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On Raising Savages: Reserved Judgment

By Kris Green




“So, what would you say your strengths and weaknesses are?” my boss asks me as I sit in her office talking about something else.

I look down. Surprised by the question, I feel the weight of all the things I could say, and rather than try to make myself come off polished, I just tell her what’s on my heart. One of the things that comes out surprises me.

“I’m empathetic, so while I feel that it is a strength because I build relationships with the people who work for me, I am aware that sometimes I feel overly sensitive to what people say and do. It takes a lot of energy for me to not allow my hurt feelings to influence how I act.”

I’m thinking of another manager in the store. I’m thinking of some off-hand comments that he made that made me feel angry and hurt. I haven’t always responded well to him.

Our most recent tense conversation had him saying, “I’ll just email the District Manager and tell her you said that.”

“Do what you gotta do, bro,” I said, not backing down from the threat.

He retreated, seeing my anger. We talked. I realized he doesn’t seem to know how he comes off. I didn’t bother trying to show him. We left the conversation on good terms. The last few interactions have been good—not great, but no conflict.

Looking at my boss, I think of the other manager. I think of how much energy it takes to not allow feelings of hurt to influence every interaction I have with him. I’ve been doing well. It’s been getting easier. I smile.

We talk for about twenty minutes. She takes down notes. A meeting is supposed to happen in the next day or two that my performance and future promotions can hinge upon, but I don’t think about it. To me, it’s not as important as trying to figure out how to get along with this other manager.


 

 

David sins with Bathsheba. Maybe that’s an oversimplification. It’s quite a whopper of a sin. Bathsheba is not his wife. She gets pregnant. Murder, sex, conspiracy—there’s a lot going on in 2 Samuel 11. If it were streaming online, I’d bet you’d watch it. David commits adultery. David murders to hide his sin. David, the man after God’s own heart, messes up royally.

Then Nathan shows up. He tells David a story, and David righteously gets riled up. Nathan, as far as I know, gives the first and most incriminating, “You the man!” in history. Except David hadn’t just sunk a killer 3-pointer, he had just destroyed more than he could ever imagine.

In Chapter 12, God tells David, “What have I kept from you?” Maybe not in those words, but pretty close. God makes a little list of just some of the things he has done for David and then calls him out for being sinful. David repents. God says David doesn’t have to die, and that’s it…

Actually no. That’s not it. There’s so much more that happens.

Sin doesn’t magically go away when we repent. The ramifications of sin are immeasurable and it only keeps growing out of proportion until it invades every part of our lives. If I have unrepentant sin in one aspect of my life, it doesn’t just hurt me, but it also hurts those around me.

The baby from David and Bathsheba is not going to live, which God tells David outright. If that’s not horrible enough, God tells David in Chapter 12, “Your family will always be at strife. Devastation will come from within your own family. There will be no rest. It’s all downhill from here.”


 

“Natalie! STOP!” Tenny, my tenacious four-year-old, screams across the house.

I’d like to say this isn’t an average occurrence in the household, but it’s more regular than not.

Most people we’ve asked about encouraging the kids to get along give this kind of a nonchalant shrug, saying, “It’s life,”—siblings don’t get along. Cain will always be upset with Abel. Jacob will always be at strife with Esau. It’s biblical. It’s life.

We asked our pediatrician the same. But, thank the good Lord, our pediatrician is different. She recommended that we don’t play judge and jury. Don’t try to figure out who is at fault. Either punish both or tell them to work it out for themselves.

I sit on the couch with the sun rising in the distance of a cool January morning, looking just above my horror novel to watch them. The disagreements come from my son not wanting my daughter to play, touch, or even look at his toys, but my two-year-old idolizes her brother and wants to do whatever he is doing.

I wait for the disagreement to end. I don’t get involved. Then, I call my son over. He still seems frustrated. I’ve watched him growing more frustrated by his little sister who, with all good intentions, just doesn’t get it. Today it was a matter of him keeping his patience and trying to explain what he wanted and her not understanding—or choosing not to understand—what he wants.

We go into the kitchen. I stand him on the counter in the kitchen. I talk about how she doesn’t understand, and there’s a glimmer of excitement mostly because I think he just needs to be heard in this moment. Then I hand him a butter knife.

