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.