A few years ago, I enjoyed a children’s presentation at a church we attended. Afterward, I approached one of the little girls involved in the show and complimented her on a job well done.
The little girl beamed up at me and said, “Thank you!”
But then her mother interrupted her. Shaking her head, she admonished her daughter, “No, don’t say thank you. People will think you’re taking the glory. Say you did it for God’s glory alone.”
The little girl blinked back at her mother. I excused myself, eager to leave before I say something rude. I know about stage moms. I’m not quite sure how to describe that mom.
When I was growing up, there was one phrase I heard over and over from people all around me: “What would others think?”
As a youth leader at the different churches I’ve been a part of, I sat and listened to many parents voice their expectations of their own children. Almost always, the fear of what other people would say would eat at them. And again, it was an unsung refrain, “What would others think?”
They meant people outside the church. Gossip is very real among friends and family, and even acquaintances. Everyone is fair game. And when your family goes to church, the stakes are higher, because people, fair or not, expect you to adhere to a higher standard.
They also meant people at church. Gossip is just as real in church circles, and what is more juicy than talking about the failures of the children of fellow church members? I’m not being bitter, I am being honest. As human as we tend to forget we are, many parents find they can tolerate their own children’s less than stellar performance when someone else’s child forgot his lines at a crucial moment in a skit.
Through all these, I was given many object lessons on what not to do with my own children. So, when I became a mother, I promised myself I would do my best to stop that refrain. I would not lay the burden of other people’s thoughts on my own children.
My sons should never feel like they have to live up to a standard designed to somehow make our family look good. So I would not, I decided early on, put emphasis on building a good reputation.
Instead, I promised myself, I would invest in building character. Reputation depends far too greatly on the interpretations and embellishments of others. But character could never be argued with, and made for a peaceful rest at night.
See, impressing upon my children the need to make our family look good means limiting their own world. After all, how far can they go with a burden that heavy?
They’d be so scared they would fail.
They’d start to feel safe behind masks.
The fear of failure is given power over their lives, and only few can wrestle control back.
Most end up crippled emotionally.
So now, as a mother, there are some things I tell my sons ad nauseam.
Instead of a show, I tell my sons being real is okay. It’s the best place in life to start at, and they can be anyone worthy of respect if they learn early on to never build on false pretenses.
I tell them they may one day succeed in fooling me, but they will never fool God. He really does know every little thought in their big heads.
I tell them only God’s opinion matters anyway. And that they only have to answer to Him.
I tell them they are loved. Perfectly, by God. And as close to unconditionally as we, their human parents, can love them.
And so all they need to do is respond to that.
Celebrate when there is reason for celebration, and get up and start over when they stumble and fall.
Repent when there is need for repentance, and change when there is need for change.
Step things up when needed, and pull back when necessary.
And always, always, do good and be good, not because they need to stick to an image, but because they know how much good they’ve been given.
And without even having to say a word, people will know they live the way they do to please their audience of One.