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How to Parent: Just Guide Gently

A Holy Experience

Thoughts I am thinking on as we gear up for a new school year….

I am by the stove cutting warm loaves of dark bread, and my mother is at the window, gentle drops pattering the panes, sewing new and vintage fabric pieces together. I listen to the hum of the machine, thread lacing down, through, up, through, to the watering of the rain upon the earth, and to her.

“Now you try, Hope. Just slowly. Take your time and really focus.” Her crown of white hovers over Hope’s shoulder.


“Like this, Gram?” I turn to see Hope’s furrowed brow lit by the machine’s glowing light. They are stitching up bibs for the new Carrere baby, the sixth child, fourth son. The needle stitches crisp new cottons to a backing of reclaimed, familiar flannels. Hope’s eyes are fixed on that quarter inch seam allowance, the curving arcs of the material.

“Yes, that’s it, Hope. Now if you’ll stop a moment…” The machine drones to a halt. Butter melts into the steaming warm slices. I ladle garden vegetable soup into a circle of waiting bowls, filling fare for rainy autumn evenings.

If you’ll look closely, do you see how it puckers here, when you push the material through? Don’t rush, or push the fabric along. If you push the material through, you’ll end up with wrinkled, disappointing handiwork. You just guide….”

Gently?” Hope offers.

“Yes! That’s it precisely: no pushing…or you’ll wrinkle everything. Just guide gently.”

My ladle hangs midair. Empty bowl waits in one hand. I have ears to hear.

Rain streams in rivulets down the glass. The needle again begins to purr. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and finger write those words on soul sand: “Just guide gently.”

Push and it will all pucker.

Don’t I know that too well. How many perfectly good days have I wrinkled because I pushed, arms heavy with an agenda? How many happy faces have I wrinkled into distress with pushing words: “Hurry up! We could have been finished this by now if you hadn’t dawdled here…” I don’t even want to consider how many bare, beating hearts I have crinkled and crumpled with my pushing for more.

Pushed and puckered.

I come to, fill the waiting soup bowl, and whisper it again, etching it deeper, “just guide gently.” The Spirit nudges: “This is what I meant the other morning. You underlined it, remember?”

I find black ink marking the words: “Therefore, although in Christ, I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.” (Philemon 1:8-9).

I could be bold and order you. Push, push, push.


Yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. Just gently guiding. Gently serving. Gently leading by caring, encouraging, edifying.

Wasn’t it Mama who also pulled me up on her lap as a four-year-old and told me the fable of the sun and the wind, arguing over which of the two was the stronger? I can still feel her leaning close to, her voice rich with story:

The Wind began to blow cold blasts, but the man only drew his cloak closer, tighter about him to keep out the cold. Then the Sun took his turn, shining warm and full. Under the sun’s rays, the man released his grip on his coat, then threw it back, and, at last took it off! The Sun’s gentleness accomplished what the Wind’s force could not.”

She turned me to look me in the eye: “Remember that, girl of mine: gentleness can do what force fails to do.”

I could be bold and order you…yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.

To release a child to be all that he or she was meant to be requires the sun, requires guiding gently with loving words of encouragement. Recent research confirms it. A study of twenty-two grade eight students found that those who were kindled with positive feelings generated significant more creative and problem-solving ability than the group of students in which “a neutral mood was induced.”

Fail to encourage, abandon children to a slush of neutral feelings, and settle for dismal, uninspired handiwork. Sloppy work, dragging feet, shrugging shoulders, glassy far-off glazes. Push, order, and rush will result in worse: puckers and wrinkles. Tears, pouting, stomping, surly sullen glares, and explosions of defiance.

Appeal on the basis of love, with a light touch of guidance and the warm igniting of encouragement, and watch hearts and minds creatively, joyously thrive. The gentle guiding reaps far more than pushing.

Can I take up this mothering fabric, and smooth out the wrinkles?

Bowls served and dinner bell waiting to be rung, I survey the trail of rainy day pursuits: strewn legos, a blizzard of paper snippets, scraps of material flung about for good measure, counters offering up a trifle of smudged markers, pooling glue and a sprinkle of crayons.

Take a deep breath, O Heart. Push and the day—no, more than the day— delicate hearts, will pucker.

What if I were to just guide gently? So I try.

“What a day we’ve had, best beloveds! Such grand creations here! Made in the image of Your Creator Father, you are! Come, show me your work!” Books are set aside, scissors left, and masterpieces presented. I appeal to you on the basis of love; true, genuine love.

“Such color! What a design! You made that by yourself?” Hearts embroidered with tender, edifying words shimmer.

“Let’s clean this up together, so your work will be in its best light when Dad comes in.” No bold ordering. Moments gently threaded with positive encouragement. A love appeal.

My hands, their hands, we sort, organize, gather. Laughing, happy bodies pile around the table for soup and bread. I run my hand across the clean counter.

No puckering, no wrinkles. My mother smiles. This girl of hers remembers the fable. This mother in Christ turns from blustery, bold ordering and appeals on the warm basis of love.

Yes, just guide gently. A pucker-free pattern for hearts.

Lord, today let me not rush those around me, pushing, pushing, pushing. Cause me to guide gently. Appealing on the basis of love.

Photo: my mama guiding grandchildren gently…
From 2007 archives of Christian Women Online

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