(SSS* Week #3)
A friend’s daughter was no stranger to temper tantrums! This was, therefore, a great starting point of conversation for the mother and a therapist. “What do I do about these tantrums? Is she traumatized by some event? Is she being rebellious just for the sake of rebelling? Is she mentally unstable? What!?” the mother asked. The therapist offered a number of theories that could explain why the daughter expresses herself in this way. But she offered only one solution. She challenged the mother to do something totally different. The next time her daughter is having one of her classic tantrums, the mother was challenged to hug her. Yes, grab her, wrap her arms around her, and hug her.
Guess what? It worked! This determined mother put aside her pride, frustrations, cultural traditions, and natural instincts and hugged her angry child and something different happened. Instead of the usual escalation of emotions and drama, as the mother held her daughter, the tantrum ceased in record time. According to the National Institute of Health, research suggests that what is happening during these hugging moments is a “feel-good” hormone called oxytocin is being released into the blood stream. As the levels of this hormone increase, feelings of loneliness, stress levels, and blood pressure decrease while mood and tolerance for pain improve.
Those are the effects the therapist was going for!
This counter-intuitive approach to addressing misbehavior is not as new as one may believe. In 1 Samuel chapter 12 we find that Samuel was dealing with the Israelites who were not strangers to misconduct. However, rather than pull out a whip and start swinging or open up his mouth and rip them a shaming-blaming new one, he, figuratively speaking, wrapped his arms around them and hugged them. I was stopped in my tracks when I reached verses 20 and 22 and read that he said, in response to their misconduct, “do not be afraid . . . the Lord was pleased to make you His own.”
Those are not the words I think to speak to someone whose bad behavior I’m addressing! The usual approach involves a run-down of all the offenses followed by all the consequences followed by a very vivid picture of my anger and frustration with the situation. To offer words of encouragement seems to imply a sense of tolerance or a condoning of the behavior. Or so I thought! What the therapist says, what research suggests, and what my friend experienced, is what Samuel portrayed here in these passages of chapter 12. Encouragement, in the form of words or physical touch, stimulates the release of a “feel-good” substance and in turn improves our spiritual health as well as the spiritual health of our loved one.
By the time Samuel finished his speech, it was clear to the Israelites that they had once again sinned. He did not minimize what they’d done. Please notice also that he did not shame them for having done it. Samuel pointed out all the ways the Lord had been faithful to Israel. He pointed out all the ways the Israelites had been unfaithful to the Lord. Then he gave them some practical ways to turn from their misbehavior:
- Serve the Lord with all your heart. (1 Samuel 12:20)
- Get rid of the idols. (1 Samuel 12:21)
Next, he told them what he would do to help and support them:
- Samuel would continue to pray for them. (1 Samuel 12:23a)
- Samuel would teach them the way that is good and right. (1 Samuel 12:23b)
We have a therapist, some researchers, and Samuel all encouraging us to respond differently when addressing a loved one and their struggles. We all have people in our lives who will do something that challenges us in this area. Here is an idea: When she tells you what you prayed you’d never have to hear her say, when he pulls up and you realize he’s been cutting up, when that can of worms bursts wide open in the break room, respond differently. You’ve fussed and cussed. You’ve lectured. You’ve hit. You’ve served the silent treatment oh so well. Yet, here we are.
Instead, share with them what you are willing to do to help and support them as they work through the situation. Pray for them. Teach them. Encourage them. Hug them. This is not to express tolerance or a condoning of the behavior.
This is your way of stimulating the release of a “feel-good” substance called grace that we all stand in need of. Such an approach can facilitate growth in areas otherwise stunted by shame, isolation, and regret. God’s grace expressed through your prayers, help, and support will help them will feel as though and be better equipped to live as though they are “His own!”
That’s the effect He’s going for!
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