“You’re an expert at that,” I tell him.

He nods proudly. He’s chopped through peppers and cheese while I’ve cut veggies and prepared dinner. He has used the knife to cut through his food whether it was needed or not.

Then I hold up the steak knife. His eyes grow wide. He doesn’t reach for it, but rather draws back closer to the cupboard behind him.

“You don’t use this.”

He shakes his head.

“Why?”

“It’s sharp.”

“And you might cut yourself, right?”

He nods. I put the knife on the counter next to him. His eyes look at it, very aware that it’s dangerous. Then I tell him about when he was Natalie’s age. I tell him because he doesn’t remember that he used to want that knife and would cry when he didn’t get it.

“I did?”

“Yes! Why would you do that?”

He shakes his head, smiling not at the memory but the absurdity of it.

“You didn’t understand. Just like Natalie doesn’t understand what you are trying to do. Try to be patient. She’ll get it eventually.”

 

 

“Remember when Justin would...” I try with the manager I’ve been struggling with, knowing we both worked with another manager who is awesome.

My hope in mentioning it is to build a bond. If we find something or someone we have in common, maybe we can have something to build on.

The other manager stops me there.

“I think we had a different relationship with Justin. At first, he was my boss and then he became my friend.”

Oof. Okay. Retreat. I say nothing. I leave the first opportunity I get. Attempt failed.

 

 

There’s a lot that goes into being a parent. Being a dad sometimes feels overwhelming. There’s the man I am at work where people know me, look up to me, ask me questions, and even seek my guidance. But then there’s being a dad and the difference in the way I feel about people at work cannot even come close to the love I have for my family. There’s a lot on my shoulders and I know inside, I can’t mess this up. All the pressure inside, I know I need to keep my head on straight.

Tenny calls me from his bedroom. It’s 6 a.m. I go in and see him lying on his belly and rocking a little back and forth, smiling at me.

“Want to go downstairs?”

He nods.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the week. I carry him downstairs. It’s cold. He’s getting bigger, heavier, but I don’t feel it. I turn on the coffee pot before we go to the couch. I pull a blanket over us and wrap him tighter in my arms. Roy, a man who works with me, when meeting my son and seeing him in my arms, said, “You’re not going to be able to do that much longer.”

My son later asks, “Will you always be able to hold me?”

“Yes,” I tell him in a whisper. “But sometimes, I’ll carry you from within your heart.”

He doesn’t need to know that one day he might be able to carry me around. He doesn’t need to know about death or pain, and as long as I can, I will keep these things from him. I will protect his and my daughter’s innocence because they need to have a real childhood. They need to know it so that when we confront those horrible things together, we have a foundation of love and togetherness to give us a clear lens to see and interpret those situations.

Things like adultery and murder and death are the last things kids need to hear about. I groan when my son comes home from Sunday school talking about hell. I don’t know why God slaughtering the world is in every one of my kid’s Bible storybooks, but Noah’s flood with those animals marching two by two is there every time.

I mourn the state of the church when we feel a need to fill up children with biblical knowledge before heart knowledge. My son memorizes Bible verses for his Awana class on Sunday nights. Awana is like Boy Scouts for Christians. The problem is, he’s telling me verses about how “God is our refuge,” but when has he ever needed to rely on God like this? What does he know of sin? How does it benefit his life to come home talking about hell?

Granted, there’s only so much you can do with a four-year-old when it comes to teaching them about God. Four-year-olds, as a rule, don’t sit still for very long. I wonder what it would look like to teach them about what heartfelt prayer looks like or why God is our refuge.

Hebrews talks about how the Bible is a sword. Why do we arm children with a sword but don’t give them practical lessons on how to wield it?

It’s like saying, “I know everything I can about Taylor Swift.” I know her lyrics in and out. I know her favorite foods. I know it all. But I don’t know her personally. What’s more powerful—knowing what Taylor Swift’s favorite dessert is or bumming on her couch streaming episodes of The Office? 

Or what if I know everything about playing baseball? What if I could tell you statics and biographies of every player, but have never put on a glove? What good is my knowledge then?

