David came to me this morning, troubled. It seems that the girls were playing right outside his door this morning, hoping he would wake up and play with them. He was certain they had come into his room, and was bothered that they denied it.
He was sleepy and grouchy. So he cuddled up in my lap and we rocked together for a bit, even though he’s really too big for that these days. This was a good morning for a two-sided discussion, because this is a really important spiritual lesson: How should we respond when we suspect someone is not telling the truth, but we have no evidence to the contrary? How should we respond when someone has done something thoughtless or rude?
I asked the girls a few questions and gathered that his report of the facts seemed generally accurate. The first thing I have been doing in these situations is acknowledge that the girls should have done something else. Right up front. Love embraces truth, and it is not truth to pretend something that is obviously false. I have found that if I skip the step of acknowledging the injustice, I can’t make headway in the discussion of his responsibilities. The reason this is so important is normal immaturity and lack of knowledge: children think that if you don’t deal with the siblings sins at that moment, you don’t see it, or don’t think it’s as bad as what they’re getting corrected for. I think they must learn to trust their parents in this regard, but I also believe that this trust has to be based on knowledge of certain facts: parents can deal with one person at a time. Parents deal with things later, sometimes. Children may not always know when a sibling has been corrected. I can’t expect my children to know these things if I haven’t told them.
I asked David if he had the ability to overlook the offense. He nodded. I’m really discussing this idea a lot these days, so I added more information: Overlooking an offense doesn’t mean you say “That was a wonderful thing my sister did!” I suggested he listen to I Corinthians 13 a bunch of times, and told him to listen for when Paul tells us that love rejoices in the truth, but also hopes all things. The idea is that renaming something wonderful if it’s not the truth is not love. On the other hand, if there are two possibilities, then love believes the best one.
I gave some obvious examples. Is it more loving to believe your sister accidentally bumped you, or bumped you because she was trying to be mean? David recognized that assuming good motives was more loving. Especially when a sibling denies any ill intent, love chooses to accept this explanation.’
I brought him back to the original offense. I asked him to think of why Bethel and Laurel might have sat in front of his door, and I led him down the road of trying to see through his sisters’ eyes. We then talked about what he could say and do instead of getting angry. Love might indeed say, “I don’t want to play when you wake me up in this way.” And love does recognize that his sisters may not have been telling the truth when they said they weren’t in the room, but love can also accept their words and trust God with the truth. Love might see the desire of his sisters’ heart and suggest a better time for playing together.
And then our day went rolling along.
Is assuming the best always the correct the thing to do? If there is a history of being ‘mean’ then is there a time when we stop assuming that the bumping was not ‘mean’? When someone has been ill-treated, had their trust broken many times and so begins to not trust themselves, and this is the example children see and begin to follow, what is the proper way of addressing this? Is it ever loving to NOT assume the best in someone in order to help them see their sin? or is that even our place? It’s hard to instruct our children to love by overlooking wrongs, or assume the best when they don’t always see that as their example.
The advantage of being a parent is that I can coach both sides. I try to talk to both sides in cases like these, and then when I talk privately to one, I’ve explained many times that they aren’t always aware when I’ve corrected a sibling in private. This is especially true as they get older. They usually are comforted both by the expression that I haven’t forgotten that they were wronged, and that I am growing sensitive to their own preference for private correction at times. When I’ve talked to the child who is repeatedly doing something hurtful, I do bring up the perspective of a person who has been wronged 70 times seven.