I am not known for raising my voice in frustration – at least not by my coworkers and friends. Apparently, it’s a different story with my family.
The other day, I asked my four-year-old daughter, Daniela, to bless our food, and she prayed, “Thank You God for this food. I pray that my sister would change, and that my daddy would stop yelling.”
It hurt to hear my daughter say that, so after she finished praying, I asked her if I yell, and she said yes.
“How does that make you feel?” I asked.
“It makes me feel sad,” she said.
“Well, please pray that I’ll stop yelling, and I promise to work on it,” I said.
Daniela did, in fact, start regularly praying that I would stop yelling. And the next week, she got a chance to see how resistant I was to her prayers being answered.
I was in the car with Daniela and her two-year-old sister, Renee, who likes to taunt Daniela and tends to be very resistant to parental authority. Renee was doing something to bother Daniela, and she wouldn’t stop.
“Stop Renee,” I said.
She kept doing it, and Daniela started freaking out.
“Renee, I told you to stop,” I said.
Renee kept ignoring me.
“Renee, I told you to stop it!” I yelled, at which point Renee ceased annoying her sister. And then I heard Daniela’s little voice from the back seat say, “But Daddy – I prayed that you would stop yelling.”
A wave of guilt hit me, and I quietly said, “Well, keep on praying.”
Daniela immediately prayed, “Father God, please help my daddy stop yelling. When he does that, it makes me feel sad. Please God, help him. I don’t want him to yell anymore.”
So I’m driving along, listening to this prayer – my heart is in my throat, and I’m wondering: Do I yell that much? What does yelling sound like to a little girl? How do my little girls see me?
As I began doing some soul-searching, it occurred to me that – yes, I do raise the volume of my voice sometimes. But a lot of what probably sounds like yelling to a child is my tone, which can be demanding and hard, and is rooted in grown-up frustration. So regardless of whether there’s a high volume coming out of my vocal cords, my girls are hearing the high volume coming out of my heart.
I began to get discouraged with myself and feeling like a failure, but then the other day, Daniela came up and told me she was still praying that I would stop yelling. “And Daddy,” she said, “You’re gonna stop yelling, and then God’s gonna put fire in your heart.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah!” she said, “He’s gonna put fire in your heart!”
I think I felt God begin to answer Daniela’s prayers this morning. I was rushing to get ready for work, and little Renee was running in and out of my bedroom, when it occurred to me that I needed to show her how much I loved her – that I wasn’t always annoyed with her.
“Come here, Renee,” I said, and then I got down, placed my hands on the sides of her soft, two-year-old face, and kissed both of her cheeks. I stood back up, she walked out of the room, and then she stuck her head back in and said something.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Thank you for those kisses,” she said, very seriously.
I felt my heart breathe a sigh of relief and thought, So that’s what it feels like for my heart to be on fire.