When we were at the grocery store the other day someone complimented Judah to me. “He’s so obedient,” she said. Instantly, without thought, I responded, “He is now, but you don’t see him at home…”
And there it was. In one fell swoop I not only undid the compliment, but I used it to shame my son in the eyes of a complete stranger. I regretted it almost instantly although I wasn’t sure why. Thankfully Judah moves at the speed of light these days and was long gone before he heard our interchange.
Why did I respond that way? Without thought or intention? I suppose some of it is because my children feel like extensions of myself. To accept a compliment offered to them feels as though I might somehow be taking credit. Or perhaps it’s because I’m so aware of Judah’s failings that I see those much more clearly than I see his virtues. Or maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something theologically correct in shouting from the rooftops that my children really aren’t virtuous – that they are much more sinful than they are righteous – and that I, the one who sees, must proclaim the truth.
This last premise has been haunting me and I am beginning to see it as the most dangerous and the most damaging.
Judah is virtuous. I see it often. Perhaps I see it more clearly some moments, but then you could say the same thing about me. I am virtuous. I am also full of failings.
So where is the truth? Which one defines me? The virtue or the sin? The light or the dark?
If I teach my son that virtue perceived by someone else isn’t actually real – or, even worse, is much less than the sum of his failings, where does that leave him? Shame never motivates to virtue. It never has and it never will. Drawing others’ attention to his failure will never motivate him to righteousness. Never. The fear of shame does not lift one’s spirit to virtue.
Both the light and dark live in him. Both live in me. My virtue is not less because my sin is great. I am not worth less because I have a whole pile of steaming sh*t in my heart. I am not worth more because I fight hard for righteousness and sometimes I win my battles. I am worth a whole lot – worth the attention of God Himself, worth a unique and beautiful story, worth the love of my family and friends – because my Maker says I am.
I want my son to live knowing that he is worth every moment of love and attention he receives. I want him to feel his unique beauty and character and personality in the marrow of his bones. When he is virtuous I want him to know gladness. When he fails I want him to know sorrow. Both live in him and neither defines his worth.
Next time you tell me that Judah is an obedient boy I will say, “Thank you. Yes, he is. I am so proud of him.”
You can hold me to it.