Sunday, January 10, 2016

Serious Advice 12-13: Wise Decisions, Mompetition, Tolerance

            #12  On a more practical note, take the responsibility of being a wise parent seriously and make conscientious decisions in life.  By all means, put thought into the who, what, where, when, why, and how of raising kids.  God gave them to you to raise.  Never just accept what others say as truth, including the “experts.”  Research it for yourself. 
            In Isaiah, even the farmer sought God’s guidance about planting.  “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?  Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?  When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?  Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?  His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.”  Isaiah 29:24-26. 
            If God is concerned about proper planting techniques, then I am sure that He is also concerned with proper ways to eat, discipline, treat our bodies and our minds, and manage our homes.  We are responsible to God for the decisions we make or don’t make, and we and our families have to live with the consequences of those decisions.  Be conscientious and deliberate in your decisions, seeking the Lord’s help! 
            My husband and I have researched many different decisions about the things we eat and buy, etc.  (As a result of the one of trials we went through, that I will get to very soon.  Hang in there!)  And we have been shocked to see how many things that we just accepted as the “right ways” (because everyone else did them) were really gray areas, and may not be as beneficial as we were taught to believe.  And they may not be something that we want for our family (even though everyone else was doing it).
            It opened my eyes and helped me learn this rule: “Research your decisions yourselves.”  Your children are depending on you to make wise decisions for them and their care.  And God has given you (not the government, not the “experts,” not the schools, not your parents, and not even the church) the job of raising your kids.  By all means, listen to what others say and consider all sides.  But make the final decision for yourself.  
            Be conscientious about (and pray for God’s guidance about) your choices concerning the pregnancy and the birth . . . any medical treatments, interventions, preventative care, vaccines, medication, etc. . . . school options . . . whether you should stay-at-home or work . . . the food you put in your bodies . . . the products you buy . . . the movies, music, and books you allow . . . the church you attend . . . the activities you get involved in . . . and the friends you allow into your family’s life.   
            For the longest time, I didn’t give much thought to these things.  I didn’t think I had to.  I figured if it’s what everybody else does, then it must be okay.  But after researching many, many things that I never thought I had to, I actually came to very different beliefs about them.  And the more I research and make deliberate decisions, the more convictions I live my life with.  And it gives me a firm foundation to evaluate newer decisions by.    
            Want a good shock . . . become a label reader.  One time, I got curious and I began writing down every questionable ingredient and additive I saw in our food and toiletries.  (You know, those ingredients that don’t sound like real or natural things in our shampoos, soaps, food, toothpaste, etc.)  I began researching each one to see what they were made of, how they were classified, and how helpful/harmful they were.  And I was shocked! 
            Nearly everything I looked up was a carcinogen or toxin or potential toxin of some sort.  And this is stuff we rubbed into our skin and cleaned our home and clothes with on a daily basis.  These are things that have to go somewhere when we are done using them - which is into the environment, where they then impact the world that we will hand down to our kids.  Sure, if I used just this one product on an occasional basis, it probably wouldn’t do much harm.  But this is stuff that is in everything we use or eat all day long, that we are filling our children’s developing bodies with on a daily basis.   
            I went through our home and got rid of nearly every product that I didn’t feel was safe and natural.  And I began buying natural products or making my own good alternatives with virtually edible ingredients.  I feel better about this way of living, and I believe that I am making a healthier environment for my kids (and it’s a lot cheaper). 
            The whole changeover was a long, hard process.  Major changes are never easy.  But I felt like I was accomplishing several good and worthwhile things at once.  1. We were learning to use our money more wisely.  2. We were creating a healthier home and environment and bodies.  3. We were “voting” for better products and manufacturing practices with our money.  4. We were teaching our children (by our words and our example) to make responsible, thoughtful, discerning, and deliberate decisions.  5. And we were being more honoring to God by using our God-given brains and the knowledge and wisdom we had gained to make better choices.  It was a lot of work, but it worth the time and effort.   
            Now, this may not be the way you want to do it.  But my point is, make conscientious decisions that fit your family.  Ask advice, read some good books, pray and seek God’s wisdom, and formulate a parenting style that fits you.  And be teachable.  There is always something new to learn, always something we don’t know, and always something we can do better.  It’s a huge learning process. 
            And when you have made a conscientious decision about something, and you feel confident that it is right for your family, you will feel better about the way you live.  But be prepared to stand up for it.  And I speak from experience.  If it is different from the “mainstream” way of doing things, expect opposition.  Develop a tough skin; one that can say, “I have made a researched, deliberate decision.  And after lots of prayer and consideration, this is what I believe is right for my family.”  Be gracious and polite, but firm.  And once again, be teachable and consider what is being said, in case you missed something the first time around.  But accept only the good advice and reject the bad. 
