Faith, Grace, Life

On Not Being Spat Out

Cliff by Zach Werner on flickr with text added

My toddler’s behaviour has epitomized the ‘terrible two’s lately.  He (D) is climbing too high; ignoring instructions; disobeying rules; and just generally pushing the boundaries with everything.  At the same time, he is SO affectionate and so funny and so totally loveable (speaking with absolute bias, of course) that we think him adorable even while he’s challenging our patience.

Because D is a sly button-presser, I have to keep an eagle eye out when he’s in the kitchen to avoid an unwanted extra dishwasher cycle.  And because he’s fascinated with dipping his hands into cups, I have to keep hot drinks well out of reach.

One of my sisters-in-law visited for tea the other day, and D hovered next to her teacup.  It was no longer hot enough to burn, but I did want to avoid any mess and embarrassment.  I warned him, “No touching!  Keep your hands out!”

And he obeyed.

He didn’t touch.

Instead, he leaned forward and, with expert aim, he spat an entire mouthful of milk right into her teacup.

My sister-in-law was the mirror of me as we simultaneously clapped our hands over our mouths, eyes wide in disbelief.  But as the shock wore off, our shoulders started to shake.  What could we do but laugh?

The thing is, D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t want his milk.  He was spitting to see what would happen (and I made sure to explain later that we can spit in the sink when we brush our teeth, but it’s NOT OKAY to spit in people’s tea!).

Recently I read an article that reminded me of a verse in the Bible that talks about not being spat out.  The spitting in this case is a sign of God’s disgust with wishy-washy faith:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

-Revelation 3:15-17

In his commentary, Matthew Henry expounds on these verses thus:

Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is a real thing, it is the most excellent thing, and therefore we should be in good earnest in it; if it is not a real thing, it is the vilest imposture, and we should be earnest against it. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything; an indifference here is inexcusable: Why halt you between two opinions? If God be God, follow him; if Baal (be God), follow him. Here is no room for neutrality.

In short, we are to take a stand for what we believe in.  (And this is what the article I read was talking about.)  But how do we take a stand in a way that is honouring to all aspects of God – how do we respect his law and demonstrate his love?

It’s easy to see what not to do.

Westboro Baptist Church and its followers stand for the law and ignore the love.  They’ve obviously got it wrong.  On the other end of the spectrum you have the churches who preach that love is all that matters, and they ignore the law.  This is wrong, too.

Both are unbalanced views, and both are unbiblical.

What does being a Christian require of us?  We have to look to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus didn’t ostracize those living outside the bounds set by God’s commands – he didn’t get up on a pedestal and just denounce, denounce, denounce.  He didn’t try to motivate people to change by warning them that they were going to go to hell if they didn’t.  Jesus didn’t spew hate and he didn’t withhold his love from those deemed unworthy under the law.

He also didn’t endorse the views of the lost – he didn’t discount the error of their ways; he didn’t go up to the woman at the well and say, “Well, your husband was probably a lout and impossible to live with!  He practically drove you into the arms of that other man!”  He didn’t say, “Zacchaeus, you probably had very good reasons for collecting extra taxes to fill your personal coffers, and I’m not going to judge you for that.”

Instead, Jesus walked alongside sinners.  He loved them.  He spoke Truth to them.  He didn’t wait for them to change their ways or behave perfectly or even to confess God as Lord of their own lives before he gave them his attention and offered them his grace.  He healed and he restored.  And he told those newly-minted whole people – those sinners he had healed from their brokenness – “Follow me;” “Go and sin no more;”; “”Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.“.  He didn’t say, “Don’t go changing, now!”

The Truth is that God’s love changes us.

There once lived a man called Saul.  Or perhaps that should more correctly read, there twice lived a man called Saul – because once Saul had encountered Christ he was a different man.  Saul was a Jew, and a conscientious one at that.  His job, in fact, was in rooting out blasphemers and heretics; and his focus was on a new sect that had recently cropped up: followers of Jesus, also known as ‘Christ’.  As far as Saul could see, this was a dangerous new philosophy that needed to be stamped out through swift and severe action – and he was doing his level best to ensure that these followers of Christ were stopped before they could spread their messianic views any further.  He was dogged, determined – and devout.

