The Blame Game

There’s a short circle in our house. You wouldn’t notice it the first time you stopped by, but after a couple of visits, you might notice it’s presence. Its formed by something I’m learning about myself from my kids’ behavior. Of course, it’s a circle because they first learned the behavior from me. And if I don’t stop the behavior myself we’ll end up wearing it into a groove so deep it’ll become a rut.

The circle is called the blame game.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the rules, it works like this: you do something wrong and when confronted about it, you simply blame someone else. It’s really fairly easy. Often, you choose the person who’s in the closest proximity to you and while the unsuspecting individual is left fending for themselves you try to slip away. It’s the ultimate diversion tactic.

It’s a circle for another reason, too. Usually what ends up happening is that everyone present just points fingers at each other. The brother blames the sister who in turn blames the brother and when that doesn’t work she blames the dog. You get the idea and you’ve probably seen this played before.

Now, to be fair, this game is played a lot more frequently by my kids than it is by me. (Do you see what I did there?)

Our kids learn a lot from us. And if there’s one poor behavior that doesn’t have to be taught, it’s blaming someone else for our own faults. Blaming others has been around nearly as long as there has been someone to blame.

You know the story: Eve ate the forbidden fruit (from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) and then gave it to Adam who also ate. When God confronted Adam about this, Adam blamed Eve and Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent. And so the game began.

Of course it isn’t a game at all. That’s just one of our ways of trying to rationalize it. Maybe we call it that because you’ve got to be quick on your feet to implicate another person before they suspect it—the slyest fox wins. Regardless, we’ve damaged many relationships by not admitting our faults. People get hurt when we try to divert the blame on to them.

One of the major problems with this game is that if you keep playing, it doesn’t end. If I blame you, you may in turn try to blame me, or whomever else might be a worthy scapegoat. Down the line it’s going to come back to haunt us both because that other individual is likely going to bear a grudge for having to deal with our throwing them under the bus.

The only way to stop the game is by quitting. That is, somebody has to decide not to shift the blame onto another person and instead own up to their own wrongdoing. But this is hard to do, especially when that seems counterintuitive to a game that we’ve been playing so long that we’ve forgotten where and when we first learned the rules.

But this is where grace comes in.

Grace doesn’t just step in and say everything’s okay and that nobody has to confess anything and there aren’t going to be any consequences. No, when grace enters in it is accompanied by the truth. And in this way, it is most clearly the gospel.

We play this game because we’re afraid of the consequences for our actions: they are far greater than we are willing or capable of bearing. But the gospel, good news if there ever was any, says that we are fully at fault and fully accountable. This is the truth and though we try to shift the blame, it stills falls directly on us. The diversion only works as a temporary distraction to ourselves, but it has no way of altering the truth.

But the gospel does not stop here. In grace we hear the full truth: that there is one who stopped the game by willingly taking our blame upon himself. Jesus knew we were at fault, but insisted on bearing the consequences that should’ve fallen on us.

There’s a model here for us to follow. But not a model only—it is also the means by which we are able to break the circle. And so we need to just stop playing this game. We need to give up the charade that we have done nothing wrong. We need to humble ourselves and take full responsibility. In doing so we will both see that we are unable to bear the full burden and that we don’t have to. There is one who has taken our blame and shame upon himself and offered us forgiveness and grace instead.

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Admitting Our Faults . . . To Our Kids

Okay here it is, another confession: I screwed up in front of my kids. Actually, it wasn’t just in front of them, it was with them. So, full confession: I screwed up with how I interacted and treated my kids, specifically my son.

Don’t worry, I’m not posting anything I haven’t already admitted to him and to God. And I am thankful to write that both have graciously forgiven me.

It was at the dinner table last night. Is there any dad out there who hasn’t sinned at the dinner table?

Here’s the problem: dinner is at the end of the day and I’m ready to start winding down from the day. The time I spend in the morning over a cup of coffee serves as the warm-up to the day, and dinner usually serves as the cool-down.

But that’s not how my kids view it. So, we have a conflict in expectations. Dinnertime for them often lends itself to escalated laughter and zaniness that quickly erodes into something akin to a wild rumpus.

Last night, I warmed up leftovers for the kids because Kim was still at work. Now leftovers for a 2, 5, 6, and 9 year old are usually greeted with all the joy of eating slugs. But last night, they were excited: ravioli and mac and cheese. Neither of these were from cans or boxes, mind you. These leftovers were the real deal and the kids brought healthy appetites and good attitudes.

After I got them their meals, I warmed up my own. They were mid-meal by the time I sat down, fully engaged in eating. While that is fairly unusual at our table, by the time I joined them they were already involved in conversation with each other. Conversation, not arguing. So it was going really well . . . until I entered the mix.

As Liam was talking, I said, “Shh. Shh.”

He responded, “Shh.”

Me: “Shh.”

Liam: “I was talking.”