While I’m hopeful that those verses will reside in my son’s spirit one day, I don’t know that it will do him any good now. Unless we are working in unison with the Spirit, those verses may have little effect. It takes training to use a sword. It takes discipline and skill.

My bookshelf isn’t oozing with power because of the different versions and translations of the Bible on it. It’s not the Bible itself that’s powerful. Before you stone me, hear me out: The Bible needs a seeking and humble soul cracking the spine and drinking the words within. The Spirit needs to be moving. Souls aren’t coming to know the depths of God because of bumper stickers and kitchen plaques.

There is something beautiful about just holding my son and letting him feel safe. When the worst thing in the world is a thunderstorm or having a pushy little sister who just wants to play, all my son needs to know is that he is loved. In my arms, then, we can share about what it looks like for God to be our refuge.


 

David had a lot of wives; therefore, he had a lot of kids. While it’s tempting to judge these past cultures with our modern mindsets, many of David’s wives were former conquered enemies. One of whom, Ahinoam, was Saul’s (the king before David) wife. It gets icky if you think about it for too long, so let’s just keep moving. She is the first woman to bear David a son and it would stand to reason this young man would become king after David. His name is Amnon.

Amnon is in love with Tamar, one of David’s daughters. It gets worse. Amnon’s cousin suggests pretending he’s sick. It’s a game of seduction that doesn’t take and ends in Tamar’s rape. It’s horrible. There are no words for how awful it is. The more the story develops, it’s clear, the whole mess is only getting worse. Season 2 of David’s mess-up is a lot worse than season 1.

If you’re a careful reader of the Bible, you’ll hear the echoes of the prophet Nathan telling David, “Devastation will come from within your own family.” It’s kind of easy to see it coming now, that many wives, that many kids. Maybe it was only a matter of time, or maybe it was simply just because David strayed off the holy path.


 

I hear crying. The savages are at it again. I’m brushing my teeth and go out my bedroom door. My wife is downstairs washing the dishes. My son is driving his monster truck along the bedroom door of my daughter’s room. She tries to open the door and my son, just as quickly, closes it, keeping her stuck.

It’s easy to think there is a bully in the house. It’s easy to think it’s a four-year-old tyrant and that’s it. But my daughter instigates things. There’s always something more than just meets the eye. My son doesn’t cry when his two-year-old sister hits him, but when he swings back at her, even gently, she erupts into tears.

I comment on the truck and maneuver opening the door to let my two-year-old escape without a comment from her brother. Not everything needs to be a confrontation, I tell myself a little boastfully, when I notice the rice on the floor of my son’s bedroom.  My son had opened the fridge and taken out a bowl of rice and carried it upstairs to his room. He is still driving his truck, now on his dresser, and I ask him what happened.

That might not be completely true. It probably came out as an accusation, and I scold him for not picking up the rice. I grab a garbage can. I start scooping the rice and my daughter comes over and helps. My son angrily stares at us as I scold him for letting the rice sit on his carpet. I rant. I’m not proud of it. I think every parent does it at some time or another, but I rant. I go on and on about it, but ultimately, I rant because I’m upset. I talk about bugs and hygiene and a thousand other comments I don’t even remember, and then I scold him for not helping. Adding insult to injury, I compliment his sister for helping.

He helps a little and then says he’s hungry.

“Finish your rice and we can talk.”

“There’s a hair in it.”

I grab the bowl when I see the long elegant black strand that has come from my wife intertwined with the rice. Not sitting on top, but all up in there.

We go downstairs. By this time, my wife has taken my daughter to start the bedtime routine. I stand my son on the counter. It’s easier to look at him face to face, free of distraction.

“How did mommy’s hair get in the rice?”

“When it fell.”

“You cleaned some of it up?”

He nods.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Next time, tell me. I got upset seeing you play while the rice sat on the carpet.”

I thought I had seen the situation right, but I was wrong. He had tried to clean up what he could and then, as a little four-year-old does, he got distracted and started playing.

 

 

I tense as the difficult manager talks to me. His words are unintentionally confrontational. He doesn’t know he’s being condescending. I need to just keep my mouth shut. I smile. I try not to let the words hit.

