Parents teach their kids to count backwards. Why? I haven’t a clue unless it is to show them off. “Junior, show Uncle Bob how you can count backwards from ten.”  I had always figured the only good use for such knowledge and ability is if one works for NASA:  “Ten, nine, eight…one, lift off.”

But a few years ago, while on vacation in California, it actually came in handy.  We were in San Francisco on the thirty-first floor of a hotel.  Let me reassure you that I’m not accustomed to staying in such lofty perches.  I’m a Hampton Inn, second floor kind of guy, but on this particular night, we were on the thirty-first floor.

I remember the number because I was there alone with our daughter who was sleeping.  I was alone with our daughter because my wife and son were at a late movie, and that left me to stay with our then, four-year-old.  I remember clearly that it was the thirty-first floor because the voice over the hotel intercom told us, “There is a fire and you need to evacuate the building immediately!”  “Immediately” to me, when the hotel is on fire, means immediately.

And so I grabbed our daughter and headed to the nearest fire escape, telling her a little white lie—“This is a fire drill, just like at school.”  As we dashed down the stairs, with her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, I started counting backwards:  “Thirty-one, thirty…”  There was no indication of the floor numbers, and so I counted backwards and with each number closer to one, I breathed bigger and bigger sighs of relief.

A few months later I told her that she should count backwards, but no, I wasn’t showing her off to an uncle and no, a hotel wasn’t on fire.  We were on the way to school, and I knew she would be in a grouchy mood that day (runs in the family).  Actually, it wasn’t her fault; more her parents than hers.  We had kept her up late the night before because of a ballgame and then a late dinner with friends.  She got to bed an hour and a half at least, later than normal.  Like I said, it wasn’t her fault that she would have the personality that day of a piece of burnt toast.  She was tired, and I knew it. I felt responsible.

It had the potential of being a tough day for her (and her teacher).  And so I tried to do some intervention.  I told her that if she got angry or lost patience because she was tired, “Take two deep breaths and count backwards from ten.” She looked at me like I was some weird preacher/parent from outer space.  But it is good advice.  It works for kids and adults who are in a grumpy mood, whether their fault or the fault of others.

Paul said: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” (Galatians 5: 22-23).  On that particular day, our daughter needed the “fruit of the Spirit,” and she needed to count backwards.

~Pastor Steve

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