Have a little grace.
Today I was wounded by an online implication that human beings in poverty are animals (thanks, Facebook). I almost immediately stumbled on an article about nine women who have dedicated hundreds of thousands of hours and dollars to anonymously helping people in need and random strangers, reminding them that they are loved. Then two different friends issued direct and indirect reminders about loving and offering grace. (Thanks, Facebook.) This immediately took a burden off my shoulders, the burden of anger.
I have spent a lot of time in the last handful of years struggling. I have a child who suffered for several years before we received a diagnosis for him. I have received all kinds of (often well-meaning) criticism and suggestions. I have been enraged by a school administrator’s implication that he was an embarrassment, and it broke my heart. This child has made me look like a failure, very publicly, and at first I thought what onlookers often think, that it was fixable and my fault. But I’m not a failure, and neither is he, but he has a disability. It’s a nearly invisible disability, which means people don’t automatically extend us grace when he’s screaming and throwing shoes. We are working on it. I feel hopeful that his disability will stay invisible, that his life can be all that I want for him. But sometimes we look like we’re not doing so hot. And sometimes I have lost my cool in those moments, and I will probably keep doing so every now and then. We are working on it, both of us. We are trying.
That’s MY stupid toy I never play with!
I have been caught snapping horribly at my children in a grocery store aisle when I was overtired and so were they. When I catch parents doing this in public, I judge them. Why aren’t they nurturing their children’s self-esteem? But I look exactly like “those parents” when I’m doing it. Is it possible that some or many of them are actually in the same boat as me? We’re trying. And sometimes we still look pretty bad in a snapshot moment.
Sometimes I watch interactions at the park, like when I observed a very young mother belittling her child over and over again. It was pretty painful. She didn’t seem to be trying. And maybe she’s not. Maybe she doesn’t have any other example to follow. How did her parents treat her when she had this child? Is her reading level sufficient that she has been able to read 18,000 child-development and parenting books, like I did? And maybe she’s actually an amazing mom, and something awful happened that day that took over her entire psyche. I don’t know. I don’t know her story.
I have made jokes that were unkind, about my children and about other people. I have been guilty of ignoring them at a party because I’m so desperate for the adult interaction. I have given in, at times, to things I should not have given into. If you watched the whole of my parenting, I think you’d usually think I was doing pretty OK. I hope so. If you caught me at specific moments, however, I’d look like a devil or a saint. And I’m neither.
This week, my children went to vacation bible school, the church’s fun little annual day camp. The first two days went surprisingly well for my son. His teacher, a good friend, knew I was worried and sent me photos of him engaged, smiling even. She had known he had challenges, and asked me in advance how to handle things. On the third day, she called to ask what she should do when he was refusing to comply. I tried to help her over the phone, knowing it was probably not going to work. I offered to pick him up–she didn’t make me. I drove there, and he was crying under a table in the church office with a different woman, who sat patiently there. Someone else helped me carry him out and everyone was nice to him. They knew he didn’t want things to be this way. So they just loved on him. And it took a burden off my shoulders, the burden of anger. My son had tried his best. And sometimes he doesn’t try. But I love him. We want to be better, us two. And those that love me and my son, there at the church, had grace. They didn’t act like he was a jerk. They didn’t imply that I was doing something wrong. They supported us. I still had to bring him home. He was done. They weren’t able to “fix” things for us. But I left feeling peaceful, maybe a bit resigned, with a soft child snuggled in my arms.
Parents need grace. Friends need grace. Human beings need grace. Random strangers are still precious human beings, even the ones who look really sh***y. They don’t need us to criticize them or even helpfully suggest what they could do better if we don’t really know the whole story. I’m not saying you shouldn’t step in if someone is in an abusive situation. And even in that case, everyone needs grace. Something is broken. Even if you think you know the story, you at best know parts of the story. Maybe we don’t need to know the story and have it laid out for our judgment or forgiveness. Loving people means helping them when they need it, but mostly offering them grace and accepting them. I have to accept who each of my children is, and the more I get to know each of them, the more I understand all of their behavior and actions, even the negative ones.
I have to accept my friends, even when they’re not being their best selves. I have been accepted when I was doing the adult equivalent of throwing shoes and screaming, and I have been broken by careless judgment or remarks.
Please. Just be graceful today. It will make you feel really good. It will take that burden off your shoulders. And it might help someone else with hers.
*I feel like to be fair I should have photos of me doing the adult equivalent of screaming and throwing shoes. However, perhaps mercifully, I don’t have any of those. I am sorry.