And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The Saul (henceforth known as Paul) who emerged from that encounter was just as dogged, determined, and devout.  But his focus had shifted 180 degrees.  Now, instead of working to cease the spread of Christianity, he aimed to increase it.  He moved from persecuting Christians to proclaiming Christ as Lord.  Why?  Because God’s love – in the form of Jesus Christ – had changed him.

He was transformed.

Almost every time Jesus exhorts his believers to ‘come, follow me’, he precedes that invitation with an instruction about what they need to release in order to do so.

In Saul/Paul’s case, he had to let go of all of his preconceived ideas about Jesus and followers of Christ.  He had turn his back on convictions he had carried through to death (not his, but those of so many believers), and turn towards a new conviction of the truth of Jesus’s resurrection (which he also carried through to death – this time, to his own eventual martyrdom).

Jesus knew that the young man was willing to abide by the law but not by the love – the young man’s heart wasn’t in it because he was unwilling to give up his home comforts for the promise of God’s reward.

  • Jesus called Peter to step out in faith – literally – and join him in stormy seas.

“‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

Peter had to leave the boat.  He had to trust in Jesus’s ability to literally support him – and, when he believed, his faith provided a firm foundation for his feet.

Take my yoke upon you.  Faith can be a burden; but in Christ’s strength we are more than fit to carry that burden.  We are called to release our need to be in control over our lives and give up this freedom to accept the Freedom that is in Christ Jesus.

We are changed by faith.

The world at large doesn’t know this truth.  In an age where everything is relative, personal choice is king.  Further, there is an expectation that whatever those personal choices are, they are right.  And good.  And uncontestable.  There is a pervasive sense of this supremacy of personal choice and of the idea that if anyone doesn’t agree with someone else’s personal choice he is being hateful.  According to this new line of thinking, if I don’t support a woman’s ‘right to choose’ or hang a rainbow flag out my window then I must be passing judgement on everyone else, no matter how vehemently I deny it – and no matter how much I love the woman who has to make an impossible choice and the ones who endure hate because of their sexual orientation.  The world tells us that we have to agree with everyone in order to love them, but that is a fallacy.

I parent differently from how some of my friends parent – don’t we all, by necessity, make choices based on our own situations, our own research, and our own instincts??  If I choose not to let my kids ‘cry it out’ does that necessarily mean that I stand in judgement of my exhausted friend who chooses to try that approach in order to save her sanity?  If I believe that a meatless diet is healthiest for my family, does that mean that I hate those families who aren’t vegetarian or vegan??

No.  Not at all; disagreeing does not equal disliking.  Lack of assent does not equal lack of love or respect.  Believing that faith necessitates change doesn’t equal hypocrisy, even when it’s a belief held by a still-imperfect person.

Jesus loves sinners in spite of their sin (in spite of our sin).  We love others because Christ first loved us – not because they are married or single; gay or straight; religious or secular; or carnivorous or vegan, but in spite of those designations.  I love my friends in spite of their agreement or disagreement with my beliefs, and regardless of my agreement or disagreement with theirs.

But because of these differences, I have – at times – muzzled myself.  I have erred on the side of caution in sharing my views for fear of appearing unloving; because in this world, disagreement is taken for hatred.

I wonder, though, how much this is deference on my part – and how much it is cowardice.

A short while after I read Matt Walsh’s rousing exhortation to Christians to stand up and be counted, I read an article that cut me to the core.  This article, written by Ann Voskamp after a trip to Iraq to meet displaced women and children, is a raw and powerful portrait of the destruction wrought by Isis (and perpetuated, I fear, by the indifference of so many in the rest of the world).

Persecution is happening now.  Discrimination is happening today.  Prejudice is happening alwaysMothers are having to choose which children to bring and which to leave behindCan you imagine??