The problem isn’t the manager though.

When I talk to fellow managers who are frustrated at their struggling employees, I cannot help but ask them, “What have you changed about yourself to try and make the employee more receptive?”

The problem is, I’m not struggling. I’m successful. Still, I wonder what I can change about myself to improve this situation.

I used to think everyone could just sit down and talk it out, but now, I’m not so sure. Sometimes people have agendas or strong feelings that rational conversation just won’t penetrate. Traditionally, in my experience, people don’t want to change. Most people want to take the easy route, even if it’s destructive.

The reality is, you can’t change anything but yourself. Want to change the world? Start with yourself. Want to convert the world to Christ? Great! Covert the nations and planets that reside within your heart first. Then watch the world around you change.

This manager is always going to be this way. I need to change my heart and be more loving. I need to keep back my judgment and not let it interfere with what could potentially be someone who, one day, could be in my corner.

It starts with giving the benefit of the doubt. Paul said in Corinthians, “Love believes all things,” and I cannot help but feel if that’s not giving the benefit of the doubt, I don’t know what is.


 

Absalom, David’s son and Tamar’s full-blooded brother, kills Amnon. He waits to do it. He plots much like Amnon had plotted. Then Absalom runs from David for fear of his life, and David spares his son.

The story is a lot longer. There’s a lot going on. David spares his son but goes two years without talking to him. There almost seems to be too much pain for David to sort through. 

When they do talk, it’s clear the relationship is over. Even if David secretly harbored hatred for Amnon, it’s still one son killing another. It’s still one son raping a daughter. It’s still pain on top of pain. David doesn’t engage in the mess, at least that’s what it looks like. He stands outside of it, maybe, holding it all in.


 

Tenny crosses his arms on the couch and leans in to talk to me in a heavy whisper. “I don’t like Natalie!”

“Just give her some space.”

I don’t disagree with him. I don’t challenge him. He played too rough with his sister and got in trouble. They know if I’m concerned for their safety, I’m going to intervene. He should be mad at me, not Natalie.

It’s hard to step back in the moment and tell them to sort it out for themselves. It’s hard to say, “I trust you to be able to handle it.” It’s hard when one kid cries not to swoop in and do something because you’re the parent and you think you need to fix the world. It’s hard to let your kids be angry or upset or disappointed and not want to solve their problems for them.

But you must.

An hour later, they’re laughing together and playing. The big moments in your head maybe aren’t as significant to them. If I made the situation bigger, then would they be able to laugh and play as they are now?

David’s go-to attitude when trouble comes is to run. Absalom is out for blood. Absalom tries to usurp his father. He tries to lead a rebellion. He tries… but fails. The bloodshed feels endless as I read through 2 Samuel. All that bloodshed with the echoing words of Nathan, the prophet, ringing in my ears, “Devastation will come from within your own family.”

It is recorded that among Absalom’s children, he has a daughter and names her Tamar. Understandably, Absalom couldn’t get past the anger and the hate. In the end, it cost him his family and his life.

As David is fleeing, they come across a relative of King Saul. The relative curses at David. Those with David implore him that they be allowed to silence the cursing. David says no. That the curse is not really from Saul’s relative, but from God.

I wonder at how much pain David’s heart is going through. I wonder how he can carry it. When Absalom’s rebellion culminates, David tells his generals not to kill him. David’s righthand man, Joab, kills Absalom. David weeps, saying, “If only it were me who died and not him.”

 

 

If a politician gets wrapped up in a scandal, it’s the end of their career. All their decisions are called into question.

I don’t  think politicians and public figures plan on making bad decisions. In spite of our inclinations toward evil, I like to think most people want to make the right decisions. Most people want to do good. But in those secret thoughts and those secret desires, there is something where a desire meets opportunity, and boom.

I look at King David and how it seems his whole life fell apart after Bathsheba. It’s kind of hard to take it all in. It’s a lot to be a father and a mother. It’s a lot to keep your anger in check and your personal holiness alive.

