Mindy was looking at flip-flops. Reese was ready to get moving and get out of the store. I was ten feet away watching them. Reese ran to her mom, bear-hugged Mindy’s left leg, and bit down. Reese broke the skin and left a raised bruise punctuated by blood.
It was shocking to witness. Mindy let out a yelp and I ran over and pried Reese away. Immediately Reese was different. “I bite. I bite Momma. I sorry.” I took Reese down a different aisle for timeout. I could not detect any noticeable remorse, although she said repeatedly, “I bite. I sorry. No timeout. I sorry.”
As I held her during timeout Reese pulled out the full range of cute to get me to end her timeout. She batted eyes. She made goofy smiles. She worked it.
This made the whole episode that much more disturbing. I found my mind drifting to gospels stories about demon possession.
Now I know that Reese isn’t possessed by evil. But what happened that Friday night was sick. It bore in miniature the hallmarks of what is often wrong with us as people and from what we often need Jesus to deliver us.
Ah, Reese, you little sinner. There was an abuse of power. There was the deep lack of concern and compassion for the neighbor. There was the resistance to real repentance. It may have all been “normal,” but that didn’t make it any less ugly.
I think Mindy and I would have contributed to the nastiness if we would have overreacted or imagined that this episode was the whole of who Reese is. It’s so obviously not. But, I think we would have also contributed to the “devil’s pleasure” if we would have acted as if it were no big deal, if we wouldn’t have taken any corrective action empowered by love.
Either approach would have been an abuse and misuse of our power as parents. It would have also demonstrated a lack of compassion for Reese. By overreacting or underreacting, we would have loved her poorly. Over-emphasizing the episode would have hurt Reese by reducing her down to her sin and pushing her toward shame. Blowing it off would have loved Reese poorly by not representing God’s call for her to become someone better, some more Christ-like.
The use of power is a huge issue in the biblical story. In the Genesis story, God is seen as someone powerful who has more than enough reason to use that power to wipe away a world that has broken fellowship with him. But, ultimately, God doesn’t take this path, and this choice is called mercy and grace.
Jesus is seen as the Son of God who remarkably does not use his power for his own advantage. He shares his power – forgiveness, resurrection, freedom, etc. – with us, even with those who betrayed him to death.
The Holy Spirit is sometimes envisioned as a fiery wind. Strangely this Spirit does not burn us to ash, but instead warms us to new life as we share the healing word and work of Christ in an often cold, sick world.
How has power been used toward us? How have we used power towards others? When we look upon Jesus – the one Christians trust is the Divine in flesh and blood – does our use of power resemble his?
Or does our use of power look more like a rabid toddler on the loose in a Kohl’s store? If we want to change how we use the power entrusted to each of us, how do we make that change? How do we seek God to make that change within us?