Greatest of All Time

Somewhere between 4th grade and 7th grade, it was a common pastime for girls in my school to rank their friends. “Tiffany is my first best friend. Holly is my second best friend. You are my third best friend.” Unless you were number one, it was demoralizing and humiliating, but you also knew your place in the pecking order was always tenuous. Any move by you or those in your circle could shift you up or down. You could get demoted by another girl extending an invitation to her birthday party at the skate center or a sleep-over at a house with an above-ground swimming pool or something as seemingly small as the gift of a Cindy Lauper cassette tape or a Duran Duran slap bracelet. (It was the 80’s, so these were a tween girl’s currency.)

 

As cut-throat and cruel as this may sound, it’s not a new idea. For all time, we humans have wanted to know where we fit as we’ve worried about the prominent placement of our seat at the table. Whether we like to admit it or not, we desire confirmation of our significance, and this often comes at the detriment of those around us.

 

Jesus’ twelve best friends were no different. As He was traveling around the area, preaching and healing, his disciples were arguing over which of them was the greatest. When we read Mark’s account of the story, Jesus asks them what they were quarrelling about (even though he knows the thoughts in their heads let alone the words they’re saying to each other as they walk down the road), but “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” They knew what they were talking about was childish, and they were embarrassed to tell Him.

 

Of course, Jesus used that moment to teach them (and through His Word, us) a valuable lesson. He told them, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Then Jesus saw a little child standing nearby which he lifted in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

 

You would think that the Disciples had been adequately upbraided by Jesus once he held an actual child to illustrate to them how they were acting like babies, but they didn’t fully absorb the lesson. Later, we see them reclining at the last supper they would eat with Jesus. He’s just dropped a bombshell, saying that one of them would betray him and His death was just around the corner, and they’re arguing about their status again.

 

Jesus shuts down the bickering by telling them that the order is different in His kingdom than in the kingdoms you find in the world. He tells them that it’s not about being the boss. Instead, it’s about being the servant.

 

I heard a preacher tell his congregation about an assignment for a discipleship course. He said that for a week, the person taking the course couldn’t brag about himself or defend himself when being criticized. He also couldn’t gossip or speak negatively about anyone else. He explained that the assignment was nearly impossible. He became aware of all the times he was concerned with his position, his seat at the table. He had to fight the urge to inflate his own ego or puncture the self-worth of others.

 

Jesus shows us that choosing to live the life of a servant isn’t an act of weakness, but one of extreme strength. To continually die to ourselves goes against the selfish nature we were born with and requires willpower and self-control. Most likely you won’t read words like humble or submissive or foot-washer in a political campaign ad or in the job description for a CEO or in a post-game interview with a professional athlete, but Jesus provides the best example of how to be the greatest.

Trust


As we were walking to school today, my youngest son Ezra closed his eyes and asked me to hold his hand while we made our way down the sidewalk. “Don’t let me run into anything,” he said. “And don’t let me fall.”

 

I promised him I’d do my best. We crossed streets and I navigated his steps over puddles. We didn’t walk side-by-side, like we usually do. Instead, I was a few steps in front, pulling him a bit as he lingered behind me. He was willing to keep going but there was some hesitancy to his strides, like his foot was testing what was in front of him before fully planting it on the hard concrete.

 

When we were more than halfway there, Ezra suggested that we switch. “Now, you close your eyes and I’ll hold your hand,” he proposed. I looked at what was ahead—crossing a busy street where a crossing guard controlled the intersection—and I said it wasn’t a very good idea. Ezra asked why.

 

“Because I’m the grown up and I’m supposed to lead you,” I told him. (Not to mention the fact that the crossing guard would think I was crazy!)

 

“You don’t trust me?” he asked, a tiny bit of hurt in his voice.

 

“It’s not that,” I assured him. “It’s my job to get you to school safely, and it’s your job to follow me.”

 

I think that he does trust me and my husband in most situations, and we’ve worked hard to gain that trust, but allowing yourself to be led isn’t always easy.

 

A search of the word “trust” in the Scriptures uncovers a slew of times when God instructs His people to trust Him. He tells them what will happen if they do trust Him and what will happen if they don’t trust Him. He reminds them of his history of coming through for them in the past. He proves Himself over and over to his people, in spite of their inconsistent allegiance. But, like a good parent, He is often compelled to fulfill his word and punish them. (We can trust Him for that, too.)

 

When I think of leading Ezra down the road, eyes closed and hand firmly grasping mine, I think of Proverbs 3:5,6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

 

I’m a far cry from being the Perfect Parent my God is, but if I can show Ezra that he can trust an imperfect parent like me, I pray he will be able to put his trust in the One who will never fail him.