The world tells me that I am unloving if I disagree with someone.  But how loving is it that we ignore the slaughter of Christians in other parts of the world and the displacement of so many?  How loving is it to ignore the enslavement of their children?  There is a modern-day holocaust going on in the Middle East, and we are tip-toeing around for fear of offending*.

We are (correctly) outraged at the description of events in WW II – the idea that so many people sat idly by while Hitler moved brutally forward with his plan to exterminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t fit into his ideal.  And yet we ourselves sit timidly by as a slaughter takes place a continent removed from us.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

And so I am not going to ‘do nothing’.  I am not going to be lukewarm.

Law and love are both central to living as Christ lived, and I cannot apologize for that.  Jesus honoured the Sabbath, but he also healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus embraced sinners, but he also expected sinners to release their sin in order to follow him.

It is not loving to pretend that we sinners are just okey-dokey if we keep sinning wilfully.  “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Finding faith has to be the catalyst to change.

“Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right’.”

– C.S. Lewis

If I water down my beliefs to make someone else feel better, how is that loving?  I don’t tell my kids, It’s OK if you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, ‘cause I know it’s restrictive and uncomfortable… – I tell them, I want you to be safe, and this is how you keep safe.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” – Proverbs 14:12

So this is what I believe:

I believe that God is sufficient for all of us, to fill every one of our needs.  Therefore I don’t need to apologize about my beliefs to the unmarried friend living with her boyfriend so that she’ll feel OK about her decision, because ‘after all, doesn’t God just want us all to be happy?” No because the truth is, God wants us to be fulfilled – and He is the one who can accomplish that. 

I am not writing this to stand up and denounce, denounce, denounce.  I am not trying to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye whilst ignoring the log in my own.  I don’t believe that there are shades of sin – there’s sin on one side (the result of which is separation from God), and there’s forgiveness on the other (in which we are reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice) – and I also don’t believe that watering down the Truth to make it more palatable is a kindness.  The truth is that we have all sinned, and we all fall short of the glory of God – and that’s where his grace steps in.  His sacrifice – like his love – is complete, and it demands action on our part.

What do we do, then?  Keep the law, and share the love.

I will not stand up and shout out against people I love, no matter whether or not I agree with them.  But I will stand up and be counted.  I will risk discomfort and even (‘though I cringe at the idea), being ‘unfriended’.  I will do my best to speak Truth into the lie of an untransformational salvation.  I will not accuse, but I also will not apologize.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

– Romans 6:1-4

Here I am, Lord.  Count me in.  I will honour your sacrifice, Jesus, and the sacrifice made by countless Christians around the world to this day who have been willing to die for these beliefs we share; I will honour you by speaking Truth, upholding your law, and sharing your love.

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My little D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t like what he tasted – he was just testing the boundaries of propriety.  But I’m not going to allow the boundaries of propriety to dictate to me so much that *I* am in danger of being spat out.

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*For the record, Isis is radical and not representative of Islam in general, and I know this.  I have beloved friends who are Muslim; by no means am I condoning hatred towards followers of that religion.  I do understand that there is a point at which our faiths divide, and that is OK.  I don’t have to agree with them to love them.

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Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships

How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife)

How to Sell Your Husband

If you’re married – and have been for longer than a minute or so – then in your tougher moments, the title of this post might pique your interest: How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife).  It’s just tongue-in-cheek, of course – a hyperbolic title like those of the comedies ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ and ‘Throw Momma from the Train’.

Frustrations in a relationship are inevitable, unless one of you is overdue for sainthood (Hint: you’re not).  And in the tougher moments, those frustrations can bubble up a little.

I don’t know about you, but when I get steamed up, I tend to vent at the mouth.

It’s easy to let those little niggley frustrations turn into little nit-picky comments.  And, as with anything that you practice at, eventually it becomes a habit: nitpicking becomes the norm; nagging becomes your default.  Letting things slide goes by the wayside, and you give voice to whatever isn’t perfect.

Sometimes that happens in this house.  Sometimes I get a little too ‘good’ at picking up on what’s not perfect about my hubby and a little too bad at noticing the good stuff.

