Read an Excerpt
The Key to Your Child's Heart
By Gary Smalley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1992 Gary Smalley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow to Overcome the Major Destroyer of Families
A Closed Spirit
Manifestations of a Closed Spirit
Reopening a Child's Spirit
Five Steps to Reopen a Child's Spirit
Reasons Why One Might Refuse to Forgive
Observing Voice Tone and Facial Expressions to Recognize a Closed Spirit
How Children or Adults Can Reopen Their Own Spirits
How Open Is Your Child's Spirit?
Eighty-four Ways We Can Offend Our Children
One evening while I was in my bedroom on a long-distance phone call, my son Greg, five years old at the time, let out a bloodcurdling scream from the master bathroom. He came running to the door, screaming so loudly that I couldn't hear the other person's voice. I could feel my blood pressure rise as I signaled for him to be quiet. I dramatically patted my bottom to let him know what was coming if he didn't shut up immediately. But Greg continued to scream, so I quickly ended my phone conversation, telling the person I'd get back to him later.
When I hung up the phone, I grabbed Greg by the arm and shook him. "Why are you screaming?" I demanded. "Couldn't you see I was on the phone?"
Without waiting for an answer, I shoved him into the hall and said, "You get into your bedroom right now." He fell when I pushed him, but got back up, still crying, and hurried into his room. I grabbed the paddle we used for spanking-the entire family had helped decorate it-and told him to lie down on his bed. Then I gave him several hard swats. Satisfied with my discipline, I stood back and thought, That's what you get for violating my rule. You see, no one was supposed to scream while I was on the phone-I wouldn't want people to think my family was out of control.
It was our custom after a spanking to hold the child and reaffirm our love for him. But this time, something took place that scared me. Greg was still crying. He stood up and the look in his eyes said, "I hate you." He backed away from me to let me know that he didn't want me to touch him. I suddenly realized what I had done, and I knew that if I didn't take immediate action, there might be serious consequences in our relationship. Fortunately, someone had taught me what to do, and within a few moments, we were hugging each other on his bed, back in full fellowship and harmony.
What actually took place has saved our family time and time again from drifting into deep conflict. The principle I am about to share has, without a doubt, been the single most significant factor in establishing and maintaining harmony in our home.
In the United States, we are suffering from an overwhelming epidemic of broken relationships. We don't have to look hard to see the evidence. We see it to some degree in every relationship, both inside and outside of the home. I hope that I can explain in these next few pages what I know can have a very positive effect on all relationships, especially with our children.
I have taken what I've observed during my more than twenty years of counseling, with my own family, and what I've learned from experts in the field of building personal relationships. I've tried to develop a simple system of explaining the major factor that causes disharmony within the home, as well as outside of it. I would urge you again to reread this one chapter many times because I have found it to be the key to staying in harmony with anyone.
A Closed Spirit
The single most prevalent cause of disharmony within a home is what I have labeled a closed spirit.
What do I mean by a closed spirit? What causes it? Let's begin by saying that every person is born with a spirit, soul, and body, and all three are interrelated. I will define spirit as a person's innermost being, similar to one's conscience. It's the area in which people can have fellowship with one another and enjoy each other's presence without a word being spoken. Our deepest relationships are built on the spirit level. The soul would include our mind, will, and emotions. The body is, of course, our physical makeup. Together, we'll say the three comprise a total person. But the soul and the body are within the spirit.
Very Sensitive Tentacles
To help us understand how the spirit, soul, and body operate together, let's look at an example from nature. When I was a child, I enjoyed observing sea anemones on the California coast. They were often found in tidal pools among the rocks. About four or five inches in diameter, they look like colorful flowers with soft, wavy tentacles. But I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Sometimes I'd take a stick and poke one of them. Immediately the sea anemone would withdraw its sensitive tentacles and close up until it became a shell. It was similar to a beautiful flower closing. Now it was protected from further injury.
What happens with the sea anemone illustrates what happens to a person when he is offended. The tentacles of that sea anemone are similar to the spirit of a person. The sea anemone is completely open and vulnerable. But when the stick pokes him, he closes up. In a similar way, when a person is offended, he closes up. When his spirit closes, it in turn closes his soul and body. If the spirit is open, so are the soul and body. In other words, when the spirits of two people are open, they enjoy talking (soul) and touching (body). If the spirit closes, the soul and body close to the same degree. A person with a closed spirit will usually avoid communication.
