Our hearts are stone and flesh, all at the same time

Yesterday morning, while our sickish boys were playing with their dad on the carpet of our living room, building Lincoln Log garages for their cars, August suddenly became Concerned. He was standing in his pjs and his little brother was walking past him en route to some other task, when August turned to him with a serious stare and put both hands on Brooksie’s shoulders. Now, usually, Brooks would care less about August’s earnest pleads. Usually, he would shake the hands off and continue moving single-minded toward his task at hand. But this time, he stopped and looked up into his brother’s eyes.

Out of nowhere (all of our conversation at that point had been about Lincoln Log houses), August gave Brooksie one of his most heartfelt speeches:

“Bwooks,” he said, “Something weally important: Don’t ever wun in front of a car that is backing up, okay?”

“K,” said his brother.

August dropped his hands from Brooksie’s shoulders and they both moved on to their playing.

Chris and I stared at each other across the room, our eyebrows raised, lips smirking. And I ran to some paper and wrote the words down (because that’s what I do). My oldest son loves his brother. He cares for him deeply and can be tender and wise toward him one moment and then pinning him on the floor, pinching his arm hard with his fingernails the next. For every heartfelt brotherly speech, there are 25 smackfests between the two of them, almost always instigated by the big brother.  He ends up in time-out and it always turns into a disaster of wills: mine versus his. And most of the time it feels like his will is stronger. I lose the battle. And does anybody learn anything?

I nurse my motherhood failures with my head in my hands and take away a privilege from my son once time-out is over: “Well, you lost your dessert today.”

He says, “That’s okay. I don’t want dessert anyway.”  Great. What am I doing wrong? Why does it feel like all my attempts and my commitment to persistence actually mean nothing? Will my son grow up to hit because all I could come up with was taking away his dessert?

Friday night I was putting him to bed and praying for him, my hands smoothing hair from his eyes, rubbing his back. I quoted one of my favorite passages in , prayed, “God, give him a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.”

“What does that mean, Mama?” My kid rolled over to face me. I could make out his eyes staring up at mine in the night-dark room.

“It’s a metaphor, buddy,” I said. (Yes, we use words like metaphor with our kids. We’re book nerds. What can I say?) “It means I’m asking God to make your heart soft so you can hear God’s voice and so God can make you more and more like Jesus. If your heart is hard like stone you forget how to love and you forget how to listen to God.”

He rolled away from me to face the wall, whispered, “Mommy, I’ve got both those hearts in me.”

Sometimes I gasp at his words, how such depth can come from him. Then I remember who I was as a four-year-old. I remember that time I swung in my babysitter’s back yard by myself and Jesus came near and we talked. I know it’s possible to understand spiritual truth when you’re four-years-old. Of course it is possible.

I whispered, my hands tickling his back. “I know, honey, we all have both those hearts. That’s why we need Jesus.”

And I finished praying. Though I don’t know what I said.

Both hearts are in me, I thought. All this striving toward winning the Very Best Mom Prize wears me down. God asks me to love my kids faithfully, with perseverance. But God has never made me my kid’s conscience. I can reward his good choices. I can confront his ugly choices. But I cannot make his character compassionate. That’s inward work. That’s the work that requires God’s tender intervention.

And here’s the thing: My son already knows about that inward work. He knows what’s a stake: both those hearts are raging within him. And my job is pray his soul through the journey of those two hearts.

There’s relief in that. There’s hope in that.


Photo Credit: at

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  • Linda carleton

    As I spent time with my older daughter and her family this weekend I was moved by how God’s grace covered my “mothering” errors to grow a wonderful woman , wife, and mother. He is faithful, all we mothers can do is the best we can.

    • michaboyett

      Thank you, Linda (Dean!). It’s so good to hear from you. And I’m grateful for the reminder about grace. I always need those reminders!

  • sounds like our sons would get along well. for all of the “fine tuning” i have to engage in with him at six, and how discouraged i can get with this process, i see his heart light up in flames like this and those flickers, those embers deep inside him keep us both going at this growing each other.

    • michaboyett

      Tara, we should have a support group for mothers of willful children of depth. : )

  • M.K.

    What a beautiful post, Micha. Brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been away from your blog and am so glad to return to it.

    • michaboyett

      MK! I was actually just thinking of you on Sunday night. I was looking at those Tom’s wedges (in my closet) I wrote about a couple years ago and I remembered your good response about them. And then I missed you and wondered how you were doing. What a sweet thing to see you here! Thank you, friend.

  • I cried at your son’s words, Micha, because I have both those hearts, too. I want to remember this. For myself, for my parenting, for all of it. Thank you (and your son!).

  • Oh, these soulful little people and the simple, honest way they spell out the truth… here too, August – flesh and stone and living life in the messy middle of the Kingdom come and the not yet.

    • michaboyett

      Annie and Kim,
      Thanks so much, friends. I love your words, Annie: Life in the messy middle of the Kingdom come and the not yet. Yes. Exactly.

  • Oh my, Micha. I so love this post – every bit of it. And that picture?? I mean – how perfect can a picture be? I so remember these worries as I raised my kids. And my son simply would not accept punishment as punishment. “It’s okay, Mom. I don’t want that toy anyhow.” “I don’t care about dinner anyhow.” “I don’t care if I have to stay in my room for weeks and weeks.” (I jest – but not much!) And my middle daughter had a temper – OH MY, yes. And my older one? The steely-eyed will at age 7 to refuse to apologize to the neighbor girl she bonked on the head with her lunchbox. On purpose. (Of course, it came out later that the girl had been mercilessly teasing her about something…) And then when that same daughter called me on the phone in tears when her eldest was three and there had been this horrible murder case in the Bay Area – a 10 year old kid killed another kid – and she asked if I thought her boy might grow up to be such a frightful person because his will was a strong or stronger than hers! We ALL go through this. And all I can say is, keep on truckin’. Be as consistent as you can, as loving as you can, as prayerful as you can. . . and then trust. My ‘kids’ are all in their 40s now and the most magnificent human persons I know. Can’t say I had a whole lot to do with that, but they were each given to God over and over again for a lotta years. And that grandson? He’s 21 and a fiendishly talented budding filmmaker at Chapman University. Never killed anybody. :>)

    • michaboyett

      Diana, I love your wisdom! Thank you for the good news that my kid probably won’t grow up to be a mass murderer. : ) I love having you around here to say: I’ve done it already and it was all grace. I need that reminder…

  • Carrie P

    Thank you for this post!!! My 7 year old is in the same category…and often I blame myself for just not being a good enough mom for him…I love the reminder that its Gods work in my sons heart…I needed that tonight. Thank you!!

  • A friend referred me over here after a post I made and ironically- the post had been about my 3 year old’s behavior, but your post, well it could have been written about my 6 year old 🙂 Consider me in the mothers of strong-willed children’s category. It is so comforting to know we aren’t alone in this journey!

    • michaboyett

      Welcome, Cole! So happy to have you. Mothers of Strong-Willed Children Unite! Hope to see you around here more often…