Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Tyranny of Other People's Expectations

 "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders;" Matt 23:4

 Raising kids is tough. Raising kids in church can sometimes be even tougher.  We have 4 kids that are  6 years apart, and so for roughly a decade we were in diapers and for roughly  8 years we had  various stages of toddlers running amok. We did a couple of things right, but one of the things that I did wrong was to let other people's unscriptural expectations influence how I treated my children. Let me explain.
  When you have a child, everybody has an opinion about what you should or should not do.From diet to diaper choice, everybody from your  grandmother to your next door neighbor wants to weigh in and  criticize or critique. Most of these people mean  well, but when you are a new parent it can be overwhelming.  Then, you take your kid to church for the first time.
  All four of our kids were born while we attended the same church, and at this church, during that period of time there were a bunch of us cranking out offspring.   There was a lot of emphasis at the time on child training, with a special focus on making the children sit still and be quiet during services.  This was emphasized from the pulpit as well as from  almost every older person in the church.  Individually they meant well, but cumulatively I felt like my 1 year old was the most disruptive child on earth.  It was implied that , if lost people came to church that morning, my  child could prove to be such a distraction that they never hear the gospel. This put an enormous amount of pressure on us as parents, as you might imagine.
  Now let me tell you something you already know. Little kids are squirmy, and little kids don't like to sit still. Little kids get bored in church. Little kids have no self-control and no self-discipline, and they must be taught.  I'm in favor of all that.  The problem we ran into is that  such training seemingly absorbed our entire time at church. It seemed I was always taking Robert or Cameron or Belle or JJ out of the building.  Literally eight or nine times a service we would go out and I would attempt to persuade this  squirmy bored ball of flesh to sit perfectly still and be perfectly quiet. I did this because I thought that 's what was expected of me and that souls might just hang in the balance.
  What made it that much harder is the same people who claimed I was disrupting services by having a whiny kid there claimed I was disrupting services by taking him out.  People sighed, shook their heads,  rolled their eyes, and the cumulative effect was that I  convinced myself I was doing a horrible job.  Everybodys kid was better behaved than mine. I had the most  squirmiest kid ever.  I found myself getting angry at my kids, and doubling down on my corrective efforts.  I wanted to make sure everybody knew, out of pride, that I had this kid under control. This inexcusable overreaction is entirely my fault.
  The result of this was that  my kids dreaded church, and so did I because I knew I would be  exhausted  emotionally at the end of it. From my kids point of view, church was a place where inhuman things were required of them, and that  every older person  looked down on them.  Church was a place where their dad got angry at them.  I had placed  both myself and them in an over-reactive bondage.
  It is so important in this Christian life to adhere to what the Bible says, and politely ignore everything else.  The child rearing book you  bought at a homeschooling convention may be helpful, but it is not the word of God. Your grandmother hopefully has some wisdom but she also, is not the  infallible, inerrant word of God.  Your pastor may have good intentions, but he is not the  word of God.  When someone puts on you an  expectation that scripture does not, you must fight with all you have to  keep a scriptural perspective. I promise you, if you don't, you will regret it and you might reap the fruit of those decisions for some time.
  Having said that I will give you the top 3 things that I struggled with and what I wished someone had said to me.

1. Absolute stillness and  quietness is a requirement. This idea exists nowhere in scripture.  The Bible does say "Let all things be done decently and in order", but God knows that kids are kids.  You as a responsible adult shouldn't let them tear the sheet rock off the walls or disrupt things, but the idea that  the slightest whisper from them is somehow rebellion is an unscriptural idea.  We had people tell us that  kids coloring in  coloring books in church was improper training. That's not in the Bible, that is their opinion. Kids that sit perfectly straight and still and silent and stare rapturously ahead at the  preaching would be nice, but if that doesn't happen, you aren't violating scripture.
2. "Your baby might just send somebody to hell" The Bible doesn't say that you are responsible for  the distractions or daydreams or short attention spans of unregenerate people. The Bible says in Ezekiel 3:18 "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die ; and thou givest him not warning , nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life ; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand."  God  holds us responsible for not warning people, but there is nothing in scripture to indicate that we are expected to  live, work or witness in a distraction-free environment.
  To the contrary, John 3:19 says "..this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."  People reject the gospel not because your baby was distracting them. They reject the gospel because they love their sin.  They make goo-goo faces at your toddler and ignore the preaching because that's what they want to do. They want to to ignore the preaching, and that is not your fault, and its certainly not your toddlers fault.
3. You have the worst baby ever.   Really, what are the odds of that? The Bible says in 2 Cor 10:12    "For we dare not make ourselves of the number , or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise ."  I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at  how easy this looked in everybody else's pew.  I still do this sometimes. Now that my oldest is  almost a teen, I see other parents fighting the same battles we fought. I see other peoples kids didn't get a nap, or he's teething or he's just bored.  Reasonably,  this  must have also been the case 10 years ago, but I didn't see it.  For some reason I couldn't see it.  If I could go back in time I would tell myself to cut myself some slack. Calm down. It will be Ok, I promise.
  So if you are a parent of a bunch of little ones, please know that I am on your side, and the best advice I can give you is to take what the Bible says, live the best you can , beg God to help you, and ignore everybody else. They might get mad, but they'll get over it and when your kids are happy, reasonably adjusted non-toddlers nobody will remember what everybody was so mad about.
 
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