Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fear in Punishment or Joy in Love? More Unexpected Lessons in Being God's Happy Child

The past few posts talked about metaphors as tools that hopefully help us cope effectively with real life. Sometimes we miss the point and make our endeavors primarily about the metaphors instead of the work in front of us and what they represent. We adapt real life to fit the metaphor, and we serve the tool instead of using the tool to help us. In our fear, we can also make the work much harder than it really is, particularly if those metaphors don't match real life very well.

The theme that I have seen everywhere I look recently speaks to parents and how they relate to their children, particularly when their standards prove to be unrealistically high. Systems of ideology or religion can pile fear onto parents who already work hard at the hardest job in the world – safely raising good kids who are prepared to be well-adjusted and well-equipped adults. There's plenty of room for manipulators to take advantage of the natural fears that come along with the process – a process that changes as children grow and as circumstances in life change around us all. I don't believe that it is ever an easy task. In the process of aiming for the highest and best, I think that many forget that perfect love casts out fear – the true power of the parent who works through the hard part of the challenges that they face.

I received some very positive feedback from a specialist trained at Columbia and University of Pennsylvania concerning this element of training children by everyday example noted in the blog post. (I'm deeply honored.) He said, “We know from close to 100 years of behavioral research that the most effective, lasting method of teaching something to anyone is MODELING that behavior. So your point about fathers modeling respect toward and connection with women is 100% spot on.” 

While I think that events like a special event can be important and memorable, the real work happens every day.

Control Kills Transcendence

Save for some cooking shows, I hate most reality TV, but as a huge fan of old musicals and even the floor shows in old movies like the Abbot and Costello films, my husband and I fell in love with Dancing with the Stars. Along with the real-life responses from an interesting, clever Brit on the judges panel, I think of it as something that shows the best of the American spirit. People aspire to do the best that they can do, focused on overcoming their own challenges while hoping for the same in their fellow contestants. This current season has been very inspiring for several reasons, so my husband and I have been glued to the TV on Monday nights. But this past week featured some friction.

I learned that their guest host this week has her own dancing show on cable somewhere about the drama of teaching little girls how to dance. Apparently, this guest drives these young children to attain perfection which I assume is part of the hook for those who watch her program. She seemed abrasive as a judge, and a few of the professional dancers who train the contestants felt so as well. While reading something else online yesterday, I happened to find a commentary by one of the more gifted and talented dancers on the show who offered some feedback that played right into my “theme of the week.” I don't follow the media regarding the show, so it seemed almost like“someone's trying to tell me somethin'.”

Derek Hough wrote (emphasis mine):
Here's my thing with her. I was fortunate to be brought up with mentors and teachers with constant encouragement, love and passion. It in turn created my love of dance to this day. Don't get me wrong — I've worked super hard and was super disciplined, but I was always surrounded by love and encouragement. What worries me is when you have kids who are so young and you put all this pressure on them and this false sense of "this is the most important thing in the world," that they will burn out at a certain age. They'll go, "Oh, you mean I don't have to take this and I can do something else?" They hit 16, 17, 18, and we lose these amazingly talented kids because they had these teachers who were so tough on them.  
People think of bullying as between kids, but bullying happens in every age range. You can be a great-grandma and be an absolute bully. You can be a teacher and be a bully. I think a lot of bullying happens with teachers. They take advantage of their authority and power, and bully their students. They think they're disciplining them and doing it for the good of the kids, but listen, there are ways of disciplining and getting your point across without being petty, rude and spiteful.  
The next generation of kids coming up in dance is incredible and so talented, and they have this amazing vocabulary of styles. But I guarantee you, if they're surrounded by negative, harsh people, at a certain point, they'll quit. I want them to have longevity. You can go across the board in anything in life, not just dance, and this would be true. I want kids to know that if they feel that stress and anxiety, they don't have to settle for that person. There are great teachers out there who are filled with love and compassion and passion and encouragement, and you'll get better results with that. It may not be immediate, but you'll get it in the distant future. Nothing good can come from screaming at kids and putting all this pressure on them.

I see many parallels to the “this is the most important thing in the world” attitude of urgency in a post written by Rachel Held Evans, too, though it concerned a different subject. Or did it? Must our edges as Christians really be that sharp and hard? Must they be sharp and hard when we are parenting children, teaching them the skills they need to grow and to be excellent?

High Demand Parenting”

That's a term I just made up, but it illustrates a common trait of many parents, particularly those who are engaged in high demand religion. For this Dance Mom judge who was a featured guest on ABC's show this past week, her ideology and religion-of-sorts involves training little girls to dance. For those who find themselves on this blog, the ideology involves a religion focused on perfectionism, sex by way of gender, and sex by way of procreation. For some, it is that which is BiblicalTM mixed with the right variety of BaptistTM. Both the Dance Mom and the patriarchy movement place extraordinary pressures on children to not only be perfect beyond their natural level of maturity (a wonderful part of being a child that we don't ever get a chance to experience in the same way again), but also to serve their needs – making their children's lives about them and their interests instead of the learning needs and natural immaturity that all children share.

I've talked much about this here on this blog. There is the “First Time Obedience” factor. There's the “Spank Often” factor. There is the issue of what I think just ends up amounting to “parental convenience.” And here, we have another example of how we can make things harder than they really need to be. When we live out love instead of dancing to a tune of fear, I think that we have a much better time, but we create those stronger bonds of love with those around us – particularly kids. Perfect love casts out fear, does it not? Fear involves punishment and torment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).

We can provoke our children to be joyful instead of seeding them with anger. And I think that love makes this easy for us.

Remembering that We are God's Children
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6)

Thanks to an email from Micah at Redemption Pictures, I ended up at the Naked Pastor's blog to see yet another reference to the joy in love of parenting. His post that accompanies the cartoon talks about desiring to be the right kind of theologian – one who brings people together instead of driving them apart in war and violence. I thought of the theme in my mind about how gracious and merciful God is with us – His kids who are still in the process of learning and growing about so many things. I'm honored to post his picture worth a thousand words here. 

Things aren't as hard as we make them out to be....  His yoke is easy, and the burden is light.  We find rest for our souls in love, joy and encouragement from which our worship and excellence naturally flows.