So here I am, married to this kind, strong, loving, loyal guy – and instead of telling him all about the wonderful things I see in him, I end up pointing out the negative things I observe.  Remember, too, that what we notice when we’re mad tends to be coloured by our emotion – so those little things that ordinarily wouldn’t worry us suddenly become sources of rage.  I’m talking about the dry cough; the incessant leg-bouncing or pen drumming; the towel that just gets flung down every.single.time and never gets to dry properly (ugh!)

And what happens when you’ve got kids?  Well, you’ve got an audience for the whole thing.

What we don’t always realize is that how we talk about our spouse is how we’re ‘selling’ them to our kids.  We are marketing our spouse’s qualities through what we say about them as well as how we speak to them.

The shoe can be on the other foot, too – at times the way our spouse speaks to us or about us within earshot of our kids negatively influences our kids’ opinions of us, even unintentionally.

Sometimes I notice a creeping disrespect in my boys towards me.  I find them trotting along to their Daddy for verification of whatever I’ve said.  I see them taking longer to come when I call them.  I hear them arguing more when I ask them to do something.

Feeling ignored or disrespected is my particular catalyst to misery (I am thin-skinned, after all) – so when I see this behaviour I know that I need to tackle it right away.

When these challenges arose recently, I reflected, observed, and prayed.  And through this process it was clear that we have created the problem, West and I:  the root of our boys’ disrespect is in how we speak to (or about) one another and in how we choose to respond.  We need to focus on ‘marketing’ each other’s best points so that our kids develop a healthy sense of respect (and, if it’s not too much to hope for, admiration) for both of us.

This isn’t a concern unique to us, either – many families struggle because their kids have developed attitudes of disrespect and ambivalence towards one or both of their parents; and, if not nipped quickly in the bud, those attitudes take root and grow.

So, how should you sell your husband (or wife) to your kids to avoid selling him (her) short?

Guard your words.  You need to be careful not to dismiss or belittle the things your spouse has to say.  Avoid dismissing or belittling him (her) as a person, too.

Master your thoughts.  The little negative opinions you hold can shape your behaviour; being aware of the ways in which you fail to cherish your spouse can help you to care better for him (her).

Demonstrate love.  When you’re overtly demonstrative, you help reassure your kids that you love your spouse.  Not only will they thrive in the security of seeing your love in action – your spouse will, too.

Avoid criticising.  Bite your tongue.  Seriously – Bambi’s little friend Thumper had it right: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin’ at all!”

Lavish praise.  If you can think of one good thing about your spouse, he (or she) should hear about it.  So should your kids.  Chances are you can think of quite a few things you appreciate about your mate.  Praise him (her) truthfully, regularly, and abundantly.

Communicate intentionally.  This one’s tough for some.  But failing to communicate sends the message that your spouse isn’t worth your consideration or attention.  So take the time and trouble to let him (her) know what you’re up to.  Apologize if you’re running late.  Share your thoughts and feelings on general topics as well as those closer to your heart.

The last thing any parent wants – in fact, the last thing anyone wants – is to be dismissed and disrespected.  Belonging and significance matter greatly – show your spouse that they’re an integral and important part of your family; and be deliberate in how you work to curtail disrespectful attitudes in your kids.

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Remember: If the way we speak to/about our spouse is like marketing them to the rest of the world, we have to be intentional about how we’re ‘selling’ their image.  Their reputation depends on it.

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Food for Thought

How do you sell your spouse to your kids?  If you asked your children what you think of Mum or Dad, what would they say?

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Thanks for reading!

-Trix

June 2015 Shared on the Wise Woman Linkup

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Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting

The Dance

shadow dancing by Kevin Harber on flickr

 

When you go to a dance, do you know what to do?
Swing your partner, swing your partner, swing your partner to you…

-lyrics from ‘Swing Your Partner Round and Round’, by Judy Garland

It’s a dance, parenting (when there are two of you) – sometimes a waltz; sometimes a jitterbug; sometimes a good ol’ country square dance; but always an exercise of partnership, of moving together in harmony and avoiding stepping on each other’s toes.