Holiness is an active attribute. The word conjures ideas of monks from far away and shaved heads, but for me, it’s hunger. It’s a hunger for the right thing to happen. Hunger to not necessarily be heard, but the hunger to do the right the thing, think the right thing, and in doing so, be the right thing.

I don’t think holiness is an attribute that you can cultivate in solitude. It is something gained from right decisions. It is something given after straining in prayer and hopelessness at your own devastating wickedness. The purpose of marriage and family, to steal the idea outright from Gary Thomas, is holiness. Marriage and family serve to make you holy. The decisions we make have a lasting impact on our families and those who live around us.

 

 

Tenny lays one of the pillows from the couch onto the floor and then begins to lean some of his books along it, creating a wall. Natalie watches her brother before going over, her finger touching the top of one of the books, and knocks it to the floor.

I brace. I know what’s about to happen. It’s a common refrain throughout the house. Even writing this, I can hear my son’s voice shouting out, “No, Natalie!”

But he doesn’t. He tries to keep himself calm and though he still says it, he adds to it.

“No Natalie, let’s do it this way, see.” And he proceeds to show her what to do. It’s not a big victory. Within the hour, there will be shouts and tears again. But it’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

After the baby Bathsheba was carrying dies, before Tamar, Absalom, and David enter a whirlwind of pain—Bathsheba gives birth to another son. Not the love story we asked for, but maybe the love story we didn’t know we wanted.  

They send word, nervous parents, to the prophet Nathan. Last we saw Nathan, he was prophesying doom for David’s household. The baby is named Solomon, which means peace—or maybe more importantly, restoration. It’s kind of beautiful. Two years after David made his massive sin, he names the baby Restoration. Two years after being told that the sword is never going to depart from his family, he names the baby Peace. Nathan responds with another baby name: Jedidiah—which means Beloved of the Lord.

The baby grows up watching his siblings fight amongst themselves and their father. He watches the bloodshed. He watches the heartache.

After the turmoil of the latter part of David’s reign, Solomon becomes king. Solomon inaugurates the most peaceful and richest eras Israel had ever known. So much rides on a single moment. David stands on his roof looking down at his kingdom. Does he feel pride in his heart? Does he say all of this is mine, even that woman bathing?

Fighting for my own holiness, I’m very aware of how much can fall apart with one single moment. No wonder when God calls Solomon, Solomon asks God for wisdom.

There’s something else that I cannot help but love: the lineage of Christ goes through Solomon—or, maybe as Nathan called him, Beloved of the Lord.

In the middle of all that ugliness, God restores. Even after everything falls apart, God restores.



 

Going Deeper


Why is holiness not an attribute that can be cultivated in solitude?

 

Read James 1:12-19

 

Is temptation vital to our spiritual growth?

 

The battle starts within. Try praying: God help me to take every thought captive. Make me aware of my inner thoughts that lead my heart away from your desires and your will. Reduce me to love. 



 
Kris Green lives in Florida with his beautiful wife and two savage children. When he isn’t working his day job or writing at the crack of dawn, he’s spending time with them.
Kris has a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College of Florida in counseling. He’s been published over forty times in the last few years by the wonderful people at Nifty Lit, The Haberdasher: Peddlers of Literary Art, In Parentheses Magazine, Route 7 Review, BarBar Magazine, and many more. He’s won the 2023 Barbe Best Short Story and Reader’s Choice Award for his short story, “Redemption.”
While he often feels like he’s not qualified enough to give parenting advice, he began writing these observations within the last few years about what it means to be a father and trying to be strategic in his parenting. He’s not an expert. He doesn’t have teenagers and the headache that that encompasses. He’s not any more than a lifetime learner who upon hearing that his wife was pregnant, downloaded any book he could get his hands on about pregnancy and parenting. He is driven to do right by his kids and guide them to be as strong as possible in a world that only seems to want to hurt and steal from them.
Kris has been called quirky and unorthodox. Once, he asked someone who works with him to take out his hearing aid and allow a video of him to talk about the importance of not playing the television at max volume for his three-year-old. While he was declined his request, he is usually met with a sideways smile and a shake of the head.
Kris has been wrecked for Christ for over twenty years now. He originally went to school to be a pastor, but God closes doors and guides hearts.

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