I’ve heard and seen most of the anecdotes and memes the internet has to offer regarding this particular topic. Ones like this:
“I followed this lady through the grocery, and her kid would not stop throwing a fit. He laid down right on the ground. Why don’t people discipline their kids??”
Or, for those who are feeling extra compassionate, but still judgey: “I watched this mom in the store today whose kid was throwing an absolute fit. I get it; I’ve had kids too. Maybe your child is just too tired to be shopping right now. Maybe you should just remove her from the store and take her home!”
Admittedly, I have had my own anecdotes rolling around my head too, even if I don’t make them into viral complaints on Facebook. They might be about kids constantly in the office at school for discipline or about the parents who are visiting their kids in juvenile hall. They’re about the parents who buy their children a thousand Christmas presents but cannot pay their actual bills. They’re about people whose kids are “too” greedy, “too” selfish, “too” impolite.
I know where these judgmental frustrations come from. They come from my pride. I think I'm better than those people. I think I know a situation. I think I understand someone’s life. I fail to acknowledge my unique privilege, my unique perspective, my unique resources, and assume that everyone is operating from a similar place.
Then I remember the time I found myself with one of my own children on the dirty floor of my local Target. In the middle of an aisle, no less, with another child wailing in my cart. Humility doesn’t have to mean humiliated, but for some of us, that might be what it takes to bring us face to face with our own brokenness, our own faults, and above all, our own pride.
When we started our foster care training, one of things we learned about first is a thing called triggers. You've probably heard of trigger warnings - the things we place at the front of stories, events, shows, etc, to warn people if there is something in them that is known to bring up past trauma. The same need is real for little kids, only a lot of the time you don’t get a warning that the trauma is about to revisited. It can happen anywhere. Sometimes it’s predictable. You might already know your child doesn’t care for large crowds or loud noises or the smell of cigarette smoke. You might not, however, know that a low-trafficked Target on a weekday morning would contain something that might throw your child into an absolute tailspin.
Not only did I not have warning in this particular instance, I also, to this day, cannot tell you what the trigger was. What it was that brought up such trauma in my preschooler that it involved them flinging themselves out of the cart in terror, screaming and trying to crawl underneath the wheels. I cannot tell you even what made me know that the absolute right thing to do in the moment was to grab them, bear hug them, and sit down on that filthy floor in the middle of the main aisle between lingerie and shoes while I sang sweet songs and repeated over and over into their ears, “You are safe. You are loved. I will never let you go.”
Yep, it was a spectacle. Yes, my baby was fussing in the cart while I sat on the floor. Yes, it looked for all the world like the worst temper tantrum you’ve ever seen.
Did I feel humiliated? In the moment, there was not one second of hesitation. Immediately after though? I battled through those stares from my fellow shoppers with some embarrassment. I didn’t want them to think negatively of me or my kid. Oh I know, I’ve seen all of the empowerment quotes, and I mostly agree, but come on now. We wouldn’t be so defensive about our right to not care if we didn’t care at least a little. Don’t pretend otherwise.
Could I have disciplined this problem away? Not for a second.
Could I have taken them home and avoided the gazes? Probably, but only after we made a larger scene all the way to the car. And it wouldn’t have helped my child. That’s not they needed.
The right thing, right then, was to enter into that terror with that child. Sit down in the dirt with them until they felt safe enough to get up from that floor. They needed a parent, not to rescue them from that moment, but to sit beside them while they were in the middle of it.
That's the beauty of this down-to-earth God who comes at Christmas. Could he have come in his Santa costume to give us all really awesome presents that we couldn’t afford on our own? For sure. Could he have just swept everyone up out of the hurting places they lived to rescue them forever? Definitely. But it turns out that’s not what we needed. We needed a God of humility. A God of compassion.
Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position. It is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. - Henri Nouwen
That’s the humility we should be emulating this season: a God who went directly to the people and places where the suffering is most acute and built a home there. He came here in the messiest of situations - the scandalous out-of-wedlock baby whose parents weren’t welcome in their families’ homes and thus had to birth their baby in a gross animal barn. He came via human childbirth (which let’s be honest, is not the most dignified of experiences for anyone involved) as a brown skinned baby in a land that was occupied and ruled by white Europeans. He spent his early years as a refugee fleeing racial and religious persecution. This is a God who GETS IT. This is a God didn’t just come on the side of the hurting, he became one of the hurting.
Can I do the same? Can I show up for the hurting and the oppressed, just like I did for my child that day in Target? Can I sit on their dirty floors, metaphorical OR literal, to be with them in their pain? Can I let go of my own pride to allow myself to face humiliation, if that's what it takes, to show someone the kind of love that this down-to-earth God I serve has already shown all of us? This week, the invitation is to lay down our pride, our judgmental attitudes, and the divisions that separate us to show up for the ones who need us most.
Every week, I'll offer some reflections for your Advent season. Use some of the readings and suggestions, all of them, none of them - this is an invitation to go a little deeper than what the bright and busy retail season typically calls us to.
And All For What?
The inglorious angels speak of
Incarnation as The Great Betrayal -
the breaking of every existent code
and convention of divinity, an
infidelity if there ever was one.
