Its been a while since we last talked. Almost two years now. I’m unsure how to reach you anymore. But I’m hoping that someday, in some Mighty way, I might reach you again. Until that day, I thought it might be helpful to show you around my life a little…
Sam screamed at me the other day. “That’s so not fair!” he wailed. (I quickly moved the open paint jars away from his flailing hands.) His sister…excuse me…his YOUNGER sister just finished an amazing, beautiful version of a Georgia O’Keefe flower. Sam, much to his dismay, had not.
“Isn’t that great?” I asked him.
“NO!” he replied. “I’m older. I’m supposed to do everything better” he said as his lower lip stuck out like a turtle’s head peering out of a shell.
Emilie had done nothing to earn her artistic skills. She didn’t buy it at 5-Below, or even request it on her Christmas list. It surprised her as much as the rest of us. She had a gift.
While I stood there desperate to say something memorable, I remembered a line from an old Veggie Tale movie (Lord of the Beans, I think). It was one of those lines you hope your children actually pay attention to, but you know probably just sat unnoticed – like the peas on their dinner plate.
“You can’t choose the gifts you receive, just what you do with them”
Not-so-discretely, I disguised Veggie Tale wisdom as my own. But Sam didn’t buy it. He stood his ground as the older, “more talented” brother. And I almost couldn’t blame him…almost. Wasn’t this just what the world shouted at him from the rooftops?
Only the strong survive.
Always look out for Number One.
You deserve the best.
This may be hard to hear, but these messages were familiar ground. I heard them from you, too.
“What college do you expect to accept you with those grades?”
“Dad, why is there blue paint on the bumper? [Dad] “That idiot had a lesson coming to him. Now move aside while I rub off the evidence before the police arrive to investigate.”
“Tracey, have your legs always looked that way?”
You used to say, “Pride comes before a fall.” But it’s hard for me to trust that you really believed this. Pride seemed to be the very thing, if not the only thing offered as security. If I could glowingly out-smart my classmates, or haughtily slip past the law, or confidently appear practically perfect in every way, then I may just have a chance at a brighter future (and even get to wear the shades, too).
You once even described me as a prideful child. “We have to keep her down. She has enough confidence and ambition for two children.” And in the same conversation you lamented over my sister’s insecurity. And I’m facing that now, with Sam and Emilie, only the roles are reversed. The talented one doesn’t believe it, and the bungling one can’t accept it.
Can I show you something amazing? I’ve discovered you didn’t have to tackle pride with downward pressure or insecurity with false support. You had the right direction, but the wrong action. God’s Word taught me the difference.
His kingdom is a paradox – an upside-down dominion. In it, Jesus Christ died so I might live. I am healed only as much as I recognize my brokenness. And in respect to pride,
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
But this does not mean that it is a parent’s obligation to shove the prideful down or manufacture confidence in the hesitant.
Luke 14 is a two-part verse. When I exalt myself, God promises humility. And when I humble myself, God promises glory. Both exaltation and humility require action, my action. They are not the result of another person’s pressure on me. Like a tender shoot struggling to grow, humble confidence does not flourish under a the crushing weight of criticism. Humility grows when the seeds of talent are buried deep in land dedicated to the Lord – a holy ground of sorts – nurtured and fed so that it may rise up, tall, and proclaim His glory.
You may have thought keeping me down was the surest way to tackle pride. But God’s upside-down kingdom asks only that I give away all that was never mine anyway. The paradox is not that I now keep mum about the talented younger daughter having a fabulous swipe of the paintbrush. But rather that I help her see the One who gave her the gift in the first place. Humility grows not where you trod down the gifts, but rather where you lay down the gifts for His service, and in return, He raises up beauty and truth for His glory.
On the other hand I no longer need to falsely assure an artistically challenged 10-yr old boy into thinking that he will someday become a Picasso. In his weakness, God is strong. The more fully he accepts his helplessness, the more often he looks up for God’s hand. Instead of clumsily shoring up his ego with words like, “Buck up,” I can calm his fearful heart with the words, “Look up. Your God is there in your weakness.”
In this Grace, (and really all is Grace) we no longer cling to a false pride and a debilitating fear of failure. We walk freely in the humble confidence that all we have, and all we are, rests in the hands of the One who granted all gifts in the first place. Even to the point of being able to say, “Thank you for the fleas.”
Veggie Tales was right. We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, just what we do with them.
I love you, Mom. I pray one day you might hear these words and believe I love you, and forgive you. All is Grace.
Until Next Time,
Might I Pray for Us?
Lord, You are Lord of the Universe and Lord of our lives. You alone choose which gifts to provide and which ones to withhold. We confess that not only do we look longingly at our neighbor’s talents, we disdain the offers we already hold as worthless. Thank you that you can turn any gift into greatness through humble service. Thank you for your upside-down Kingdom. Please help us “abandon the clamour of self-will” and instead rejoice in the greatness to which we each are called, without being any more (or less) glad at having done it than if it had been done by another. Amen.
Notes of Encouragement
- Me Without You – Toby Mac – A delightfully uplifting, dance-around-the-table kind of song…a favorite of the 10 yr-old in our house who might never be a Picasso. 🙂
Words of Affirmation
When God “talks of [humans] losing themselves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will. Once we have done that, He really gives [us] back all [our] personality, and boasts (sincerely) that when [we] are wholly His, [we] will be more [ourselves] than ever.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters