So I'm in this Facebook group for homeschool moms. It's a Christian group with almost 1000 members. I've met exactly three of them in real life. Two live close to me and are among my closest friends. The other I met when she gifted me with a free clothes dryer. (More about that in a minute.)
they can answer my homeschool questions of all kinds: curriculum, schedules, field trips and all that jazz. I've seen them discuss recommendations for appliance repair, doctors' offices, dentists, and even church building plans. When my dryer bit the dust and I asked for recommendations about what brand might be best for me to purchase, a complete stranger offered to give me one she had in her basement - totally for free - because she couldn't use it (she had gas hook-ups and this one was electric) and wanted to give it to someone who could. Almost weekly they are taking meals to new mommas or people who are sick. They pray for each other and encourage one another in some great and big ways. Overall being in the group is very encouraging.
Except when it's not. Except for the times when I feel demeaned and judged by the well meaning hyper-conservative Jesus loving mommas. I understand these ladies. At one point in my life, I would have fit right in with them. Most of the time, they are not intentionally mean, they're just intolerant of ANYTHING that doesn't match up with their view of God. Not just things that are clearly laid out in scripture (like, say, the Ten Commandments) but lots of other things too, like Halloween, Santa, and Harry Potter. They zealously believe that they are right and want everyone around them to see the "truth" that they have seen. Any divergence from their view is seen as a threat and must be squashed immediately so as not to take root and ruin all things holy.
In December someone asked about Santa. I know a lot of parents who don't "do Santa." We do. In fact, we love Santa. That doesn't mean we love Jesus any less. But, oh, the judgement that reigned down on the pro-Santa crowd in the form of comments like, " you mean, do I lie to my kids telling them that the man in the red coat is real and will drop off their packages on Christmas Eve, no." and "No! I don't lie to my kids. We celebrate Jesus." As though those of us who celebrate with Santa leave Jesus totally out of the mix. While I understand that some parents may feel like they are "lying" to their kids about these things, I think of it more as using our imaginations and playing pretend for a long time. I am okay with you not agreeing with me. I respect that you have made different choices than we have. Calm, open discussion with reasonable people is a great thing. Mean spirited, my-way-or-the-highway remarks are not.
Things got really heated when someone posted an old link to a youtube video made by a supposed ex-witch that denounced Harry Potter and all things JK Rowling. Again, many of the moms were able to have honest, open dialog but there were a few who just couldn't respect that someone could actually have read Harry Potter and still love Jesus. One woman put herself out there as an expert, who had had personal conversation with the author and with children who became demon possessed after reading the books. I'm not saying she's lying. But I will say that I don't believe everything I read on the internet. This woman in particular made it hard for me to take her seriously because of the way she was bullying people who didn't accept her word as the gospel truth.
I used to be a lot like these well meaning mommas. Everything in my life was black or white. Gray was not an option. Apparently, neither was tact or grace. In high school, I once broke up with a boy I'd been dating by telling him, with absolutely no warning, "I can't go out with you anymore because you're not a Christian. Sorry." I'm pretty sure I also mentioned in the same conversation that he was probably going to Hell. Amazingly, he didn't immediately decide to give his life to Christ. Go figure.
But that was 20 years ago and as I'm approaching 40, I've learned a few things. A lot of my knowledge has come the hard way. I've offended and ostracized. I've said so many things that I wish I could take back. My foot has been in my mouth so often that I can distinguish between Adidas and Nikes by taste alone. I've made choices that were less than stellar. I've crossed uncrossable lines and shattered unbreakable rules. In all of that imperfection I've become a wiser woman and I believe, a better friend. I've learned to love people where they are and not need them to be who they are not. It's a work in progress and I still struggle with much.
Here's what I wish I would have understood when I was younger. Take note, you who are certain you are always right. This list just might save you some heartache and a friendship or two.
1. My way is not always the ONLY way. Yes, there are absolutes. I'm not saying there aren't. But there are a lot of areas that just don't matter that much. Things that work in my family may create utter chaos for yours. Our priorities may be miles apart. This doesn't mean one of us is wrong, only that we are different. Learning to embrace that instead of fighting it makes life so much easier.
2. Just because I'm right doesn't mean I have to convince you that you are wrong. It's not my job to convict you of your sins. That's what the Holy Spirit is for. I may share my experiences, but making you feel like less of a person because we disagree will never be a winning situation for either of us.
3. Grace trumps judgment. Every. Single. Time. I've had friends tell me of their failures: abortions, affairs, bad parenting, even abuse. When I have responded with kindness, love, and grace - even in the face of the "big sin" issues - I have not destroyed, but deepened my relationships. By treating people as fallible human beings, rather than as "sinners," I have been able to show the love of Jesus in a much better way than I had before. People are more important than things, rules, or how I feel about Santa.
4. Just because people don't know about your sin doesn't mean it doesn't exist. All of us, every single one, are less than perfect. Not one of us is fit to "cast the first stone." (John 8:7) Some of us are better at hiding our sins than others. In my experience, the people who work the hardest at hiding their weaknesses are almost always among the very lonely and the very sad. When I was more worried about what other people thought of me than about getting my life right, I was miserable. When I quit playing Mary Poppins and admitted that I'm not "practically perfect in every way," my life got a whole lot easier and my relationships went to a whole new level.
5. Always be real. As I've gotten older, I've learned to open up and share my failures with trusted friends. Again, this has only served to strengthen my relationships with others. I'm not suggesting we go around wearing Scarlet Letters. There is a time and a place for sharing as well as a time and a place for silence. Be wise about what you share and with whom. But always be real. Pretending to be more than you are only leads to isolation and heartache. Take it from the girl who spent almost every Friday night of her high school years watching Walker, Texas Ranger with her parents.
6. You can't expect non-Christians to live by Christian standards. If your bestie doesn't believe in Jesus as Lord, you can't expect her to live a Biblical life. If your husband isn't a believer, you can't expect him to tithe. You simply need to set a Godly example and pray for God to work in their lives. Setting them to a standard they don't share isn't realistic and will just cause you unnecessary heartache.
7. Even if you're right, if you're a jerk, no one will care what you have to say. You could be telling people that they need oxygen to survive but if you're mean no one will care. They will hate you and everything you stand for. They will stop listening when you talk and you will lose all credibility. You will struggle with relationships and wonder why no one wants to sit next to you at lunch. Jesus said we are to be "salt" to the world. Notice he didn't say "Be vinegar" or "be sour grapes." Nobody likes a jerk. Don't be one.
So, there you go. That's what I wish I would have understood in my teens and twenties. Learn now what took me many years to get. Keep your friends, be salt and light, and quit looking like a jerk on Facebook.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as you've matured in your faith? What are you still working on?
And yes, I know that I don't need to interact with jerks online. It's just that it was easier to make my point using people from Facebook than people I know in real life. Please don't let the fact that my early illustrations were from online comments take away from the point of the post.