In touching the young Jewish girl
God’s reputable chastity fell scarlet.
The contact with Mary’s waiting flesh
sowed the seed for God’s new electric skin.
He then grew alive to every breeze,
sensitive to the appearances of the moon,
bent to give and to offer but just as
temptable to taking, and the longing.
And all that loss of position for what?
The oldest excuse in the world: Love.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross."
Come Lord Jesus. By your spirit, guide us in letting go of pride and embracing your down-to-earth humility. Open our minds to your mind, that we may reflect your love more fully. For in your holy name, the one born in a humble stable, we pray. Amen.
(Rachel Billups from Down to Earth)
SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF
Each week, I’ll share a spiritual rhythm or habit that helps me. Some of them might feel uncomfortable to try. I encourage you to try it anyway - there’s no growth without stretching. If this stretches you too far, however, feel free to pass it by.
Don’t let the words scare you away. This is an ancient, but simple way of engaging Scriptures. For those who don’t read scripture very often, it offers a very easy entry point. For those who are scripturally well-read, it has a way of evening the playing field. It works to eliminate all of the pride we have when we come to read a passage. The pride of familiarity, the pride of knowledge, the pride of having the correct interpretation, the pride of already knowing what we’re supposed to take from the passage. It’s a way of opening our eyes and our ears to what God might actually want to say to us through the words, rather than what we think He wants to say to us.
There are traditionally four steps in Lectio Divina:
1) Read: Read the passage slowly, aloud if possible. (for this week’s purposes, feel free to use the verses above.) You might want to even read it more than once. Take note, either mentally or you can jot it down, of any phrases or words that stand to you. Don’t force it. Just notice.
2) Meditate: Read it again. Take note again of what stands out to you. Is it the same thing as the first reading or did you hear something new? Take some time to think about it. Don’t attempt to analyze it or figure out what it means; it’s easy to just try to “study” the words rather than just let them be and hear what you need to hear.
3) Pray: Read the passage again, and it’s your time to respond. You can journal here or just think through the questions that came to mind while you were reading the passages the first few times. What is God saying to you through the words? What do you have to say in return?
4) Contemplate: Read the passage a final time. Sit with it for awhile in silence. This is chance for transformation because of what God can do in you, not what you have to do yourself.
That’s it. It’s not hard. It doesn’t even take that long. For those who sometimes might sit down to read the Bible and wonder where in the world to start or how in the world to do it, it provides a structure using just what you have. There’s no extra study or commentaries or teaching you need. And for those who sometimes get too caught up in all that extra stuff, it forces you to let go of your props, and just let God speak to you.
SHOW UP FOR THOSE NEARBY
Here is where the challenge will likely hit home every week. An invitation to show up for others in the every day. And if you do? Please share! I’d love to hear how you make this invitation your own.
When you see a parent struggling in the store with one of their children this week - and you will because it’s December - instead of shooting them glances, judgmental or not, could you go over to them? Could you consider saying, “Hey. You’re doing a good job. Thanks for loving your kids.”?
You’re probably thinking, ‘but what if they’re obviously NOT doing a good job’? Could you consider the possibility that you might be wrong about that? That maybe they are doing the best they know how? That perhaps, they’re even doing a better job than you could in the same situation, because you know what? You don’t know their situation. You absolutely don’t know what that parent is dealing with. Sure, it could be trauma, could be autism, could be chronic anxiety, could be any number of things; it also might just be a child who is throwing a regular childhood temper tantrum. Even in the middle of all of that, consider what it might mean to that parent to have someone just throw them some words of encouragement. Who couldn’t use some words of encouragement in their worst moments?
And hey, if you’re in a Target or a Kroger, maybe you should just accompany those words of encouragement with a Starbucks.😉
SHOW UP FOR THOSE FAR AWAY
Here, each week, I’ll give you a non-profit recommendation to research and consider giving to. We can’t usually show up in person for people around the world, but one thing we can do is support the people who are.
The Happy NPO has 4 projects that serve the poorest of the poor and partner with multiple ministries around the world who are boots on the ground, changing the world. We are all committed to having maximum impact with the money that comes in. Their projects include: directly managing and assisting a children's home in Peru, disaster relief in Puerto Rico and an assistance fund for adoptive families in East Africa... plus, relief work when there are natural disasters.
Their current relief work in Puerto Rico is targeting “the blue roof phenomenon”. Hundreds of houses are still using blue tarps as their ceiling, in danger of devastation at the arrival of any major storm. They are aiming to restore 25 houses in the next 3 months, and they are partnering with 3 local non-profits to not only restore these 25 houses (home of single mothers and the elderly) but also to help recover sustainable farms and empower local churches to assist in the growing homelessness crisis.
The Happy NPO aims to offer simple ways for those who are moved by the pain of others to respond with strategic hope, simple actionable tasks, and with confidence that their donation is having maximum impact. They strive to care for orphans, restore dignity to families after a disaster, end extreme poverty, all while seeing communities transformed through international partners.
(Plus, they have an awesome store where I have spent my very own dollars to get some pretty cool gear, and 100% of the profits go directly to their NPO work.)