This is what I saw happening to Greg. When I pushed him in the hallway and screamed at him in harshness, I had poked his spirit. The greater the harshness, the greater the pain a person feels in his spirit. My harshness, pushing, and spanking without finding out the facts were three large poking sticks. Like the sea anemone, Greg closed his spirit to me with each jab. And when he closed his spirit, he closed everything else. He didn't like me. He didn't want to be near me. He didn't want to talk to me. And he resisted my attempts to touch him. These were the keys that told me that his spirit was closing. When a child resists affection-if you touch his hand and it's cold and limp, or if you put your arm around her and she turns her back, shrugs you off, and avoids conversation-that usually means the spirit is closing.
Manifestations of a Closed Spirit
When a child's spirit is closing there are many possible manifestations. He may argue and resist when you ask him to do something. He may be contrary, refusing to like anything you like! He may withdraw, and usually he is not very responsive to affection.
If his spirit is closed further, he may seek friends who are opposite from the kinds of friends you want him to have. He may swear or use disrespectful language. A closed spirit is a major cause for the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and a primary reason why children become sexually permissive.
At the very worst, a child whose spirit has been completely closed may run away from home or commit suicide.
All of these are symptoms of a closed spirit. If we can recognize them, and help to reopen the spirit, we will often take care of the symptoms in the process.
During my years of counseling, I've come to realize that this principle is the key to most relationships. When a man can't stand his boss, it's primarily because his spirit was "stepped on" or "poked." So the employee usually avoids his boss, silently disagreeing and resisting him. I see it all the time with professional athletes. They get offended by management or coaches and suddenly announce they want to be traded. Where once they were thrilled to be on the team, now they want to get away from it.
It happens in dating. When a girl meets a guy, usually her spirit is wide open to him. She likes him. She wants to talk with him. She enjoys doing things with him. When he touches her, she responds positively. Then something happens and suddenly she isn't as open. She guards her emotions more carefully and isn't as free with her affection. Somehow, her boyfriend has been closing her spirit, often without even knowing it.
It happens all the time in marriage. For years I did many little things to close Norma's spirit. I enjoyed telling little jokes about her to my friends or to my audiences when I spoke. I'd say things like "My wife treats me like a God. Every morning she serves me burnt offerings." Or this one: "Being married to Norma is like being married to an angel. Every day she's up in the air, harping about something, and she never has an earthly thing to wear." I'd laugh and others would laugh, but Norma wouldn't laugh. When she tried to express her hurt, I'd answer, "Come on! Can't you take a joke?"
What I didn't realize was that my jokes, kidding, sarcastic comments, and insensitive actions were closing her spirit a little more each time. After several years of marriage, Norma had closed much of her spirit to me. But I didn't know it. I only saw the outward results, like the times when I'd come home from work and she wouldn't greet me. I'd say, "Hi, Hon, I'm home," and there'd be no response. I'd ask, "Is there anything wrong?" and she'd say, "No." Gradually I began to learn that "No" really meant "Yes." I needed to find out how I had closed her spirit, and take the steps necessary to reopen it.
During my seminars, to demonstrate how sensitive the spirit is, I often ask a man to come forward, close his eyes, and hold out his hand. First I put a large rock in his hand and ask him to identify the object. He usually correctly identifies it as a rock. Then I replace the rock with a pebble. Usually he can't identify it without feeling it for awhile. Most men, when they say something offensive to their wives, think they are only dropping a small pebble on her spirit. But she feels it like a large rock, which can close her spirit.
The same thing can happen in all relationships, especially between parents and their children. This is particularly dangerous with young children who need a lot of physical affection-touching and hugging. If a parent is harsh with a daughter so that she is offended, she will begin closing her spirit. But she still needs to be touched, and since she won't accept touching from Mom or Dad, she looks elsewhere.
Young men can easily pick up her need for affection and take advantage of her. She may resist at first, not wanting to compromise her standards, but her resistance breaks down with the boy's persistence. Because she has already closed her spirit to her parents and she can't take any more rejection, she has a tendency to give in to the boy. If, on the other hand, her relationship with Mom and Dad is solid, her spirit is open, and there has been a healthy degree of affection and touching between them, she is much more likely to have the energy and desire to maintain her moral standards.
