Making a Mess


My youngest son decided to stand on the neighbor’s water line (PVC pipe) last night and broke it. Water sprayed everywhere, and we couldn’t get it to stop. Nor could we see well enough in the darkness to fix it or even assess what had broken.

I was furious, but my son’s reaction to my anger wasn’t very satisfying, so I increased the volume with some loud scolding. Still, he didn’t seem to be showing enough remorse, so I increased the volume again with a few growls and deep sighs of exasperation. They didn’t elicit the desired response, so I stomped off angrily and took a swing at an innocent towel hanging out to dry. That did the trick, and the tears began to flow.

After the adrenaline had worn off, I was embarrassed about my outburst. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that my anger was less about my son’s irresponsibility (it could have happened to any of us – most of the plumbing where we live is barely taped together) and more about the inconvenience it caused me.

The broken water line had to be fixed – that meant a plumber after dark – that meant money, which we’ve been handing out like candy lately. I didn’t know who to contact in Thailand at that hour to come fix a busted pipe, and I wasn’t looking forward to interacting with our neighbor (who we never talk to) about something of theirs that we broke.

Probably my angry tirade did little to “teach my son a lesson” and much to make him fear his dad’s emotional instability when a mistake has been made. The next time he breaks something, he will know who NOT to tell. If I really wanted him to learn from his mistake, a calm discussion about respecting other peoples’ property would have been much more effective.

And for all I know, the event was God’s way of getting me to talk to my neighbor. He gave me ten months since we moved in, and I haven’t even ventured over to say, “Hello.” Maybe He took things into His own hands. To love my neighbor, I probably need to know him first. A broken water line gives us a reason to interact, and it puts me in the right frame of mind to be humble when we meet.

After I made my apologies to my son, we found that the situation wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. We were able to cut off the water. Then I wrote a note, and we stuck it to our neighbors’ door together (they weren’t home at the time). We had a short discussion about the importance of respecting other peoples’ property, and the lesson seemed to register.

This morning, our neighbor came out to inspect the water line while I was reading on the patio. We had a nice discussion, learned about some things we had in common and worked out an arrangement to fix the water line. I also learned that their family is considering renting our house after we leave. Since two of their children have grown and moved out, they need less space.

We talked about the house and the owner and agreed to allow for a walk-through later this week. Before that discussion, I was a little worried about how the transition would go with our landlord, but I feel better now knowing that he will probably have a renter as soon as we are gone.

In retrospect, my mess turned out to be much bigger than the one my son made, and it was harder to clean up. Glad my Dad isn’t accustomed to flying off the handle with me. His volume tends to be more subtly and skillfully applied.

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Filed under accountability, blame, christianity, Convenience, family, grace, Inconvenience, Interpersonal, leadership, mistakes, parenting, Relationships, Teaching

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