My favorite teens

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mom, partly because I always enjoyed being around younger kids. I transitioned from playing with baby dolls to babysitting to working at an after-school care program to working as a certified teacher. The natural next step was becoming a mom.

 

When your kids are little, well-meaning people will say things like, “Just wait until she’s a teenager,” as if those early, harrowing years of keeping a newborn alive or surviving toddler tantrums weren’t bad enough. This kind of mentality—the dreading of parenting teens—would seep into my thoughts as I anxiously awaited the day that my precious babies would morph into hideous creatures bent on my destruction. I gravitated toward preschoolers, not high schoolers. Then my daughters reached that pinnacle age that made them teenagers.

 

I’m not going to say it’s been easy. Hell hath no fury like a 7th grade girl who’s having a bad day. Their moods were erratic. They suffered through the highest highs and the lowest lows. But we’ve survived middle school and nearly half of high school, so now I can say that I truly love teens. And not just mine.

 

This weekend I was a chaperone of 55 or so teen girls on a church retreat. We drove up the side of a mountain and made our beds in cobwebby cabins full of Asian beetles tapping at the windows. It wasn’t luxurious or especially comfortable, but that’s not why we went up the mountain. The five other “chaper-moms” (and two sweet college girls) and I were there for those girls. We cooked for them and prayed with them. We helped them find misplaced sweatshirts and enthusiastically played card games with them. We laughed with them and shared with them. A deep sisterhood developed.

 

The chaperones told the girls stories about dating our husbands and giving birth to our kids. We frankly answered questions and explained how we didn’t always get everything right. Hopefully, we showed these already loved girls that there are other women who care about them, too, casting that net of safety and protection just a little bit wider.

 

But the beauty of weekends like these go beyond just a few days. When you reach the heart of someone who is at such a midway place like those teen years, you can see the effects and after-effects for years to come. I’ve already seen it in my daughters. They were once those younger teens, watching and following the lead of the older girls. Now they, along with their friends, are being watched and studied. They are setting the bar for how to treat others.

 

And I know they are watching us moms, too. They are seeing how we laugh together and cry together and share our icky stuff without judgment or an ultimate need to fix everything.

 

So when I came home and sorted through the mail, setting aside a pile of graduation invitations, I knew without a doubt that I no longer consider teens “hideous creatures bent on my destruction.”

These sisters are my people.

Yeah. I’ve done a little modeling…

When Ezra, our African-born son, was struggling with his new language last year, we signed him up for speech lessons. At first it was difficult to determine if his issues were basic language acquisition (getting his words) or physically articulating them (saying his words) or both or something else entirely. We needed help!

 

His speech lessons were a worthwhile way to spend all those mornings last spring. Not only did he get hours of focused attention for his speech issues, but I also got a sounding board for many of my questions. For instance, I solicited their professional opinions as to how often I should correct Ezra’s verbal mistakes.

 

By the time we started the lessons Ezra had been in America for about a year, so it wasn’t that he was having a hard time speaking English. He was naturally replacing Lingala words (his native language) with English words. The last holdouts were words like lipa (bread), bongo (others), minga (thinking? We were never 100% sure about that one but he said it often).

 

His most consistent errors were things like leaving out words or ungrammatical subject/verb agreement or incorrectly using pronouns. In other words, he sounded like a caveman. So I asked the director of the speech clinic if I should correct him when he used “me” instead of “I” as the subject (Me sad. Me sleepy. Me lovee bacon.) because he did it constantly and I didn’t have the heart (or the stamina) to tell him he was wrong all day long. She said that I should model the appropriate pronoun and he would catch on eventually.

 

That day when we got home from speech, as if on cue, Ezra said, “Mom, me hungry.” Remembering what the director told me, I said, “Ezra, I am hungry.” He paused for half a second and said, “Well, eat something.”

 

Modeling the behavior we would like to see in our kids is often easier said than done. It takes consistency and thoughtful introspection and time. I feel confident that Ezra will eventually use the correct pronoun when he’s referring to himself, though it hasn’t happened yet.

 

But it isn’t just parents who are role models and it isn’t just kids who need them. Moms of Newborns need the advice of Empty Nesters. Pre-teens need Responsible High School Seniors to look up to. Newly Hired Employees need Seasoned Veterans to guide them through the first months of a new job.

 

To put it plainly, most everyone can be a role model to someone else. Look around and see if anyone is looking up to you. You might be surprised (or even a little scared) to know that others are watching and taking mental notes. Be the leader they deserve.