Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Woman Walks into a Crowded Room and...

If I were to walk into my local mall at lunchtime on a Saturday and shout at the top of my lungs: "FIRE!" until everyone was properly worked up into a frenzy, I would surely be arrested.  And rightly so.  Making people doubt their safety, forcing hearts to beat fast and legs to scatter for no real reason, is criminal in our country.

I have often thought about this when I listen to "experts" speak on motherhood.

See, you take a room full of moms--even worse, new or particularly young moms--and tell them what they should be doing (and throw in the fact that if they aren't doing it this way they could irreparably damage their children), all they're going to think is: I am not doing that.  This will play on a repeat loop throughout the talk.  Oh no, I am not doing that.  Uh oh, I have said that so many times to my kids, and you just said that if I say that, my child is in for it.  Their hearts will beat, their legs will itch.  Anxiety will creep.

Don't get me wrong.  These speakers, I believe, have nothing but the best intentions.  They want to educate, to assist, to prevent! They would say, "I am not walking into the crowded room yelling 'fire!'  I am walking into the crowded room yelling, 'WARNING!  DANGER AHEAD!'"

But so often, the speakers shout "Fire!" when there is no fire and "Danger!" at the wrong things.  This is what irks me.  No, this is what angers me.  You see, we are being trained to react to fire when there is none, but when there really is a fire, we couldn't sense it if it were burning up our pant legs.

On this particular day, the speaker wants us to get our pens.  To listen carefully as she gives us the exact phrases we should use to address our children:  Say "like", not "love" when your child does something that pleases you.  Say "good", and not "proud". There are also some hefty examples thrown in of clients she's had that have been damaged because the parents made these exact mistakes with their words.   I understand what she is saying--we should encourage our children and be precise with our praise: "We like the good things you're doing", not, "We love you because of the good things you're doing".  She is saying that words are important.  I agree with that.  Words are powerful.

But the power of words comes from the fact that our words reflect our hearts.   While some of us have better heart-to-mouth filters than others, for the most part, we say what we feel and what we really think.  However, manufacturing words--being trained to say certain phrases over others--scares me.  It scares me because it detaches us from what our hearts are actually saying.  If I am taught to tell my children one thing, and I say it faithfully because I know it's the right thing to say, I may lose my ability to discover that my heart is not in the right place.  I am believing that the "fire" is in my words and that by changing my words, I am preventing the fire.  In reality, it is my heart that needs the change, and if I don't work on my heart, I am apt to be standing in the middle of a blazing furnace before long.

What if, that day, the speaker had gotten up in front of us moms and said essentially the same information, but gone to the real crux of the matter?  What if instead of just telling us what to say and not say, she had asked, "Ladies, when you tell your children that you love them because of what they've done, is that what you think in your heart of hearts?"  I imagine that for some people, that is what they feel--and that is a problem!  They can rearrange their words all they want, but unless they do the hard work of figuring out how to change that dangerous heart attitude, it will all be for nothing.  And isn't the heart-repair work something we need help with much more than the word-repair work?  After all, children are perceptive.  Even if you avoid telling them that your love is contingent on their actions, they can tell so easily when your heart toward them isn't all right.

Just like....if I love my child unconditionally but, after she does something particularly amazing, I happen to react with, "I love you so much because you did this so well!" is not a capital offense.  Everything will be okay.  You know why?  Because my heart and my actions all tell the child on a daily basis: I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.   My words are not as precise and exact as they should be.  But my heart?  It shouts much more loudly.

As mothers, we have got to stop allowing people to come in and scare us with their fiery warnings.  The truth is that we're not going to do this motherhood thing perfectly.  We are going to mess up.  A lot.  Our kids are not going to be spared, either.  They are going to be hurt by us, they are going to be damaged by us, and they will inevitably grow up and wish we had done some things differently.  But that is okay.  That is being human.  We have an obligation to do the absolute best job we can, to love our children, to think about how we're doing things, to constantly try to do better, and to take all of our shortcomings to God.

And that is all we can do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Destined for Greatness?

Recently, I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about a book that she had just finished reading.  This book (which I have not read and don't even remember the title of) was a parenting book with a unique angle.  The book itself was actually based on a research study that someone undertook on "superstar Christians" (my words--I don't have any idea what they called their research subjects).  Essentially, the researchers sought out Christians who were living obvious lives of faith, and worked backwards by interviewing these people to figure out how their parents did "the right things" that caused them to become the people they eventually became.

The results that my friend rattled off were intriguing.  The researchers were able to identify several factors that the parents had in common.  They identified things like clear boundaries in media exposure and small family size as the "ideal" factors to raising a "great Christian".  It was like they had cooked up a recipe for parents to follow if they wanted to raise a certain type of child, and at that moment, it seemed very appealing to me.  Yes, I want my children to spend their lives leading ministries or being great missionaries.  Of course!  Sounds awesome!  I am so glad to now have the checklist that will get me there!

However, being the former debate student that I am, it finally occurred to me to have my friend define her terms a bit (because I was confused).  She kept talking about wanting to raise these "great" Christians, and how this book had really uncovered something.  But I realized that I didn't fully understand what was meant by a "great" Christian.  And so I asked, and it seems that the book defined a great Christian as one who is a leader in the field of, well, Christianity.  It includes movers and shakers in ministry, in missions, in service--in a way, celebrities in their fields.  People whose lives are clearly marked by the gospel, but who are also leading the way in a visible, noticeable way. And that made sense.  That does seem "great", and as a parent, it seems like something worth aspiring to.

But then I began to get that gnawing feeling I sometimes get when something doesn't quite jive in my brain.  There was this idea, this voice, saying to me, "What are you aiming for?"  I had no idea what that meant, but I have learned to listen to these types of things.  They are way smarter than I.  So I thought about it.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my friend and I were approaching this idea of raising "great" Christian children in a backwards sort of way.  Our aim was a little off.

You see, if the whole point of us being put on this earth for eighty-odd years is for us to become great leaders, great impactors....then I think that the human race could have figured that out long ago.  The authors of this book, after all, did one research study and found pretty conclusive research about how to raise someone to be a great leader.  But the more I think about it, I don't think that's the point.

God never told us to, "Go and be great because that is what will please me.  Lead many, lead them well and with much creativity, and be loved for it."  Did he?  Being great was never His aim for us.  Being respected and honored and praised and beloved--well...those are all things that come up in the Bible...but they are in regards to God.  He is the one who is great. bad as this sounds...should I aim for my children to be "great"?  Maybe not.  But where does this leave us?  Should I teach my children to be slackers?

Luckily, though, there is some instruction.  The Bible does indeed address this question, as the disciples seemed to wrestle with it some themselves.  They were in the presence of Jesus himself, and he had just done some amazing things, but they were worried about how to become the greatest of his followers.  Sound familiar? (Maybe they could have benefited from the book?)

Jesus tells us this: "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

So are we aiming for greatness, or are we aiming for servanthood?  Do we really believe that in order to be great in Jesus' estimation, that we must be the servant of all?  We must be not just the last, but the very last? Instead of lining up the circumstances of my children's lives so that they may become "great", should I teach them about living a life of lastness and humility because that is the only way to truly become great?

And even if we believe with our whole hearts that the way to greatness--the true way to true greatness--is to become the very last, how in the world do we do that?  What does that even look like?

You must all pity my children.  I can't say that I blame you.