Good parenting involves teamwork.  It involves communication and co-operation. It requires us to extend ourselves beyond our selves and figure out how to bring out the best in someone else.  Needless to say, this isn’t accomplished by pointing out one another’s faults.  And yet, just the other day, I found myself telling West, “Well, I hope you enjoyed playing with Buzz Lightyear while your son sliced his fingers to ribbons.”  It felt good, for about a nanosecond, and then I realized that it was neither true nor helpful; the baby had only picked up a dull table knife, and West had only been momentarily distracted.  All I had achieved was the fleeting satisfaction of being snarky.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of making sharp little comments or criticising one another; it’s too easy to see all that you do and miss the things he does…  And the thing I’ve found with this kind of interaction is that it breeds discontent and causes more sniping, and more unkindness, and more ingratitude towards your spouse.  I’ve been guilty of perpetuating that kind of atmosphere at times – when I’ve been extra-tired or hormonal or otherwise emotional – and it’s just not nice.  All of a sudden we find we’re at odds more often than not.  Neither of us can anticipate or appreciate what the other is doing, and it’s hard to find some common ground; indeed, without effort on one or both parts it would be easy to see that any common ground would soon be lost.

Good teamwork –  having an effective parenting partnership – requires us to maintain a healthy balance in a few main areas.

One of the most important areas couples need to work on is figuring out an agreeable division of labour.  We have to share the workload.

I’ve often heard women complaining that their husbands don’t carry their weight around the house, or that their men act helpless when it comes to looking after the kids – and often this complaint comes in the same form: “It’s like I have another kid to look after!”

But what do we do with our kids and chores?  We all know that our kids will happily accept the status quo if we regularly do all the work around the house.  If we pick up their clothes from the floor, put away their toys, clear the table, make their beds, etc – even if we grumble and gripe while we do it – it’s unlikely that they’ll have an epiphany about the injustice of it all and motivate themselves to help out a bit instead.  If we haven’t trained our children to do so, we wouldn’t expect them to see what needs to be done and just do it without being asked.  So why do we expect that of our spouses?

If we want our husbands (or wives) do to something more, or to do something differently, then we need to communicate that.  Most of us would never actually make a decision to avoid teaching our kids the life skills required to live healthily and happily in community; but by failing to instil helpful habits (tidying, clearing up, and contributing in other ways to the household) we do just that.  And in the same way, we make a choice not to have an equal partnership when we neglect to communicate our feelings to our spouse.  He might not spend time with the kids unless he understands that it’s something you feel is part of his responsibility as a Dad.  She may not voluntarily clean out the car of all the kiddie-debris unless you mention that it bugs you when it gets so filthy.

This communication is best accomplished with a healthy dose of grace.  Sometimes the little things should just be done for the other person as a kindness, without resentment.  But when the scales start to tip – or even if we just feel overburdened by our share – then we need to talk about it.  This may not always change much in the actual division of chores, but more often than not it will expose areas in which we need to support one another.  Parenting can often be an exhausting job; both partners can feel like the workload is too heavy, and both might be right.  But sharing the burden of caring for the family and the household does lighten that burden and make it manageable.

It must be said that communicating our needs as partners is not the same as nitpicking.  It’s very easy to point out what the other person is doing ‘wrong’, but in focusing on someone else’s faults we often fail to acknowledge our own weaknesses.  I remember hearing some great advice to think of the acronym THINK before we speak to our loved ones, to determine if what we’re about to say is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.

The way we support one another is also key to a good partnership.  It’s not enough to lend lip-service to the concept of being a team; our actions need to prove that we’re working as a unit.  This means having one another’s back when the kids are trying to play us off of one another; it means standing up for each other and intervening on the other’s behalf when the kids are disrespectful or unkind.  When one of us is unable to function at our normal ‘best’, we need to exert an extra effort to cover the difference – without allowing ourselves to become bitter or resentful.

