I had an experience a few weeks ago that I want to share. It is not directly related to plural marriage per se; rather, it is about family relationships. Which, I suppose, may be more directly related to plural marriage than any scriptural, doctrinal, historical, or cultural commentary that could ever be written on the subject. This experience is a bit embarrassing to me, but I hope that it will be instructive to others. I hope also that it will be instructive to my future self. Hopefully, now that I have written it down, I can refer to it in times to come in order to remind myself of the wisdom I so easily forget.
Last month was Christmas. My family celebrates Christmas. In fact, we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, but we don’t do the Christmas tree, the evergreen boughs, the Yule log, the mistletoe, or Santa Claus. With our gift giving we want our children to remember the gifts of the Wise Men to the Christ child, and the loving Gift of God’s Son to the world.
And yet, even without Santa Claus and the shameful commercialization of the season, things can still become the focus of our attention, and mere objects can take on significance far greater than they merit.
One of the gifts that my wife Charlotte received was a Newton’s Cradle for her desk. You have seen them before. It is a clever little toy that uses swinging steel balls, suspended from strings, to demonstrate Newton’s laws of forces and motion and the conservation of momentum. There is a picture of one at the beginning of this post.
Charlotte liked her gift, but she wasn’t the only one. My son also took a keen interest in the toy. Those first few days he played with it more than the rest of us combined. He was fascinated with it, and experimented with all the different combinations of ball collisions he could think of. He would pull 1, 2, 3, or 4 balls from the left, or from the right and let them collide with the remaining balls. He would even pull back different numbers of balls from both sides at once and let them strike the remaining balls – sometimes simultaneously and sometimes intentionally delayed by a moment. It was fun just to watch him play and discover.
Then one afternoon I walked in on my son who was standing over a miserably tangled Newton’s Cradle. It was a useless, hopeless, knotted mass of strings and balls (apparently this is a common occurrence as I had no difficulty finding this picture with a Google image search). I was shocked and disappointed at the sight and allowed my displeasure to be known. With some exasperation and annoyance in my voice (and yet still attempting to remain calm) I asked him firmly, “What, are you doing?!”. I could tell that he was afraid of being punished, yet he replied that he had turned it upside down, and that everything had become suddenly tangled when he did that. This only increased my anger and annoyance with him. “Why would you do that?” I asked, along with many other, similarly accusatory and belittling, questions. “What were you thinking?”, “What did you think would happen?”, “Why would you treat someone else’s property in such an abusive manner?”. I restrained myself from spanking him, but the verbal lashing I gave to him was more than harsh enough.
I pushed him aside and sat myself down to see if I could do anything to remedy the situation. As I inspected the toy I discovered, to my surprise, that it was not nearly as difficult to untangle as it had appeared, and I had it completely resolved in less than 5 minutes. You might think that this result would have brought me happiness, relief, and satisfaction, but it only furthered my disappointment; not at my son, but at myself.
As I was untangling the dumb trinket, I realized how simple and trivial the mere thing was in comparison to my son, and how little I really valued it in comparison to him. The thing was $6 plus shipping, but my son was priceless! And yet, in my moment of weakness, I had allowed the thing to become more important to me than my son! How foolish and silly I am at times.
After finishing I looked around and saw that my son had been anxiously watching me the whole time. I thought that he had left the room. With my heart now considerably softened, I showed him the toy. He expressed his relief at the result. I asked him, this time more gently, about how it had happened. He explained to me that he was moving it with both hands, but that one of them had slipped. He had kept a hold with the other hand, but the toy had swung upside down as a result.
He had not behaved in an abusive manner towards the toy, but I had behaved in an abusive manner towards him. It was all just an accident! It was something I might have done myself! I have done similar things before – we all have! My heart was further broken by hearing this. I had jumped to accusations and anger without even bothering to discover the truth first! Isn’t my son worth asking a few questions? Isn’t the truth worth asking a few questions? Yes, the thing is important (how important? – $6 worth, plus shipping), but it is not more important than my boy.