            This may not so much be a rule for you, but it is for me.  I have made many decisions that others didn’t agree with.  But I made them after much research, thought, and prayer.  So as hard as it may be sometimes, I have to remind myself that I need to stand firm in my choices.  Even if I feel that I’m the only one standing for it.  God made us to be the caretakers of our children.  We are responsible for the ones He gave us.  Be strong in yourself and in the Lord when you believe that you have made the proper choices for your family.  Enough about all that now!  Really, though, research, research, research!  Live deliberately and with conviction!  And “. . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)
            # 13  Always remember, though, that others have the responsibility and right to make the decisions that are best for them, even if it differs from what you think is best.  Romans 14:3:  “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” 
            It seems to me that although motherhood is enormously rewarding and satisfying, we place on ourselves an added burden of unconscious competition.  Instead of just enjoying the differences in other mothers, sometimes we use those as sticks to measure ourselves against (or to beat others with). 
            Is this just me?  Maybe it is?  But I think we tend to unconsciously interpret what other people do as a comment on what we are doing.  If they chose X, then they must think my Y is wrong.  Or if I chose X, then their Y is wrong.  These differences can create a lot of insecurity that can lead to what I call “mompetition.”   
            We don’t mean to do it, but we do it (at least I do).  I look at what sports or activities others have enrolled their kids in and I feel bad that my kids have to make do with playing with their siblings in the backyard.  Or I feel that my kids will grow up stunted because we didn’t go on an ice-fishing trip to catch our own fish and roast them over an open fire in a handmade igloo like so-and-so did. 
            Or on the flip side, I make a choice to do something, and then I have to fight the urge to be overly proud of it.  It’s easy to get smug and condescending when I have spent hours researching a decision and made one that I think is “the best” one.  I find myself either being too proud of my decisions or threatened by others’ decisions, as though our decisions are really subtle commentaries on someone else. 
            I stumbled upon this realization once during a conversation with an aunt that I barely see.  She asked us why we chose not to do something that nearly everyone else in America does.  We had done a lot of reading and praying and thinking before making this decision.  And we felt that it was best for our family.
            But as I was telling her our reasons (since she asked), she began to get very hostile and agitated.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  I wasn’t criticizing her or saying anything that should make her get defensive.  I was just sharing my reasons for my choice because - once again - she asked. 
            I thought about it as I went to bed and I realized what had happened.  By the very fact that I deliberately chose something different than her (I didn’t choose it because it was different than her, it just wasn’t what she chose to do.), she felt as though I was criticizing her choice.  After all, I had all these reasons why her choice wasn’t right for my family.  But I wasn’t commenting on her choice, just on mine.  However, these are not mutually exclusive.  They are intricately connected.  A choice for one can be seen as a vote against the other.  And that can be threatening.   
            That experience has helped me become a lot more cautious in talking to people when we are discussing our different choices.  And it has helped me to remember to check my reactions when I hear that someone made a different decision than me.  I don’t want to make others defensive or get defensive myself because of our differences.  After all, there will always be someone who made a different choice than me.
            So, why all the “mompetition”?  That’s easy . . . Insecurity.  Plain old fear.  We are afraid of failing our children, afraid of not doing as well as we could or as well as other mothers, afraid of the judgment or disapproval of others.  And let’s face it, we are our own worst critics!  So we will never be totally satisfied with ourselves, and we will constantly check ourselves against others (or check them against us), like checking our child’s growth on those growth charts.  How are they stacking up to other kids?  How are we stacking up as mothers? 
            We could be thinking, Hey, I’m doing a pretty good job at this mom thing.  Things are going well.  But then we hear of the trip that our neighbors took, or we see the cool homemade catapult the they built themselves, or we hear why so-and-so chose public school and so-and-so chose private school and so-and-so homeschools.  And suddenly we feel that we failed our kids.  We feel that they are missing something.  And we fear the irreversible repercussions that it may have on them in the future.
            And it’s not just moms who do this, but all of us.  Women, men, kids, teens.  All of us.  Everyday.  We evaluate how well we measure up to others and how well they measure up to us.  It could be about character or clothing or possessions or our level of service or humility or income.  It could be about how nice our hair looks or about how “godly” we are.  Instead of evaluating ourselves according to God’s standards and remembering our worth in His eyes, we compare and contrast so that we can evaluate where we all fall on the scale of “doing pretty well.”     
            And this leaves us in a constant state of fear and discouragement because there will always be differences.  And we fear the differences because of what they might say about who we are and how well we are doing.  We generally tend to see others as a threat if they do anything different from us.  It makes us doubt ourselves and our value if we feel we aren’t measuring up to others.  Or it makes us smug and condescending because we feel others aren’t measuring up to us.
            And so I’m learning to keep this common thread in the forefront of my mind:  We are all God’s loved children.  We are all on even ground at the foot of the cross.  And we are here to help each other on our journey toward spiritual growth, not to tear each other down or step on someone else’s head so we can feel a little bit higher. 
            And when it comes specifically to “mompetition” . . . we all love our children madly, and we make our decisions about what we think is best out of that love for them.  And once I let go of the need to compare myself to others, I realized that I love seeing the differences in people, the idiosyncrasies that make us all unique.  We all have something different to offer, like a field of wildflowers.  All different colors and scents and sizes and styles.  And it’s what makes that field beautiful.  I am no better or worse than other mothers, just different.          