Boys have a similar need for affection. However, some fathers won't hug their sons because they think it's not manly. And some have caused their son's spirit to be closed so that their son rejects any affection. It has been determined that this lack of affection may cause boys to find affection in ways that can even lead to a homosexual relationship. Dr. Ross Campbell, a psychiatrist who specializes in working with children, has discovered that in all his reading and experience, he has never known of one sexually disoriented person who had a warm, loving, and affectionate father. If, on the other hand, a parent is cold and offensive, a son can close his spirit, and many times adopt rebellious, antisocial behavior.
Fortunately, a child's spirit is somewhat pliable for the first several years. When children are offended, they are willing and ready to get back into harmony. But if we don't recognize when a child's spirit is closing, we can reap disastrous results.
A closed spirit can also occur between children. Once, Michael, our youngest child, exploded in anger at Greg to the point where he was ready to start slugging it out. When I intervened, I learned that Greg had been harsh with Mike, but Mike was responding far more vehemently than was normal. So I knew something else was wrong.
Alone with Michael, I started playing "twenty questions," trying to discover what had caused his spirit to close. I asked, "Did your sister hurt you?" "Was it me?" "Mom?" Finally, when I asked him if anything had happened to him at school, he put his head down and continued crying. Up to this point, Michael refused to tell me anything. Many times children will say they do not want to talk, but they really do. They will often open up when we gently probe to discover their problem.
Michael went on to tell me that his best friend at school had chosen a new friend, and the two of them had turned against him. My heart went out to him as he cried and I wanted to hold him, but he wasn't ready yet. That told me there was still another problem. Then Michael revealed that Greg and his friend across the street wouldn't play with him. The neighbor was taking his brother away from him. It was just like what had happened at school.
I told him that I felt terrible and asked if I could hold him. He scooted across the bed and held me, crying and feeling the full pain of rejection. Later on we got together with Greg, and Michael explained to him how he felt about the neighbor across the street. Together, the three of us were able to resolve the problem by taking the necessary steps to open Mike's spirit.
If I had not learned that Michael's spirit was closing toward Greg and his friend at school, I might have compounded the problem. I could have said, "Michael, shape up. You're getting to be a big boy now. I'm tired of the way you fight with Greg." That would have closed his spirit even more, especially toward me. Being harsh and demanding is like a big stick "poking" a person's spirit and causing it to close.
In the average home, it is impossible to keep from offending each other. Something seems to happen almost every day that will cause someone to be offended. Yet, it is possible to stay in harmony as long as we resolve each offense. One offense on top of another, on top of another, can build a wall cementing the spirit shut. It is much easier to reopen a child's spirit when it is closed slightly through one or only a few small offenses. But it is still possible to reopen a child's spirit even in the worst situations.
Reopening a Child's Spirit
There are undoubtedly many ways to help open a person's spirit that has closed toward us. I'll mention five ways that have been the most effective in our family and in my counseling. I'll show them in a particular order because this is how I've observed them to be most helpful. However, you may find it more effective to rearrange them or add other ways to the list.
Each of the five steps was used after I had spanked Greg for screaming while I was on the phone. After applying them, I witnessed his spirit reopen in a matter of minutes. Here is the sequence:
Once I had realized that Greg's spirit was closing toward me, I dropped to my knees and my attitude became soft and tender. Gently, I asked him, "Greg, why were you screaming in the bathroom?" With his voice trembling as he fought back the tears, he managed to say, "I fell and hit my ear on the bathtub." He showed me his ear which was swollen and bleeding. When I saw what had happened, I felt terrible. I gently said to him, "Greg, I was so wrong to have treated you this way. Daddy's the one who deserved the spanking." Greg wiped his tears and added, "Then when you pushed me in the hall, I hit my same ear on the toy box."
By this time, I felt like a child abuser. I was an irresponsible father and I recognized it. "Greg, Daddy was wrong." I handed him the spanking stick. "I'm the one who deserves to be spanked. I'm the one who needs it." He grabbed the stick and dropped it. He backed up again, still not wanting any part of me. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but his spirit was still closed toward me.
Finally, I said, again tenderly, "Greg, I was wrong. I know I don't deserve it, but I wonder if it would be possible for you to find it in your heart to forgive me." Immediately he threw his arms around me. We fell back against the bed and he laid on my chest for about a half hour as we held each other tightly. After some time, I looked at his ear again and asked, "Are you sure we're okay now?" "Yes, Daddy, I forgive you," he said, patting me on the back. "We all make mistakes." From the tone of his voice and the way he touched me, I knew his spirit was opening again.
Excerpted from The Key to Your Child's Heart by Gary Smalley Copyright © 1992 by Gary Smalley. Excerpted by permission.
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