Not long ago, I visited a dollar store. Since I don’t usually have a dollar, I don’t go to stores like this often. Besides, by the time you add taxes, everything costs more than a dollar anyway.

Another customer caught my attention. At first I thought she was talking to herself, but I soon realized she was addressing a young boy about 6 years old. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I knew her remarks wouldn’t help this child develop into a capable, responsible, self-reliant adult. In fact, if he was like most kids, he quit listening soon after she began her tirade.

I didn’t have a pencil or paper to write everything down, and I didn’t want to whip out my cell phone and start recording. But this woman’s words went on and on. I never once heard her pause for breath. Since I didn’t quite get it all, I tried my best to write down what I remembered and fill in the blanks from my own childhood. Take a deep breath and read the next three paragraphs aloud.

“What were you thinking? What do you have to say for yourself? Don’t you hear me talking to you? If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that. How many times do I have to tell you? Why can’t you ever do anything right? Wait till your dad gets home. You’ll get what you deserve! Do you want a spanking? I’ll give you a reason to cry. Bring me the belt. I’m going to count to three: 1 . . . 2 . . .

“One day you’ll thank me for this. This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you. If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off, too? I brought you into this world, and I can take you out. I hope one day you’ll have a kid just like you. I’m the adult and you’re the child. Do as I say. Why? Because I said so! What am I gonna do with you? What makes you think you’re so special? Do you want me to wash out your mouth with soap? If you chop your legs off, don’t come running to me. Nobody’s forcing you to stay here. Go clean your room; you don’t want me doing it for you. What do you think I’m made of? Do you think money grows on trees? Clean your plate; children in China are starving. Shut your mouth and eat your food. I’m not angry; I’m disappointed. What part of “NO” didn’t you understand? You’re skating on thin ice. Close the door. What are you trying to do, cool the whole outside world?

“Were you born in a barn? When I was growing up we didn’t have . . . Do I look stupid? You’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on tight. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. How come you never . . .? Lots of kids would be grateful to have what you have. I’ll knock you into the middle of next week. Look at that dirt on the back of your neck! I’ll give you what for. Where do you think you’re going? Don’t make me pull this car over. I told you so. You’re bored? I’ll give you something to do. Why can’t you be more like your sister? Don’t pick your nose; your head will cave in. You won’t feel a thing. If you keep making that face it will freeze that way. One day I’ll be dead. Then you’ll see how I feel. What are you worried about? Nobody’s going to be looking at you . . . DON’T MAKE ME REPEAT THIS.”

That day, between Aisle One and Aisle Five, I witnessed the dismantling of a young life. If I were a betting man, I’d bet this woman was only repeating the language she heard growing up. And when the young man becomes a father someday, I guarantee that unless God intervenes, his children will hear the same thing. Scripture laments this sad cycle: “He committed all the sins his father had done before him” (1 Kings 15:3). Children learn from what their parents do as well as what they say. Our lives are caught, not taught.

Without Jesus to show me the way, I might have grabbed this woman by the shoulders and said, “What were you thinking?” But I chose to pray for her instead.

No one has a perfect background or a perfect family. Mom and Dad, ask God to redeem your past and guard your tongue. That way, your words to your children will sound less like the things you heard growing up and more like . . . Him.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827)