It was late in the evening, at the edge of dark. She’d been out there for a long time, my niece who’d accidentally locked the keys in her car. I walked out to the driveway to lend moral support.
“I brought you some ice water.”
“Thanks,” she said, but her blue eyes were laser-focused on the task at hand.
I watched as she, once again, manipulated a wire coat hanger inside the car window very slowly toward the door handle.
Once again, the bend in the hanger was not quite right. Another failed attempt. How many tries so far?
Slowly, smoothly, she pulled the warped piece of wire back out, careful not to damage the window glass and rubber seals.
Tucking her hair behind her ears, she accepted the glass of water, took a long pull, then handed it back to me.
With a slight adjustment to the loop on the end of the hanger, she began again.
I felt frustrated on her behalf. And amazed at how calm she was.
This was not normal behavior under the circumstances, certainly among many members of our family.
Frustration, as we all know, is like an emotional pressure cooker. When children experience it, they often behave erratically in ways that confuse adults. Adults, on the other hand, have various ways of letting off steam. Let’s hope we’ve all moved past door slamming and foot stomping.
Frustration often manifests vocally.
I have always been a big fan of pillow screaming. (Go in bedroom. Put your face in a fluffy pillow. Let out a high-pitched, sustained scream. Feel better. Return to previous activity.)
I remarked to her that her patience surprised me.
“In this situation, a lot of people would be raising the roof right now,” I said softly.
Her voice was equally soft as she responded, “That’s the reason I stay calm. Getting angry doesn’t help.”
I breathed shallowly and held the flashlight.
With the concentration and delicacy of a surgeon, she manipulated the hanger slowly and steadily when, at long last, it caught the latch and clicked.
Victory! The door swung open and we both exhaled.
Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled. Keys retrieved. All was well.
I’ve thought about that evening repeatedly through the years, always with admiration for my niece.
We often model the behavior of others around us -- communicating in a common language, so to speak. Family, cultural or regional norms. But sometimes, we take a step back, take a deep breath, and see there is a better way of doing things.
When enumerating the “fruits of the Spirit,” Galatians 5:23 culminates with “self-control.” The Greek work is egkrateia, meaning “strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.”
Self-control is not a popular topic. If someone advertised a workshop on self-control, I doubt a single soul would show up. In a world do that glorifies self-indulgence and promotes having it all and having it right now, it’s hard not getting caught up in the fracas.
And then I remember the excitement of layaway plans and Christmas clubs and piggy banks and vacation savings … the delight of delayed gratification.
And I remember the calmness of my niece. I am thankful for the lesson she taught me and I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to shine through her always.
Lord, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the potential to be people of self-control. Touch us in the deepest places and show us where we need to nurture that fruit in our lives. Amen.