Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not popular

My heart is breaking for my little one today. The one with the deep love for Jesus, with the bubbly laugh and tender spirit. The one so easily wounded by the words and snubs of her classmates, by her sister’s sharp tongue, by a stern word from her father. A tender spirit is easy prey, an endangered species in this harsh world.

School ends at noon today, and I’m picking up my girls (plus their desk contents) for lunch and shopping. But this morning I mentioned that if they get invited to go home with a friend, they can, and we’ll just shop another day.

“I’ll probably get an invitation from Sue,” said my oldest. “She always wants me over.”

“I’m sure I won’t get an invitation,” said my youngest. “Nobody invites me over.”

My heart clenched at the small, sad voice. It’s true. She’s got a great fifth-grade class with lots of kind, friendly girls. Much better than her third-grade classroom at a different school, where she was constantly bullied verbally, where I reacted with shock when her teacher described her as quiet. “Quiet?” I asked. “She has never been quiet.” Then the story came out, of how the other girls intimidated and mocked her on the playground each day.

We moved her from that school to the Christian school. Not because it’s perfect (kids are kids; we all have a sinful nature), but because character development is a greater focus there. If someone is picking on my child, I want that to be addressed, and not in a “toughen up and get used to it; that’s life” manner. Sin occurs in our Christian school, but the teachers deal with it, because Christ-likeness is the goal.

But although her classmates are kind, they have their groups. There’s the popular group, the go-getters who are always hanging out together and laughing. And there’s the other group – the three girls who wish they were in the first group, but aren’t. My daughter is in the second group.

So although we’ve had each girl over to our house for playdates several times, and they always seem to have fun (based on smiles, laughter, and effusive thanks when it’s time to go home), they rarely reciprocate. When a group of girls piles into a mom’s car to go over to one of their houses, my daughter is never in that group. And it hurts her. It hurts ME.

Growing up, I was not in the “in crowd,” though I was often on its fringes looking in, hoping to join. Most years I only had one friend, and some years, those friends were not very nice. It was a great relief when high school arrived: I found my role and talents and niche and stopped caring so much about popularity. It was great to move on, to leave behind that “not good enough” feeling.

I’m not someone who longs for the good old days of my youth, simply because each year brings new friends, new horizons, more opportunities, more joy. Sure, there are times I feel unpopular nowadays, when all the other mothers sit together at my girls' sporting events and hold vivacious conversations around me (but rarely with me).  But when that happens I just hold on to Jesus a little tighter and thank Him for the "loner" personality that He uses mightily in my writing.

I gladly said goodbye to my younger years, finding more riches in Christ each year, and hoped I’d never see them again.  Nobody told me that I would experience them again through the heartaches and sorrows of my children. Just one more reason to spend many hours on my knees before the throne of grace.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't make yourself comfortable

"God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable."

Our church is seeking an associate pastor.  We've brought in two wonderful, godly candidates, and the search committee meets tonight to prayerfully select one to hire.  We've had several lively discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of each - not easy to determine, since the "weekend blast" visit format is a pretty artificial situation.

Each candidate has many outstanding qualities, and we definitely need the Spirit of God to clearly show us the best choice.  But I've been thinking about one quality that keeps being mentioned that is not (in my view) a good reason to hire someone...the "comfortable" quality.  As in "I feel very comfortable with this person," or "He's a great fit for our church family."

The more I think about this, the more I wonder....when did comfort level become a good reason to hire someone?  As near as I can tell, it's not a good reason to pursue ANYTHING within the Christian life.

God has not called us to be comfortable.  The Bible is not a book of stories about how God soothed His people with familiar situations or clear answers or the status quo.  It's the history of a people who were called to be set apart, different from the rest, relying on God for directions.  If you think about it, it's a book about God messing with the status quo, taking us out of our comfort zones.

The Lord doesn't call us to sit or lounge or stay or settle in.  He calls us to GO.  Leave the land where you know everyone and everything, where you are popular and accepted.  Follow Him to the land where you're surrounded with the unknown, with people you don't know, with stories you haven't heard.  Where you must rely on Him, and only on Him, for wisdom and direction.  Only then will you experience the greatness, the security, the overwhelming power and love of God.

Jesus certainly didn't concern Himself with the status quo.  He made people very uncomfortable.  Very important people, like the top religious authorities.  That's how He wound up on a cross.  Oh, God's sovereign will and mighty grace brought him there, definitely.  But the Pharisees didn't kill Him because of His popularity, but because they didn't like Him.  He didn't fit in with the ones in charge.

We serve an exciting God - a dangerous, loving God who will stretch and grow us - not a comfortable God.  It reminds me of a favorite quote from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

Mr. Tumnus: [of Aslan] He's not a tame lion.
Lucy Pevensie: No... but he is good.

My prayer is that we never get too comfortable in our walk with Christ.