In Praise of Being Ordinary
By Sheila Wray Gregoire
When my daughter Rebecca was two I was a nervous wreck. The only words she said weren’t even words—they were animal sounds. She called a dog “woof woof”. She called a cat “meow”. She could do a mean barnyard pig. But she couldn’t say “want juice”. I had been so proud when she was the first in my moms’ group to walk, but now she was letting me down. I wanted her to be exceptional, and she was, well, ordinary.
If we can produce a child who is exceptional, we figure that reflects well on us. Our kids become our measuring sticks, and that puts a lot of pressure on them to excel. At Sunday School, we check out whether the other four-year-olds can use scissors as well as our four-year-old can. We check to see if the other eight-year-olds can read aloud the way our eight-year-old can, and if our three-year-old isn’t potty trained, we go into a downward spiral. Because the Christian community puts such an emphasis on proper and purposeful parenting, perhaps the urge to rank our kids is even greater here than it is outside the church. And this urge, I think, is not something that God would want.
All kids have one or two things they do really well—special gifts that God has blessed them with to use in His service—and identifying these and giving our kids the chance to develop them can give a healthy sense of pride, accomplishment, and most of all purpose. But nobody has to do everything really well. In fact, maybe we should change our expectations. Maybe being wonderfully, delightfully middle of the pack should be perfectly fine, because that seems to be God’s priority. He often chooses the weak, or the meek, or the young, or the foolish, and then His glory is revealed because we know whatever good comes from God, and not from us.
After all, God says to Samuel that, when choosing someone to serve Him, He looks at the heart, not at outward appearances like we do. So in the long run, does it matter who was toilet trained first, or who was first to write their name? God says none of that really matters if we do not also have love and a heart to know Him.
When we feel such pressure to have our children excel, and we communicate this pressure to our children, we can harm their own sense of identity. And such harm is often unwarranted, because the shortcomings that seem critical in grade four rarely matter when one is forty. As a kid any kind of sport made my stomach turn. I can’t hit a volleyball worth beans, and I remember being petrified on the soccer field that I might have to make contact. But one of the greatest things about being an adult is that no one can force me to play volleyball. I can concentrate on the gifts and callings that God has given me, rather than trying to be the “jack-of-all-trades” our children are pressured to be.
Once we’re all grown up, we can devote our energies to the things that do matter: loving God; bringing others into the kingdom; nurturing our marriage; making good friendships; raising kids you love and enjoy who love and respect you back; even finding a good job that can provide for your family. And these things can all be done by perfectly ordinary people. In fact, they might even be done better by perfectly ordinary people, because such people aren’t as self-absorbed as those who think they are exceptional. It doesn’t matter if our kids’ IQ’s aren’t astronomical, if they will never be rich, if they will always eat barbecued hot dogs and wear Wal-Mart clothes and take vacations only when they can borrow someone else’s cottage, as long as they shine for Jesus.
We don’t need exceptional kids as much as we need godly kids. I’m tired of comparing my kids to other people’s kids, and I wish we could stop all that, and just say, “I love my children, because God planned them perfectly.” After all, most of us are ordinary, too, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
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