Me: “I know. I said ‘shh.'”

And here is where I realized I was the one at fault, not them.

Liam: “Why? I was talking. We like talking and having fun at the dinner table. We don’t get to have fun in the morning because we have to get ready.”

Me: “I know, but I like it quiet. And not wild.”

Liam: “We like it wild.”

At this point, I fully realized that they were acting very well. There was no rumpus. They hadn’t been throwing food. It was me who had squashed the spirit. So, I apologized and asked him to kindly continue the conversation they were having when I sat down.

He did and the entire meal went very well.

Later that night, at bedtime, I had to intentionally humble myself and tell him that not only had he been right and I was wrong, but I told him that he handled it all very well. He hadn’t gotten sassy or argumentative with me. But in a clear, controlled and rational way he was able to make his case and it was clear that I was the one who nearly caused the wild rumpus.

As I sit here this morning I both hope that this experience will continue and never happen again. I hope that I stop screwing up with my kids and approaching things irrationally and selfishly. But I know that won’t likely happen. So, I hope that my kids will learn to calmly and rationally be able to speak their case and that I will have the clarity and humility to listen.

When Fools (Parents) Rush In

The other morning I learned yet another valuable lesson from my kids. Oh the joys of parenting! (Yes, that was a little sarcastic.) I seem to learn more from my failures than from the things I am doing right. But maybe that’s how wisdom works.

Méav and I had just returned from dropping Iona at school and were taking our coats off. I hung mine up and bent down to help her. She was having trouble getting the zipper to release. But she pushed me away, “I do it!”

Now, so that you understand (and take my side) Méav is almost three years old and, like most three year olds, is reaching for independence at nearly every opportunity. And, like most children’s coats, the zipper isn’t actually designed adequately so that a child can operate it effectively. (Am I making a strong case yet?)

Well, I listened and backed off and let her try to undo the zipper again. But she was still having trouble. So, being the good (read pushy and rushed) parent that I am I offered my help again.

“I do it!”

There was that determined, but not defiant, tone again.

So, I pulled my hands back and let her. And I told her that it was okay to ask for help if she needed it.

Do you know what happened next? Yeah, she got the zipper undone . . . all by herself. It’s one of those moments as a parent when you’re both proud and a little perturbed at the same time. I was proud of her determination to stick to it and keep working on it. But I was perturbed because we could have had the coats hung up and been on to the next thing by now.

Now, so that you’re a bit relieved, I’ll let you know that I made the right choice and praised her for her accomplishment and hard work. And I didn’t let the seed of frustration linger or find any soil in my heart. She had the resolve to stick to finishing what was, for her, a difficult task and to find the pleasure in accomplishing it.

You know what that means, right? She’s gained a small level of capability and independence that will allow her to take more responsibility in the days to come.

Now this may seem like a really small thing, and in the light of that moment, it might be. But as far as I can see, a large part of my responsibility as a parent is to be nurturing my kids towards an independence that won’t require me to do everything for them. Frankly, I don’t want to have to show up to school at lunch and cut up their pizza. And I don’t have the time to come to recess and retie their shoes for them.

As parents, we become fools when we rush in too soon. We sometimes coddle when we should encourage. And we seek to rescue before we’ve let them learn resolve.

Now, I’m not saying that our children shouldn’t be supervised or watched over or protected or any of those things. But I think sometimes we have acted out of impatience and hastiness rather than patient and careful teaching. And we do ourselves a disservice by creating overly-needy and dependent kids who are unable to accomplish even the smallest tasks without adult intervention.

Nor am I suggesting that we should throw caution to the wind and push kids into situations that press them too hard or that would be dangerous to them.

But by letting them work at small tasks we give them opportunity for major accomplishment and growth. As well, they develop responsibility, resolve and a hard work ethic.

We should encourage them towards hope-filled dependence where they learn to trust God in all things, but aren’t afraid of taking some risks and working hard in difficult situations. And all the while, we will be learning right alongside of them.

For My 9 year Old Explorer

While at grampy and grammy’s this summer you went to Cowboy Lake. There were no real cowboys; you assured me it was just the name of the lake–though no one seems to know why it was named that.

Anyhow, while there you collected 6 snails the size of your finger & thumb put together. I guess you lost one, but you still ended up with 5. Your sisters tried to catch some but they couldn’t find any.

You also tried to catch a fish, but that proved too difficult.

You are a great explorer. You love the outdoors and are sometimes most yourself when you’re in them.

Keep exploring. Whatever you do and wherever you go, explore. It’s part of your nature. It’s how you discover and learn and thrive. Explore. You’re good at it when others aren’t. It’s part of who God has designed you to be.

Explore. You will be able to lead others to and through your discoveries.

Explore. You will find you are more alive when you do.

Explore. Because it will give you the confidence to venture out and take the risks necessary to trust God in the unknowns. And there are always unknowns.

Explore. Discover. And then lead others.