This is an area of weakness for me, I must confess; when West is sick I am a crabby and impatient nursemaid.  I can’t wait for him to get better, but it’s not altruism that motivates this desire – it’s selfishness.  The very best relationships are those in which patience and kindness accompany the partnership even when the burden cannot be equally shared.  This is the perfection to which I aspire, but for now each time I’m not functioning at my best I am reminded of my need to be patient when Westley isn’t able to contribute in the way that I’m used to.

Finally, we need to honour and respect one another’s roles.  If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then maybe a little bit of interplanetary diplomacy is in order.  We all do things differently; because men and women tackle the same jobs from different perspectives, and because we are all individuals who have our own take on how to accomplish chores.

I may have chuckled at how silently and solemnly West changed a nappy (without any of the chatter or tickles or kisses I bestow during changing), but I’d never have criticised him for performing the task in that manner (and as the years have gone by, nappy-changing has become more of an interactive activity for him).  Likewise, West might never understand why I’ve occasionally made the kids late in leaving for school just so that I could scribble their lunchbox love notes and tuck them in with the sandwiches – but he respects me and my role as ‘chief nurturer’ enough to be patient with the process.  Westley has never come upstairs from his home office and questioned why the house is still a mess and why dinner’s not ready.  Maybe one of the fringe benefits of having a work-from-home hubby is that he knows what goes on all day to prevent me from getting stuff done – and thus he knows better than to ask for an accounting of my time…  He’s far more likely to pick up the vacuum and attack the dust-bunnies than to open his mouth and criticise me for not having done my share.  I’m more likely to answer a question he hasn’t heard or give a hug to soften his discipline than to nag him about listening or question him about giving one of our boys a time-out.

Ultimately, it is impossible to keep an accurate tally of everything each of us contributes to the household – to try to do so is not only pointless but detrimental to the relationship.  Partnership – a good partnership, that is – requires us to share the workload; communicate effectively (especially remembering to THINK before we speak); support one another; and honour and respect one another’s roles.

When we parent as partners, we move together in harmony and grace.  It’s a beautiful thing.

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Faith, Life, Parenting, Philosophy

Scents & Sensibility

Chanel Chance by Anne on flickr

 

I love wearing perfume.  From the time that I was a little girl, I’ve loved to envelope myself in a delicate scent and know that those closest to me would associate the smell of that perfume with me.  Having a spritz of my favourite perfume on my neck and wrists was, for many years, as much a part of my getting dressed as putting on my clothes.  When I had a cuddle with other peoples’ babies, they’d mention how lovely their infants smelled when I handed them back, which I took as a compliment – that is, until I had babies of my own.

Once I’d had my own babies and read up about the importance of scent in the bonding process, I understood that maybe some of those mothers hadn’t actually been so pleased about my perfume masking the special sweet smell of their own infants…   As a Mama, I wasn’t so keen to drench myself in fragrance – no matter how nice that fragrance might be.  And I moved away from using scented laundry products, too; I knew that my little ones’ senses could be easily bombarded by all of these olfactory stimuli, and I didn’t want to overwhelm them.  But once my babes were a year old or so, I gradually returned to my practice of spraying a light perfume on my pulse points each morning.

I really like feeling ‘dressed’ with my scent, but lately I’ve become more and more aware that there are some people who really struggle with sensitivities to fragrance.  In particular, there are a few people in my church who are actually allergic to scents.  And when I was having physiotherapy in the local hospital earlier this year, they had signs posted to alert patients and visitors to their ‘Scent Free’ policy; so of course I respected those rules and opted to not to put on perfume when I was going to see my physio.

There’s a lot of talk of ‘rights’ these days; there’s a big push for everyone to stand up for their own rights and champion the rights of others.  And that’s not necessarily a negative thing.  But I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that rights should only be exercised within the confines of our respect and responsibility, and with consideration, towards others.

I have a right to wear perfume.  If I want to, I can waft around in a cloud of fragrance wherever I go.  But knowing that my fragrance might cause someone else severe discomfort and possibly even prevent them from being a part of a worship service or attending necessary medical therapy has curbed my enthusiasm for putting it on every morning.  I still do wear perfume fairly often, but when I know that I might be in contact with someone who’s sensitive to scents, I choose not to put my fragrance on.

