Remember when I told you how much my kids and I loved to go on adventures when they were little? And then I told you about the life lesson I learned on one of those adventures to the butterfly house? If you don’t, go back and read last week’s blog to catch up and then come on back here. Well, on another day, on another adventure, in another area of The St. Louis Zoo, another life lesson was learned. We were in the children’s zoo this time. It was one of our favorite places to spend a warm day. The kids could run in the water sprinklers, play on the playground, pet baby animals, and even slide down a slide next to an otter! This particular day, I sat down on a bench with Griffin who was still too young to walk and we watched the older boys play just a few feet away. They had settled in building castles in the sandbox. Griffin began to cry; my cue to feed him, and I looked away for just a moment as I got him situated. (The boys were perfectly safe, btw. We were in a relatively enclosed area and I was close to them.) It was only a quick moment but when I looked back up Spencer was running over to me, dirty, sandy tears streaming down his little cheeks. I knelt down to comfort him and figure out what happened. He was hysterical because he had sand in both his eyes and you know how much it hurts to get something foreign in your eye! My dearest friend LaRene, who was with us along with her 2 boys hurried over with a bottle of water to help wash his eyes out. It was a bit of a chaotic scene.
I had no idea what had happened. All I knew was that Spencer was hurt.
In the middle of the mess, a woman came over to me visibly irritated. She stood over me with her son who appeared to be slightly older than mine standing right beside her, and she demanded that I “force” Spencer to apologize to her son. She said that Spencer had thrown sand at him and she was not leaving until I made him say he was sorry. I was so confused. Her son was standing next to her cool as a cucumber but mine was lying on the ground crying and writhing in pain. So as calmly as I could, I said, “I’m sorry but I can’t do that right now. I have no idea what happened and I need to take care of his eyes.” I assured her that when he was calm and I knew his eyes were okay, I would find out what happened and get back to her. She sarcastically shouted, “Well, you’re a great mom!” She said that it was ridiculous and that I was raising a brat. I was embarrassed…I was hurt…I was scared my son would have damage in his eyes…I was confused and anxious…you know, all the things. Eventually we got all the sand out of Spencer’s eyes, and I sat down on the bench with him to talk about what had happened. He told me that the other boy kept throwing sand at him and then eventually poured an entire bucket full of sand over his head, which had resulted in him getting all the sand in his eyes. I asked Spencer if he had thrown sand at the other boy too. He had. He said he didn’t at first but when the other boy wouldn’t stop, he threw it back at him and that’s when he dumped the whole bucket of sand over Spencer’s head. I took a deep breath. This was one of those parenting moments. It was a teachable moment that I was not going to enjoy but that I could not let pass by. After we had talked through what had happened I took him over to apologize to the other boy. I told the other mother that I had spoken with Spencer and that he had participated in the conflict with her son and that he wanted to apologize.
She refused and told me it was too late for an apology, and she turned her back on me.
Now, I’m not trying to call another mom out. I’m sure she was doing the best she could in that moment…maybe she was having a bad day…maybe she was walking through something earth shattering…maybe her heart was broken from something completely unrelated…I don’t know. I do know I’ve certainly gotten these types of things wrong myself; over and over actually. I bet you have stories of times in your life when someone criticized you or got upset with you or demanded an apology for something you did that they themselves had done a thousand times before. I’m sure you have stories if you really gave it some honest reflection where the shoe was on the other foot too. My experience isn’t unique to me or the other mother or you. We don’t live in isolation. We live in community with other people and when we live in community with other people, we are going to bump into them from time to time. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s human nature. But then so is the desire to be with other people. It’s a both and situation. We were created to be in community. It is not good for us to be alone. We need to be experiencing life right alongside and among other people. People want to be known and seen and loved and cared for well by other people. I do. You do. I’d bet the farm the other mom from my story does. So how do we do that? How do we live in community well?
In the most famous speech ever given, Jesus sits down on a mountain and talks to the disciples about this very thing. He says:
3 Why would you focus on the flaw in someone else’s life and yet fail to notice the glaring flaws of your own?[a] 4 How could you say to your friend, ‘Let me show you where you’re wrong,’ when you’re guilty of even more? 5 You’re being hypercritical and a hypocrite! First acknowledge your own ‘blind spots’ and deal with them, and then you’ll be capable of dealing with the ‘blind spot’ of your friend.
Matthew 7:3-5 (TPT)
You want to live in community well? Focus on your flaws in every conflict…look at what role you played in every bump with another human! You want to live in community well? Acknowledge your own blind spots first before ever looking for the other person’s blind spots.
Don’t be a hypocrite. A very blunt friend of mine would say, “You want to live in community well? Don’t be a jerk.” And she’s not wrong.
You see, part of loving people the way in which we are commanded to love people…unconditionally…inconveniently…fully…in community is to pay attention to our own flaws and mistakes more than we focus on the flaws and mistakes of others. It means that we always need to be aware that as much as we disagree with someone else’s behavior, there is someone else who disagrees with ours just as much. We are no better or worse than anyone else. So, that person who irritates the fire out of you…you likely irritate someone else that same way. That person who always seems to choose the wrong words with you…yeah, there is someone out there who finds your words to be offensive too. That person who always seems to have the latest scoop about someone, you know the office gossip…you’ve spilled the tea before too. That person who seems to be mad at the world…you’ve had those days too. That yahoo who cut you off on the highway…oh wait, that was you. You see what I’m saying. Be self-aware.
Can you even imagine how things would be different if we loved our community better by recognizing our own flaws? I think it would change the world! I really do.
How much different would my story have gone if the other mother came over and checked on Spencer instead of calling out
his flaw? How do you think both of our hearts would have connected if she had explained to her son why he needed to apologize for his actions? “I’m sorry I threw sand on you…I’m sorry I hurt you.” And then Spencer would have said, “I’m sorry too.” Seems simple but it’s not. It’s powerful. It’s holy. And it’s difficult. Bringing attention to our own flaws makes us vulnerable and vulnerability is never easy.
“I’m sorry too” are three of the most powerful words ever spoken because they always mean someone else acknowledged their flaws first! And when those three words fall out of someone’s mouth, healing, forgiveness, and restoration always follow.
It starts with you…it starts with me. We will answer one day for all that we said and did. We can only be responsible for our own words and actions. So let’s start here. Look at yourself. It’s okay. No matter what you discover about your flaws, you are still who you are.
The very worst thing you’ve ever done or will do is something you did, it’s not who you are.
Without ever having met you I know this about you: You are the only you that God ever created in the entire world. You are kind. You are smart. You are talented. You are valuable. You are beautiful. Every feature on your face is perfect. You use your words to encourage people. You are forgiving. Now, go be that person today because you are not the person the world is trying to make you.
I love you and I’m glad you’re here.