God hasn’t been letting me get away with much of anything lately. As un-fun as it is to be “called out” every other day, I’m glad of it. ‘Cause I know that Someone infinitely greater and worthier than I has enough interest in me to be working hard on developing my character. Clearly, this Someone is super (or shall we say supernaturally?) ambitious, and patient, to take Project Anita on.
One thing He’s calling me to do is to have more compassion and love for the people I find the most difficult, hurtful, irritating, or sometimes enviable, the ones I’d rather avoid or who avoid me, the ones who are hard to respect or like, much less love.
The good news is He doesn’t expect me to love them on my own. ‘Cause frankly, I’m not confident I have that kind of meek and generous love within myself. But as He reminds me, time and again, of how much He loves me in spite of me – He empowers me to extend more of His love to “them difficult people.” And He’s gentle enough to let me start with baby steps. He wanted me to simply begin praying for them in the comfort, safety and privacy of my own home, car or head. And you know what? He knew what He was doing. (Duh.)
He knew all along that if I made it a habit to just grit my teeth and pray under my annoyed breath for “them difficult people,” my heart for them would slowly soften. And after a little while, I might not find them quite as annoying or offensive. After a longer while, I might even be able to imagine where they might be coming from or how they might be feeling. Eventually, I might even realize the basic truth that I am no better than them. I am difficult, offensive, or hateful in my own ways. But He loves me, and He loves them, just the same.
A good lesson learned.
But then it got harder.
You see, I can take a whole lot more hurt if it’s directed at me personally than if it’s directed at my loved ones – my children, in particular. (Some of you moms might be feeling me just about now.) But God called me to love even those who hurt my loved ones.
Long story short, a “queen bee/mean girl” seemed to have it out for Son at school lately, without reason. As rude and hurtful as she’d been to him for the past month, Son was doing a good job of avoiding conflict and just brushing her behavior off, day after day. I was quite proud of him, because conflict resolution, holding his tongue, and staying calm when he’s angry aren’t Son’s greatest strengths.
But as the weeks passed and reports of her meanness continued, as a mother, I couldn’t help feeling increasingly angry and protective of my child’s feelings. What was her problem? Why doesn’t she just quit it? Of course, having suffered greatly under the reign of a queen bee/mean girl in junior high myself, I’m particularly sensitive about schoolyard cruelties.
A debate ensued in my head. “Eh, he’s a boy. He shouldn’t say anything or retaliate. Why get into it with a petty girl?” “But he’s been gallantly silent day after day and she’s not letting up. She’s taking advantage of it. Maybe she thinks he’s actually intimidated by her! He could put her in her place with one word.”
Later, I encouraged Son, “You shouldn’t get into it with her or stoop to her level, but if she doesn’t knock it off soon, you should say something. Don’t keep walking away or ignoring her. The mean things she does are cowardly. If she has anything to say, she should say it to your face. Meanness can’t beat intelligence or wit.”
A few days later, a relieved Son came home and announced that he’d spoken up and shut her up. “Good for you.” She’d targeted him again so he said, “I’m sorry if I haven’t given you enough attention, [Patty]. I can’t help it if I only like nice, smart, pretty girls.” Her mouth fell open but no words came out.
Apparently, she’d recovered the next day (i.e., yesterday) because she was back at it, rolling her eyes whenever Son spoke, even if he wasn’t talking to her. Again, he spoke up. “Are you okay? Is there something wrong with your eyes?” She didn’t have anything to say.
But early this morning, I woke with a keen awareness of my error and my hypocrisy. I should be teaching Son to pray for his enemies, not commending him for shutting them down. So I laid next to him as he woke up for school and apologized,
I’m sorry, Son. Mommy was wrong and I feel bad. I shouldn’t have encouraged you to use your words against [Patty]. We should’ve prayed for her first. We don’t know why she acts the way she does. Maybe she’s mad at someone else and just lashing out, maybe her home life isn’t so good, maybe she has hurts of her own…”
Son didn’t like that idea at all. “No! I don’t want to pray for her. She’s been nothing but mean to me. And for no reason. She’s the most annoying girl I ever met!”
But I started praying aloud for the two of us anyway,
Dear God, we lift up [Patty]. We don’t know why she’s been so mean to Son but we pray that you will heal any hurts she has and soften her heart. We pray that you would give her joy and peace and kindness so that she could spread the same to others. We pray that you will bless her and keep her and touch her with your love. Amen.”
Son grumbled. He was a little sulky. And doubtful. “How would praying for her do anything, Mom?”
Then, while the kids were at school today, by God’s good-humored and most timely providence, I stumbled upon a lesson on “Ways Parents Can Pray for Themselves.” The very first bullet-point was: “(1) Convict me of any personal hypocrisy lived out before my children, which contradicts what I say by what I do. When appropriate, compel me to admit my sin to my children (Matthew 7:3-5).”
Later that (this) evening…
The first fill-in-the-blank statement pulled out of our “Key Jar” (i.e., conversation starters for family dinner time) was, “I showed God’s love today when….”
Baby Girl kicked us off – “I showed God’s love today when I said sorry to my friend at school because she thought I was leaving her out.”
I added, “I showed God’s love today when we prayed for [Patty]…”
Suddenly, Son interrupted, “Mom! So weird. As soon as we tried reflecting Jesus’ character and prayed for [Patty], she changed!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, today, at school, she wanted to know why I’m so mad at her. I told her. ‘I’m upset because I’m tired of you rolling your eyes at me, walking away whenever I come near, and talking bad about me behind my back or whispering about me right in front of me.’ And Mom, she apologized!”
“Huh. Interesting. So are you glad we prayed for her even though you didn’t feel like it this morning?”
“And do you still think praying won’t do anything in situations like that?”
He shook his head.
We’re learning, one day at a time, Son and me.