat our enemy. When we understand the true source of our adversity it helps us to remember that our anger has nothing to do with the guy that just cut you off in traffic, however it is the adversary Satan who attempts to sift us as wheat. (Luke 22:31
- The best way to deal with our tendency to respond in the flesh is to bring our sinful thoughts under the subjection and rule of Jesus Christ. In other words, the next time you're inclined to lash out at someone, remember whose you are and who you represent. Practice taking that thought captive, by force and surrendering it to the power of God. I guarantee you, every time you do this you will grow the muscle of spiritual resilience just a little bit bigger. So that we too can train our spiritual bodies, as Paul describes, like the Olympians of old trained their physical bodies- not as if boxing at air, but we train in order to win the race set before us. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
My daughter is now 4 and I can happily report that she is no longer taking swings at people for the slightest provocation. Of course she is daily finding other ways to test the limits of her sin nature but the hitting thing we pretty much have wrapped up. What I’ve learned from lovingly correcting her these past four years is that change takes consistency and discipline. In the same way, becoming like Christ takes consistency and discipline. There may be times when your tongue gets the best of you but take heart, submit your will to that of our Father and prepare to be amazed.