I had just gotten in bed and closed my eyes. It had been a long day. I was tired. I really wanted to go to sleep. Then I heard it. The squeak of a door opening, and the footfalls of my 10-year-old walking into my room.
My first thought was “Please, don’t be sick.” My second one was “Why are you out of bed?” I wasn’t prepared to give a life lesson. I wasn’t interested in a long, drawn-out conversation. All I wanted to do was send her back to bed.
She approached the bed slowly. She knows how much I hate to be woken up. “I can’t sleep,” she says.
This is my favorite excuse for being out of bed. It covers so many things, and it’s not something you can argue with or fix. Usually I tell my girls to go lie down and count purple hippos until they fall asleep, but that night something stopped me from my usual response.
Instead of suggesting the purple hippo method, I asked “What do you think the problem is?” The flood gates opened. A tearful child told me how hard she was trying to get along with her sister, but it was really hard, and it was keeping her awake at night.
My girls have struggled to get along well this summer. Some of it is age. Some of it is hormones. And some of it is just plain orneriness.
Usually, it all just rolls off my younger daughter’s back, but we’ve been working hard with her on holding onto her tongue and thinking about others first. Clearly, the message was getting through, but she was struggling with the implementation.
I laid in bed for a moment, caught between my need to capture this teachable moment and the need to go to sleep. It would have been so simple to throw out an easy answer and to have gone to sleep. But the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit prodded me to take the time to really answer her. It reminded me that this teachable moment might never come again.
So instead of a pat answer and a quick trip to dreamland, I spent the next 10 minutes talking with her about how God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He expects us to rely on Him. We talked about how sometimes in hockey you miss the net the first time you shoot, but sometimes you can pick up the rebound and hit the net. We talked about how we don’t expect her to score every time when it comes to her sister, but we do expect her to be aiming for the net. And we talked about asking God to help us when we struggle.
I sent her back to bed with much to think about but with a calmer spirit. She and I both fell asleep quickly. I tell you all of this as a reminder that teachable moments with our kids don’t always come when it’s convenient. Sometimes they come when we’re exhausted, when we’re sick, when we’re walking out the door five minutes late.
No matter when they come, though, we need to grab them. We need to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit when He tells us not to let this moment go. Our kids need us to be ready to teach them on a moment’s notice. We can only do that if we’re paying attention to what they are really saying.
It’s easy to give our kids the easy answers. The simple choice is to pat them on the head and send them back to bed. The hard part of parenting comes when we make the choice to give up our own comfort to spend a moment teaching our kids.
Teachable moments come our way every single day. The challenge is to grab them — even when it’s not convenient.