Join me for a long ramble.
One of my sweet friends was blasted recently by a "well-meaning" friend about her lovely daughter--who is by God's design a thoughtful introvert and reader and creative type. The criticism was unjust, totally opinion and harmful to the mother and the child. Criticism hurts all of us and there are all sorts of people out there who could make us feel inadequate about ourselves, our marriage or lack there of, our mothering or even cause us to ponder if we are ruining our children.
But there was another who was unjustly criticized--and he was the best of all. (By the way, did you know that God is displeased with complainers and those who are angry and critical of his chosen?)
Job was a man chosen by God as a model for righteousness.
God trusted Job to be faithful in the midst of Satan throwing his worst temptations into his life. (Jesus was tempted before his ministry began, Peter was tempted before he became the leader of the disciples, and so will we be.)
However, in the midst of his trials and suffering, Job's friends pontificated--elaborated in confident tones and words--about why Job was suffering.
Most of their opinions were utter foolishness. They judged Job's life, they criticized him. It only had the effect of discouraging Job and made him introspective--even though he was picked to be in this spiritual battle because of his righteousness.
I really don't have much patience with those who feel a need to be critical, mean spirited and blaming others for their own unhappiness or shortcomings. We all really need to just work on ourselves--as each of us is flawed.
But, if we desire to live righteously by faith in this present day, we will have to make decisions that go against the norm and against the grain of most people. And consequently, we are always going to have "Job's friends" in life. (we call them irps at our house--irrational people, plural) We have even been known to say, "Oh, I have been irped again!"
No matter how diligent you are or how much work you do, you and your spouse and your children are going to behave in an embarrassing manner-or immature way or blunder in your life. You will violate someone else's standard--more than once! And your "Job's friends" will be sure to notice and to tell you what you are doing wrong or how unsocialized your child is or how their children are much more advanced than yours, or whatever.
I am thankful that I finally came to understand and believe that my audience was God. He knows me and my limitations and the limitations of my family and children and He is still on my side.(He strongly supports those whose heart is completely His. Also, he is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103) All children are disappointing to someone at some point--that is where faith and unconditional love are made to move in!
Even in ministry and speaking, I have even learned that before I even get up to speak, someone in the audience is against me or doesn't like my choice of dress or something.
(One year at a mom heart conference, a woman said, "When you wore the red dress last year, I just knew the messages would not be quite as deep, but since you have on a blue dress this year, I think they will be wonderful!)
When you seek to lead, and stand up in front of people, or live a different life, you become a target. It is just part of putting our ideals out there. If I listened to every critical comment that was made to me, I would have given up my ministry and my ideals long ago.
However, I am free in Christ to like who He has made me, to love and believe in my children as they are, with all their warts, and to be patient and grateful with the husband I have been given--because He who began a good work will complete it in Christ. It is part of a woman's grace to be gracious to those in her family.
I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until the day He fulfills it. If I had given in to my insecurities and inadequacies I felt before others, I would have given up on this road to ideals a long time ago--and it is just a part of the journey--the ups and downs of emotions--I would have always been depressed or become neurotic--which I have been on occasion.
But, I have had so many life circumstances, given to me by God, that have taught me that fitting into the mold or expectations of others was not God's will for me.
As a matter of fact, I feel that if I had followed all the advice of friends, I could have easily cultivated rebellion or resentment in the hearts of my children. But, God gave them to me for me to love them, discipline and nurture them according to their bent and according to the wisdom and intuition He would give to me through my mother love.
For instance, all of my children had areas in their lives that didn't fit the box of anyone else. Sarah is a dreamer, introvert, thinker, creative, close to her mom--how many times did I hear we were too close to each other? Stupidity! I probably would not have made it this far without her friendship! I am so very grateful God saw fit to give me my own best friend! Now, my co-writer and bestest of friends--and yet she travels all over the world in ministry, lives in England, studying, and encouraging others. I am so grateful we are so close.
Gentle Joel, so abstract and artistic that at times my mom thought he was deaf because he wouldn't hear me when I would talk to him or ask him to do something---he is extremely responsive and helpful, creative, and submissive and a loyal friend to me-but I had to speak to him eye to eye and face to face to help him know exactly what I wanted him to do. Now he is a talented composer, creative, brilliant, lives inside his head, but still dependable and hard working, always taking care of my details and needs,--always in the clouds planning or creating, composing or thinking--a renaissance man. But my dependable, generous friend.
My Nathan didn't sleep through the night until he was 4 (ended up he had a digestion disorder we didn't know about!) He also is an extrovert and adhd--really, really-and he also has some clinical disorders that have plagued him over the years, including severe OCD. (Got them from me.)
I had so many people who told me that he just needed more discipline--"You are not spanking him enough!" I also had a number of friends who were critical of his behavior over the years. Instead of supporting me and helping me, I found their critical eye to be devastating. I was so introspective about my inadequacies with my "mysterious" child. And yet, I know in my heart, that harshness and spanking and criticism would have created standards that he would never have been able to live up to--I know that I would have alienated him in his heart from me. If I had just known ahead of time, he would become my actor-artist son, produce a movie in Hollywood with his very first script, maybe I would have been more comfortable with him being out of the box.
