…but I do the very thing I hate. – Romans 7:15
I was five years old the last time I had heard those dreaded words, “Rodney, pick me a switch.” I hated to hear them because I knew they were Mom’s final warning before I felt her wrath. There’s an art to picking switches. If you pick them too thick one swat will bruise the skin and leave you sore for hours. On the other hand, if you pick them too thin they’ll sting like a needle. They’ve got to be just right; medium width, green and limber so they bend easily. And you need to try to take the switching in the seat where there’s more padding and hopefully even pants pockets (and thereby doubly thick to help absorb the blow).
Actually the pain was never that bad; it was the physiological torment that really hurt. First I had to pick the switch for her. Then I had to stand by and helplessly watch as she held it between two fingers by the top leaf and quickly zip-p-p pealed off the rest of the leaves with her other hand. Then she’d slap the air with it – swish, swish, swish. I’d break out in a cold sweat. It was the waiting that really hurt; the switching was nothing. I’d time my scream, make it sharp and loud, and after two or three switches she’d feel guilty and quit.
Once I couldn’t stand the waiting so I took off running down the road. It was the wrong thing to do. When Mom caught up with me she switched me all the way home. It was the last time I was ever switched. I think it scared us both.
There are always those things that parents do that they later wish they hadn’t done…things that lead their kids to vow they’ll surely never do the same. I vowed even then that I’d never switch my kids. It was the first of numerous successive vows made from parental lessons learned as a child.
Many years ago we were at an all-church picnic. Bethany, still in diapers, was lying on a blanket entertaining her mother. I was throwing a Frisbee with friends. Todd was climbing up on the picnic table and jumping off. I’d already yelled for him to stop twice when he climbed up and knocked off a plate of cookies. Embarrassed and angry, I ran over, grabbed him up off the table, plopped him on the ground and blurted out, “Todd, pick me a switch.” He was noticeably scared but mostly confused for he obviously knew nothing about the art of switch picking or the family tradition of being switched. I was taken back too. I’d hoped to be different. I’d hoped not to repeat the same mistakes of my parents. I’m always surprised when I break one of my sincerely intended childhood promises. I’m shocked when I hear my mouth say words I’d vowed never to repeat. Switch picking was an art he didn’t need to know.
It’s a wonder we’re not all perfect by now. What with each successive generation vowing not to make the same mistakes their parents made, you’d think we’d just keep getting better and better. But we don’t. Perhaps that is why I identify so strongly with the words of Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate." Like Paul, I’ve vowed not to be so human in so many ways, and like him have failed so often. It seems that humanity is hereditary, we receive it from our parents and learn of it from our children. We fail often and, in our tears, continue making vows. We win occasionally and shout a silent thanks to God.
This one was a win. It was the last time I ever said, “Todd, pick me a switch.” The art of switch picking is no longer a Coleman family tradition; and Mom and I are glad.
Prayer: Don’t give up on me Lord. Stay with me in my struggle. Amen.