When I was a teenager, I would look at the other kids at church and think I had absolutely nothing in common with them. They must all love being there every Sunday and Wednesday and never fight their parents about going. They must never wish they could do all the things their friends at school were doing. They must never sit on the row and be insecure because they weren't sure if their church friends were going to talk to them that day. They must have it all together.
There was even one day in Sunday school in 10th grade when we divided into stations to talk about issues teenagers faced. I went to the station on peer pressure and to my absolute shock, I was the only one! That further reinforced my belief that I alone was being pulled in by the undertow. Over time, with no one I felt I could relate to on the shore, I gave in to the strong current.
What grieves me now is that other kids were going through some of the same stuff I was, at least to an extent, but no one was talking about it. I didn't know. Many of us felt isolated in our secret struggles, whatever they might have been. Late in my senior year (which was the low point for me), I was at a party with some friends and a girl from my church was there. I didn't know her very well at the time. She told my boyfriend to spill some dirt on me because it was killing her to think I could be so perfect. Are you kidding me? Partly because of who my mom was, and partly because it's in our nature to think everyone else has it altogether but us, she had this very, very false perception that I didn't struggle.
Some comments on my blog have mentioned something about me being "real." Perhaps this explains why I value authenticity. It does me no good to surround myself with pretenders and it does others no good for me to be a pretender.
Two weeks ago Curtis and I were at a very low place in our parenting experience. Jackson's behavior had brought us to our knees and we felt hopeless. Annabeth was at my parents' house and we were driving in the car with him to Wednesday night church. Both of us were in tears because we were so frustrated. I asked Curt if this is how it was going to be for the next 15 years - us hating ourselves because we feel like failures and not even recognizing who we'd become. Neither one of us wakes up in the morning hoping we can spend the whole day disciplining our three-year-old, you know? We were seriously at our wits end.
Curt, trying to console me a bit, told me that his best friend had recently asked him how things were going with our two. Curt had told him that things were fine. His friend's reply was, "Thank God. If you'd told me things were good, I don't know what I would have done." Our friends are also in the trenches with their newborn and their two-year-old son. What if Curt had told him everything was great even though it wasn't? All four of us would have felt alone and like failures.
That night after Bible study, our Sunday school teacher and his wife summoned all the couples from our class over to a table. In tears, he shared a struggle they were having with their three-year-old daughter. They were at their wits end. They felt hopeless. Like failures. He literally said they wondered if this is how it was going to be for the next 15 years.
So we're not the only ones? We're not the only ones!
Curt raised his hand and said, "Us too!"
We were able to spend some time praying for one another. I can't tell you how encouraged Curtis and I felt. We had walked into church that night in despair and we left with hope.
You know what's crazy? That very night we saw a change in our son. And since then, his heart has been a little softer and a little quicker to respond to discipline. We saw the hand of God move in our situation - from our friends' vulnerability that let us know we weren't alone to our kid's softened heart.
People need us to be real. Of course, I don't mean "real" to the point that we're trying to shock others with our sin nature. We don't need to let it all hang out. I have struck out many times on this. We must be Spirit-filled to walk the fine line.
When we're authentic, two things happen. One, we encourage others who are struggling in the same way. And two, we allow ourselves to be encouraged by others who have been there.
So if I can encourage you by not pretending that life with my dearly loved three-year-old strong willed child is a bowl full of cherries, so be it. If I can encourage you by saying that my clothes still don't fit right and I desperately need to work out, awesome. If I can encourage you that I was addicted to celebrity news/gossip, which was embarrassing for me to admit, then I'm glad to do it.
I was once an incredibly self-righteous person. I was proud of being good. Then God let me eat it and I saw what was really in my heart. There was nothing good there. I learned to surrender my weak self to Jesus every single day and let Him change my heart. If I stopped doing that, I'd turn right back into my old self. That is the scariest thought ever. The stakes are especially high now that I'm a wife and a mother. So I no longer care to portray a false sense of goodness or perfection. I want to show you that He is good and He has is all together. He can take a heart that craves sin and make it thirst for righteousness. He can take a Failure and make her a Victor. He can take our struggles and turn them into strengths. That's what He's done for me, what He's doing for me, and what He'll keep doing for me until He takes me home.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)