As I would love Nate and validated him whenever I could, spent every day of his schooling years sitting with him, next to him through hours and hours in reading and math and written work--when everyone else told me he needed more independence. I had a sense that this great spirited child was wonderful and responded to attention (middle child--second boy!) and that he was soaking up my passion and love and stories deep in his heart. He is my idealist, prophet, loyal faithful friend.
Joy is a fire-cracker, independent, confident, a performer, debater, already speaking and teaching and very outspoken, outgoing, always wants to be doing something---strong sense of personal justice and ready to defend ideals and people. She is a people lover, influencer for Christ, and my always inner circle, encourager who loves generously. But a great heart and so very patient, as she has grown up around 5 parents!
When she was ready to go out of state to college at age 17, 5 different women contacted me to tell me I was risking too much to send her to school to early and that she would surely compromise herself morally and give in to worldly values. Now, she will graduate college at 19, after having been in Oxford for a semester, and still loves God--even more passionately.
Each child was a different recipe and required different amounts of heat! Yet, none of them has fit the mold--and it was just too much pressure to worry about, anyway. I knew that God wanted me to enjoy life and to be flexible and creative with the particular puzzle he gave me to solve.
We held the line on chores and helping all to be excellent in character and behavior and serving people and in learning little by little to being loving and patient and kind and honoring in relationships. But it was year in year out and my very strong spirited children were always resilient!
There were, however, many, many ups and downs.
I wish I had been more patient with all of my children, really as I think about it, and kissed and hugged them at nights all that they needed. (Sometimes Nate would forget that I had prayed with him and wanted one more assurance prayer. I would think, "Am I spoiling him? Is he manipulating me?")
I know now that his disorders were beyond him--he responded so well to gentleness and love, along side training and holding a high standard in our family. I had two other ocd children who felt more secure when I gave them the long rituals of hug, kiss, pray, absolve guilt, hug, kiss again. (OCD types)
But really, what did it cost me? Just a little extra time and patience--But it would have been better if I had not worried that I was spoiling them and had knots in my stomach because I was going against the grain. Somehow the extra nighttime love, went deep into their souls and made them feel more loved and secure--not spoiling--but investing.
Recently, all four happened to be home, lounging with the totally depraved golden retriever (she really is a number!) in our midst as Joel played his new composition which he is going to perform soon. We were enjoying, critiquing, chatting--all in our pajamas at 10 in the morning and I am here thanking God that my children are such wonderful individuals--filled and broad and alive souls, dreaming about the areas of life they will conquer.
But now I know that some of the stress was just personality related.I myself often feel that my personality is too much for some people. I am strong and passionate and opinionated and restless and adventuresome--a one per center as Myers Briggs says--and I often feel that way amongst crowds! And Clay is a one--percent on the other scale--more introverted--but equally as opinionated.
Yet, I believe God equipped us with this out of the box personality because of His calling on our lives--to teach and write and travel and speak and host and everything else He has put in our life to do--a part of our spiritual dna.
Not much has changed. My children are too loud and too quiet, dress in their own way, has all sorts of interesting friends who don't necessarily fit into the Christian bubble, musical tastes and activities, all varied--but I love who God made them.
All that reading and all those passionate devotions gave our children great scope for imagination for their own lives. A heart for the lost and has a real ministry with the "far out" looking kids seems to be common to my children. Big dreams--definitely an artist sorts. Not an accountant in our crowd. Loving "Mom and Dad" and taking some strong, idealistic stands for the Lord, over and over again marks the decisions and roads my kids have taken.
None of us fit "in the box." But neither did Clay and I, or Sarah or Joel or Nathan or Joy.
All that to say, live true to your own family culture--and be faithful to God. Don't perform for others, but live daily in His freedom and power and grace. We have been criticized for years by many people for our ideals. We have had to work through many pathways of difficulty, critics, nay-sayers, and emotionally unhealthy people who reacted to our family and wanted us to know.
But I only wish I had just rested in the Lord more and fretted less about the details of life that seemed to loom large in my mind. Not that I have already become perfect, as Paul says, but I press on for the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. I have to keep reminding myself to believe in God and to trust Him every day and to wait for more prayers for all of us to be answered--especially as I watch my children launch into life.
I have lived through so many seasons of fear and see that the hand of God was working and that He is loving and He has used all things to work together in our lives. I seek to enjoy each day as an adventure in God's hands and nurture a heart that has learned to enjoy the ride.
I don't know how it will all turn out, and I am quite sure that all of us will make some mistakes, again, --but I know Who will be there to work all things together for my good, according to His will which is what I really want. It is for freedom that Christ set us free--give your children the gift of freedom from fear, from other's criticism and from performance. Blessings--and grace!