            My friend, Jen, has three boys, very similar in age to mine.  She once asked me over the phone about a decision that I made for my kids.  She had made a different choice, and she was wondering what the reasons were for ours.  So I told her. 
            Just as I was hanging up the phone, the conversation with my aunt sprang to my mind and the thought hit me, Oh, no!  What if I offended her and she felt that my reasons were a criticism of her choice?  I called her back right away and I apologized in case my decision came across as a criticism of her choice in any way.  I told her that I feel that she is a great mother and that I would never want to give her any impression that I thought she made bad decisions. 
            Then she said something that was so wise that it really stuck with me.  (I wish all mothers could adopt this attitude!  It would relieve the burden of competition).  She said, “No, I wasn’t offended.  I know that there are thousands of different ways to be a parent and most of them are just fine.  We all love our kids, even if we make different choices.  And I’m not threatened by someone making a different choice than me.  I’m confident enough in myself as a parent to not be offended by someone else’s decisions.”  I loved that!  I LOVED that!  I loved her confidence in herself, her ability to respect my choice and yet feel comfortable in her own.  We need more of that!  I need to do that more often!
            (Getting off on a little tangent here. . .)  I think, too, that we tend to forget that God created the right to choose.  He built into us a free-will, and He allows us to make our own choices - good or bad - about raising children, careers, food, religion, salvation, values, lifestyle, world-views, etc.  And He allows us to face the consequences of those choices!  We are all accountable to Him for our choices, not to other people.  (Of course, this is not referring to those choices that break the law and that we need to be held accountable to society for.  I’m talking here about personal, non-law-related kinds of choices.) 
            This doesn’t mean, though, (and this is a BIG ‘though’) that He considers all choices equal and right.  In His eyes and in His Word, there is still a “right” and a “wrong.”  It’s just that we get to decide if we want to agree with Him and do it His way, or if we want to rebel, disobey, and go our own way.  We have the right to choose, and someday we will stand before Him and give account for those choices. 
            There were times in my young life when I felt that it was my responsibility to make others see the “errors” of their beliefs and the “rightness” of mine.  And I think this is a common tendency for most people at some point in their lives, especially Christians.  We can’t believe that others can miss the truth that we can so plainly see, and we think it’s our responsibility to force them to see and accept it. 
            Yes, I do believe that the Bible is all truth, the only lasting truth.  And, yes, I do believe that it’s a Christian’s job to witness and to spread the gospel and truth.  But I have come to the conviction that it’s our job to share and live this truth, not to force it on anyone through mean-spirited words or actions or a holier-than-thou attitude.  We enjoy the right to choose our beliefs, and we need to respect that God-given right in others (even if, and especially if, we don’t agree with it.).  This, I believe, is what tolerance really is.  This is the way for Christians to tolerate the world that we live in. 
            But society also needs to learn how to tolerate the Christians.  In our society (and this really, REALLY bugs me), we have completely misconstrued what tolerance is.  In our day and age, if you do anything less than fully accept, support, and condone someone else’s choices and views, they cry out, “Intolerance!  Intolerance!  You offended me!  Intolerance!” 
            The labels of “intolerance” and “you offended me” are being used as clubs to beat others - especially Christians or those with strong moral views about right and wrong - into agreeing with questionable, controversial, and immoral choices/beliefs and to make them ashamed of their differing viewpoints.  Which is especially damaging now that “intolerance” and “being offended” are becoming the basis for lawsuits.  (At this rate, there will be lawsuits based on “You offended me by being offended by me, and you’re being intolerant of my intolerance!”  It’s getting ridiculous.  It really is!)
            But this is NOT what tolerance is!  Tolerance is basically an “agree to disagree” attitude.  It’s saying, “I may not agree with your choices and I don’t have to like them, but I respect your right to choose.”  (Once again, as long as it doesn’t break the law or violate anyone else.)  Notice that I didn’t say that you have to respect their choice, but we should all – Christians or not - respect someone else’s right to choose.  (And by “respect,” I mean “accept that they have a right to choose”.  We don’t have to have respect for their choices, but we need to accept that they can choose differently from us.)  
            Tolerance is accepting responsibility for our choices and letting others accept responsibility for theirs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday to give account for them.  God will judge in the end, and we will all face the result of our decisions.  I know that we Christians sometimes feel that it is our sworn duty to defend God and to force His ways on people.  But we need to remember that God doesn’t really need us to defend Him.  He will do a great job defending Himself and making all wrongs right in the end. 
            I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living “Christ” as much as we can in our lives, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to force others to believe as we do.  We need to live as godly of a life as we can.  We need to look for the open doors that God brings us to speak to others about the hope that is in us.  We need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival, and to work for change by starting with ourselves.  We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows respect for their right to agree or disagree.  We need to love!  But it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work in other people’s hearts and to call them to faith or to correct a bad choice or belief.  Just a thought that’s a little off the point, I know!  But an important one.