What Stanley Taught Me

I apologize to those who follow my blog and received this yesterday late morning in your inbox. I originally mistakenly scheduled this post for yesterday instead of today.  Sorry!

Years ago there was a popular author that was widely read among Christian women who promoted the idea of large families. Her premise was that birth control was often used for selfish reasons to limit family size for personal and financial gain. However, she also agreed with scripture that children are a gift and reward from God to be welcomed and enjoyed (Ps 173:3).

While I enjoyed and benefitted from reading her book, there were several problems:

  • What about women who desperately desired children but were unable to have them? Was their infertility an indication that God didn’t love and want to “reward” them? 
  • Is limiting family size categorically and automatically due to greed and worldliness? What about other legitimate reasons for not having as many children as biology would allow?
  • Were women with large families “better” or “more godly” than those with fewer children?
  • How many children were “enough?” 4? 7? 12? 15?

We Christians veer from grace when we project personal decisions and convictions onto others, and then judge them when they don’t adopt our passions. When the Bible is clear we can be (i.e. adultery is always wrong for anyone at anytime for any reason). But when scripture is unclear we must resist the temptation to enslave others to our definitions or application. Children are a gift from God to be welcomed and enjoyed. Yet God didn’t define for us what this looks like from family to family so we can’t either.

Family size is just one of the ways we can apply truth dangerously. The simple fact is this: how many children a couple has is up to them alone, and having lots of kids can be just as selfishly motivated as having only one. God is most concerned about the motivation of our hearts in every matter.

My young friends and I didn’t like Stanley. (You can read about him in yesterday’s post below.) He was awkward and goofy. We wished he would just stay off the Merry-Go-Round rather than stay on briefly and then make us stop our fun to let him off before it spun too fast. But what if he wasn’t a scaredy cat as we supposed? Maybe he really would have thrown up if he hadn’t gotten off because he wanted to feel included but could only take so much. Perhaps there was absolutely nothing wrong with him…but there was definitely something wrong with us.

When the boundary lines in someone’s life are tighter than ours, self-righteousness can rear its ugly head. The self-righteous Christian thinks he or she is the standard by which others should live. When friends have to get off the Merry-Go-Round before we do, it’s tempting to roll our eyes and think they’re lazy or are wimping out.

After all, a large capacity to get things done isn’t always related to character.

Are you someone who finds it easier than some to “get the job done?” Are you tempted at times to look at others who lack your capacity and surmise that they’re lacking? Lazy? Prioritizing wrongly? Are you unknowingly giving into self-righteous eye rolling when you end up having to take up the slack of those that can’t seem to keep up?

Remember those boundary lines. While others may lack your capacity, organizational skills or energy level don’t assume they are sinning in the process.  If they are, God will show them with or without your gracious help. But perhaps they are functioning exactly as they should be in this season.

I’ve come to think that Stanley got off the Merry-Go-Round because it was the right thing to do. As a kid I judged him for not being able to endure a silly playground activity. I imagine it was hard for him to feel so different and alone. Hey, maybe he needed some toughening up; I don’t know. What I do know is that I was one of the kids who didn’t like him because he wasn’t like me.

Adult self-righteousness can hurt, too. Like me, have you been the object of the judgements of others for not having the same values or preferences they hold dear? And, like me, have you also done the judging when your own values and preferences haven’t been embraced?

Being the one who has been hurt by others can help us to resist tempting people to feel the same.

Stanley has no idea how much he taught me.

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