I believe in a woman’s right to feed her babies where and when and how she needs to.  I also understand that some people find the sight of women’s exposed breasts a bit distracting – so when I was breastfeeding I made some effort not to flash those around me.  There are degrees to which I feel this is necessary (I’d never bother about covering up if I were in a room full of women, for instance – and I wouldn’t have worried if I had an easier time feeding without showing a lot of flesh), and I take umbrage to the assertion that breastfeeding is, in itself ‘disgusting’ or ‘offensive’ – but to be considerate of the comfort and sensitivity of others, I did try to nurse discreetly.

I am very supportive of people bringing their young children into church services – as we have always done with our little ones.  I love the little sounds of babbling babies and the whisper of a child to a parent, and I adore the sight of whole families of different generations lined up along the pews.  But when my babies are fussing so loudly that nobody can hear the prayer or if they start yelling during a sermon, I take them out.  My feeling is that my children’s right to be in church shouldn’t hamper the ability of others to be nourished by their time in church – so although I’m determined to give them the opportunity to be a part of the service, if their behaviour is too distracting/disruptive I take them out of the room.  The same is true of kids in movies, concerts, or whatever – we can’t expect truly mature behaviour of them (and I’m not asserting that anyone would be reasonable to think they have a ‘right’ to have a kid-free environment all the time), but if their childish behaviour is interrupting things then they shouldn’t be there.

Many of the rights we’ve accepted in the past have had a direct and negative impact on others – and when we have weighed their practice against the responsibilities we hold towards others it has resulted in a reduction of the exercise of those rights.  For example, for a couple of centuries, tobacco smoking was a very much accepted right (at least for men); but over time the general tolerance for that practice has waned, because it is now understood that even second-hand smoke has a tremendously detrimental effect on the health of those subjected to the fumes.  The constitution of the United States upholds the right of its citizens to own guns.  And yet there is an inarguable correlation between the ‘right to bear arms’ and high rates of violent crime and gun-related accidental deaths.  Just north of the 49th parallel, we in Canada do not (as a whole) support the right of our citizens to possess such weapons – and thus we enjoy relatively lower rates of gun-related violence.  We hold our responsibility to protect our citizens from the dangers of firearms above any right we might claim to own guns.

It’s easy to see from these examples that many of our ‘rights’ are relative.  Perception, understanding, and situation all inform the decision about whether or not something is an ‘inalienable right’ or just a discretionary practice.

A few weeks ago there was a bit of a furor in my facebook newsfeed involving the story of a young girl who had been given a detention, and then a suspension from school, for wearing jean shorts that were deemed to be unsuitably revealing.  When the school’s vice-principal was pressed to explain why she felt that the girl’s attire contravened the dress code, she said that she believed that the shorts would be ‘distracting’ to the male students.  A friend’s comments on the case elicited a storm of opinion about the ridiculousness of this school’s policy and the injustice of its actions; many of those commenting were up in arms about the suggestion that a girl might have a responsibility to avoid distracting her male classmates.

Now, the jean shorts in question didn’t look to me to be much different from what you’d see in a shopping mall or park or other regular public venue in the western world.  They didn’t offend me, and nor did I think they’d be any more distracting to the males in the class than, say, a tight top or plunging neckline; however, I wonder why this story became so much about championing a girl’s right to wear whatever she wants (without concern for the effect it might have on others) and not at all about being respectful of rules and being responsible in our choice of attire.

To me, the right of a student to wear what she chooses is secondary to the responsibility of that student to uphold the dress code of the school.  And all that conviction and emotion being focused towards supporting this discretionary right to dress as one pleases just seemed ludicrous, when you consider that there are countless situations around the world in which basic human rights are being ignored and even violated.

I love wearing perfume; but if I stride knowingly into a situation in which my fragrance is going to restrict someone else’s ability to breathe, then I may smell good but my attitude stinks.  I need to be respectful of my responsibilities to those around me as I choose to exercise my ‘rights’.

