A writer friend of mine shared an article about strong-willed children last night. I was scrolling my newsfeed during an intense episode of Scandal, using my “viewers discretion” as I’d been advised. I’m not even a mama, but the headline and the image of a cross-armed little girl made me pause. Before I even clicked the link, I stopped the show and reached for my journal because the Holy Spirit is no respecter of Netflix binges. And He had something to say.
The words “strong-willed child” might as well have been profane slurs to me as a little girl. It was a self-deprecating family joke that I never found very funny. People would compliment my Momma on her daughters, and she would laugh then tell them about her “strong-willed child” that mirrored all of her worst traits. Other parents would smile knowingly, and they’d talk Dobson-sanctioned parenting strategies, while I prayed the floor, or at least my mothers skirt, would open up and swallow me.
The words stung because I couldn’t deny they were true. It wasn’t that I refused to obey, it was just that I always had a question or an opinion about everything. The word “no” left my mouth before I could bring my hand up to stop it. In the role of “big sister” I owned those 18 months of seniority like they’d given me a throne to dictate from. I recognized these things in myself but no matter how hard I tried to stop, I kept getting into trouble. Everything pointed to one character flaw: my strong will.
I hated my strong will. Despised it. I wanted to kill it more than anything in the world. My will became the enemy of God’s will, and I didn’t understand why it just.wouldn’t.die. The “old man” was supposed to pass away, all things were supposed to be new, weren’t they? Where was my “new man”? “Strong-willed” morphed into “rebellious” as a teenager no matter how desperately I prayed to be rid of the thorn in my flesh. This “quirk” of my personality became my besetting sin and the source of unending shame.
Until last night. Before I could even get pen to paper Jesus was reframing “the strong-willed child” in me. The same stubborn streak that did battle with my Momma for all those years has sustained me through some dark days. It supplied me the fortitude I needed to survive family dysfunction, sexual abuse, 10 years in a cult, and seasons of severe depression. But more than any of that, my strong will has been the greatest evidence of grace by driving me to cling to Jesus. What I saw as a fatal flaw He has used to keep my heart tethered to Himself, even when the circumstances dictated that I walk away. I didn’t break.
By the grace of God and with His help, I’ve drawn on that strength to fight the lie that I would always disappoint through undisciplined actions. I grew up. And I’m using the stubbornness I despised for 25 years to my advantage as I continue to seek healing. I can re-write my story and choose to leave a different legacy.
I used to think that being strong-willed doomed me to grow up a mean, bossy, control freak. I have my moments, just like any of us. But they no longer define me. I was a strong-willed child. Now I’m just strong.