Difficult things

This morning, while I was walking my 3rd grade son to school, he asked me the question which I hear nearly every morning: “Why do we have to walk to school when we have a car to drive?” Like many questions, this one can’t only be taken at face value. I have given him plenty reasons for walking, such as the fresh air, the opportunity to chat, not wanting to add to the pollution from cars. He knows these answers, and normally he will begrudgingly agree with them, but he doesn’t like them because he just doesn’t want to walk. He will point to his sore knee or how much his coach worked him at practice the night before or how it’s too cold/too hot/too windy/too cloudy. His excuses have no effect on me, for I am Drill Sargent Mom and he’s my fourth elementary kid to walk to school.

 

I told him that when he’s a dad, he’ll have to make his kids do difficult things, too. He disagreed and informed me that he’ll always let them take the easy way. He said, “I won’t make them walk to school. I won’t make them put away their laundry or clean their rooms. And I will do their homework for them.” Though I adore these imaginary, future grandchildren, I’m afraid they will be really miserable to babysit.

 

I asked him, “If you want to get big muscles, do you lift a feather a bunch of times or a heavy weight?” Too smart to be entrapped and too cranky about walking to play along, he said, “I would pick the feather. I am already strong, so it doesn’t really matter what I use.”

 

When Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy, he knew that we parents have to continually explain things to our children, including why we sometimes take the more difficult path. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (NIV)

 

He said that the Lord was about to give them a beautiful Promised Land, full of crops they didn’t plant and cities they didn’t build and wells they didn’t dig. It was going to be great, but there was work involved and commitment. Moses went on to say that in the future your children will ask, “Why do we have all these laws and commandments?” They will do the thing children are supposed to do—ask questions. Then the adults should explain the reasons: how living in this land is better than being a slave in Egypt, how the journey was difficult but the promised reward was greater, how having a covenant with the One and Only God was a relationship worth pursuing.

 

Moses knew that having children ask questions is so important that he also mentioned it as he explains the details about the first Passover feast. More than 2,000 years ago, Jewish rabbis included such questions in the Haggadah, or the program for the Passover meal. The youngest child asks questions about the meal, such as, why do we eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs on this night? If you’ve ever chomped down on a mouthful of grated horseradish or prefer a fluffy yeast roll over a chunk of matzah, these are good questions.

 

So I’ll keep on answering my son’s questions and pushing him to do difficult things. He doesn’t understand the power of pushing ourselves and finding our weaknesses. But it’s not like I’ve got it all figured out either. I’m trying to get to the place where I can say what the Apostle Paul said about doing difficult things: “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NLT)

Prince Charming

Before my husband Brent and I began dating in college, we would hang out as friends as a part of a larger group. Sometimes we would play putt-putt or go out to eat or go to a park. On one occasion, we were all sitting around in the living room which belonged to the parents of one of our friends. We had watched a movie, and we were about to head back to school. Before we left, our friend shared something she was upset about and began crying. Brent was nearest to where she was lying on the floor, so he scooted closer to her and listened intently to what she was saying.

 

Though it was nearly 30 years ago, I remember so clearly watching that moment from where I sat on a nearby sofa. We hadn’t started dating yet, but I was already falling for Brent, and this display of kindness and consideration pushed me right over the edge. I don’t think I was necessarily jealous of my friend, but I did wonder what it would feel like to be the recipient of his attention to the degree I was seeing in that living room.

 

Even a person who detests standing in the center of the spotlight and fiercely shrinks from attention still wants to be noticed by someone. It’s wired into our brains to want to be seen and heard at least by the key people in our lives.

 

Years ago, I remember reading a question sent in to “Dear Abby” by a 13-year old girl. The girl mentioned that she felt invisible and that no one ever called to invite her to hang out. Generally considered to be a shy girl, she wanted high school to be different than middle school had been, and she was seeking advice. I searched for the column and found “Dear Abby’s” response:

 

No matter how you feel about yourself, everyone can be charming. Charm, in a nutshell, is putting the other person at ease and making her (or him) feel comfortable and important. The charming person makes the effort to make others feel good about themselves. Forming the habit of making others feel good will make you popular to be around.

 

I don’t know if the young teen girl took the advice (and possibly purchased Dear Abby’s booklet “How to Be Popular: You’re Never Too Young or Too Old” for $6.00), but I agree with her advice…to a point. It seems a little self-serving. It sounds like she’s telling “Alone and Shy in California” to be charming so that she can get what she wants—popularity. Maybe it’s the word charming. We don’t use it much now, and when we do, it sounds a bit superficial.

 

My own personal Prince Charming showed concern for our friend that night (and continues to do the same thing for me and others all these years later) with no strings attached. He isn’t kind to be popular. He isn’t considerate to be rewarded. He does it because it’s right and in line with the One he’s trying to model his life after.

 

It’s like our moms used to tell us: “If you want to have a friend, be a friend.” Or as a radio D.J. I listen to always says: “The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one…BE ONE!” Whether or not that makes you popular is secondary. What matters is how you make the world a better place.