Across the globe horrors like slavery, poverty and corruption are robbing millions of people of rights that we take for granted in this cosy corner of the world – rights like freedom, sustenance, democracy…

What if we stopped decrying the restriction of our own rights in this privileged sector of the planet and concentrated on how we can better meet our responsibly to others?

I think it would make a world of difference.

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PS  Since my blog posts tend to cover the main themes of parenting, faith, and relationships, you may wonder why I would wade into such a politically-charged topic.  And if you have wondered that, here is my response:

This is important to me as a parent because I feel that it is necessary to instill in my children a sense of respect for and responsibility towards other people.

It is important to me as a woman of faith because I feel that it is important to follow Jesus’s example in putting my own desires aside for the good of others.  I aim to show deference to the needs of others instead of claiming the superiority of my own person and agenda.

It is important to me as a citizen because I feel that to champion ‘rights’ without also teaching ‘responsibility’ is at odds with the ideals of a free and democratic society.  I believe that acting in the interests of self without consideration of others is the worst kind of hedonism, and it leads to chaos in society and the disintegration of relationships.

And there you have it!  Thanks for reading!

-Trix

 

 

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Motherhood, Parenting

Connecting the Dots

connect_the_dots_flower

 

A couple of nights ago, as we sat down to dinner, I waited for everyone to get stuck into the meal and then I held up a piece of paper for them to see.  On the paper I had written a single word:

RESPECT

I asked the boys if they could tell me what the word said, and they did.  Then I told them I was going to read them a list and see if they could tell me what the things on the list had in common (I gave an example so they knew the kind of connection I’d be looking for).  I asked them to raise their hands if they recognized their own behaviour in the list.

And then I read out the list:

  • Complaining (especially when we’re on a ‘fun’ outing or when we’ve said ‘no’ to buying something)

Three hands went up

  • Not flushing the toilet (when you should)

(Giggling) Three hands up, again

  • Not listening when someone’s talking

Two hands (they’re not always honest!)

  • Yelling at their parents

Three

  • Damaging plants

(A discussion ensued at this point – not sure how many ‘fessed up at the end of it…)

  • Interrupting

Three hands and three voices all vying to tell me, at once (ironically), who was the worst culprit

  • Walking into the house with muddy shoes (oh.so.often)

Three hands and three sheepish grins

  • Not apologising properly

Two hands and a long pause before the worst offender finally added his hand…

  • Not coming to the table when called for a meal

Three hands and two heads looking pointedly at the one who always rushes off to do something else when he’s asked to wash up for dinner…

 What was the connection?  All the boys were very keen to show that they’d figured out what all the behaviours had in common:

disrespect

 We had a good little chat about it – an interesting to-and-fro discussion about the kinds of things we do without realizing how they affect others in the family (and those in the world around us).  And it seems to me that, for the first time (after I’ve been banging on about it for what seems to me like centuries), the boys have finally understood the concept of RESPECT.  Strangely enough, without resentment or bitterness or shame, they owned the result of our discussion.

What a profound learning experience it was for me to see that, by allowing them to connect the dots, I was allowing them to take ownership of their behaviour.  How interesting that, with one round-table discussion of a topic like this, I made more headway (and had a far more interesting experience) than I’d managed to make with all my ranting and nagging and reminding and grumbling about their lack of respect previously.

I’m not expecting any miracles.  I’m sure there will still be plenty of nagging, reminding, and grumbling on this subject from me in the future (and plenty of cause for me to do so).  But witnessing the change in their attitude to the concept of respect (and how certain behaviours are disrespectful) has given me hope that their understanding of the subject will take hold and mature.

The temptation can be great, when we are parenting our young ones, to just pluck the proverbial pen from their grasp and connect the dots for them.  We try to do this by way of excessive nagging and reminding and chastising and so forth.  But if we give them opportunities to do so, they will create a work of art that is all their own, within the parameters defined by us.

It’s our job to put the dots where they belong – to establish boundaries, to teach values, to demonstrate virtue – and it is theirs to connect the dots.

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