Once upon a time, I knew exactly how to be a great parent. Then I had children of my own. Right from the start things didn’t go the way I’d planned. We had feeding problems and sleeping issues and I generally felt like a complete failure as a mother for about the first year of DD’s life.
I couldn’t have told you then why things happened as they did. I can’t tell you for sure even now. I’ve had an inkling, though, in the intervening 11 years that makes some of these seemingly senseless things make a little more sense to me.
Back when I was so sure what good mothers did, I didn’t have a whole lot of patience or understanding for other ideas on the subject. Not only that, but any problems or difficulties somebody else might be having, I was certain, could ultimately be traced back to their own bad choices.
I probably wouldn’t have considered myself “judgmental” back then, but that was clearly the case. I was spending too much time finding fault with the rest of the world to recognize the log in my own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).
After the difficulties I encountered as a new mother to my daughter (and subsequent complications I had with each of my sons), I found I have much greater compassion for other moms who are struggling. I still like to offer ideas for strategies that might help, but I am much less likely now to offer my own advice as the obvious solution to all their problems.
“Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (Job 16:3-5, NIV)
Job had some experience with judgmental advisers. After losing his fortune, his children, and his health in short order, his so-called friends paid a visit. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar reminded Job that God is just, then followed up this truth with the false assumption that Job must have done something terribly sinful to cause such a harsh response from God.
Once his friends had their say, Job responded by telling them not only are they full of hot air, but they’re bringing him greater misery rather than the succor they may suppose. He took it a step further to say if their positions were reversed and he were visiting one of them, he would bring encouragement rather than the disappointment and disapproval they’ve offered.
It seems comforting, despite much evidence to the contrary, to believe that I have a lot of control over my life. I’d like to think that the actions I take have a great impact on the sort of life experiences I encounter. It’s a problem of prosperity. If I have a nice house and money in the bank, I want to justify myself as deserving. The flip side of this foolishness, however, is that if someone doesn’t have a nice house or money in the bank or enough food to feed their family, they must deserve that.
Sometimes, I understand, that’s true. People make really poor life choices that have devastating consequences. And it’s easy, when all I see are the effects, to assume I know the cause. Yet, despite making good choices, working hard, and praying fervently, sometimes bad things still happen. We live in a fallen world full of cursed people. All things aren’t good, but God does work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). And I fully believe that one of those good works He does for us in our suffering is to give us empathy.
When I can more fully understand another person’s experience, we can connect more honestly and deeply. It’s hard to be close to people when I’m blaming them for everything going wrong in their lives. But when I am aware of my own limits, when I can look at my life and see how little I really can control, I am better able to shower God’s grace on other people who need it just as much as I do.
You call us to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)–not just when things are going they way we’d like them to be–because You use every situation for our good. Thank You for those times I have been able to see how painful situations are beneficial. Please, give me faith for the times I cannot see and must simply believe.
Help me to sing Your praises through the seasons when life is too hard for me to think I can handle it on my own. Help me to trust Your blessings in every circumstance, not just the pleasant ones. May I seek to bring You glory no matter what trauma, festivity, or stress the day holds.