What Are They Going to Remember?

To nobody’s surprise, the Sarr household is far from perfect.  A few nights ago, I lost my cool with one of my kids.  I didn’t appreciate her line of questions, and I blew up.  The moment was precipitated (and followed) by some laughter and fun moments, but – strangely enough – nobody remembers them.  What do they remember? What did everyone want to talk about the next morning?  Dad getting mad.  Though I apologized within minutes and fellowship was restored, the teachable moment was immortalized, and with it, a memory…and not a good one.

The next morning, I took the opportunity to debrief about it with one of the witnesses to the situation to this effect: Nobody cares about what happened to provoke me.  They care a lot about how I responded in the moment.  The same will be true of you. If you want to have influence, you cannot lose your temper, and you cannot lose control…whether it’s in your living room…or your classroom.  This principle applies across a host of contexts.  

As for us parents, a fair question to ask of ourselves is this: What will our children remember from their time with us?

The regular is important and formational; the irregular is memorable. When I ask my kids about highlights from the last year, they never say “meals around the table,” or “car rides home from church.” Instead, they say, “the time we went hiking with the _______ family,” or “the time when we went to the zoo and had a picnic in the back of the van,” or “when we went to ______.” 

Of course this does not mean that the meals together or the routine of corporate worship are unimportant; of course they are! It’s just to say that they’re going to remember the out-of-the-ordinary events just as much as they will the mundane…for good or for ill.

Perform a test.  Ask your children what stands out from the last year for them, and the odds are high that it will not be the mundane, but rather the uncommon moments that they mention.

This is perhaps an unfair standard, and perhaps even unrealistic.  Nobody can be perfect all the time, and as soon as we blow it, we can be sure that the kids will remember it (unless, of course, your blowing it is regular, which is a different problem, and a big one).  But as regards the irregular and memorable loss of patience or control, I would say three things:

  1. Repent quickly. Blowing it affords the opportunity to build trust and credibility by quick repentance.  Pretending you didn’t blow it only confuses and insults the intelligence of everyone who saw you do it.  Owning it with humility and without excuse and seeking forgiveness will restore fellowship and build trust and credibility.  A man who repents before he’s caught or confronted is a man who can be trusted.  
  2. Receive grace.  Blowing it introduces the opportunity for grace to cover your parenting (or teaching, or working, or neighboring…). Of course we don’t fail on purpose so as to bring about an opportunity for grace (Paul anticipated this notion.)  Where grace exists, grace is abused.  But in order for grace to be abused, it has to be present in the first place. Ideally, your home will be filled with grace, and you will have opportunity to give it and receive it. But when you receive it, give thanks in return while extending grace to others.  This is a fragrant aroma that draws others in. 
  3. Repeat.  Move on and do better next time, leaning on the Spirit to direct your work.  Strive to ensure that even the standout moments are good ones.  Work to grow and eliminate those standout bad moments.  While we may not realize it in this life, if there are no lapses to stand out, the pleasant memories will crowd out the bad ones!

In the end, we want for our young people to want to be around our homes and classrooms.  We cannot expect these places to be devoid of sin, but we can expect them to be devoid of hypocrisy and full of grace.  

What will they remember from their time with you?

—The U.H.