Sunday night the girls stopped by. They said they couldn’t chat long because they had to get over to Riley’s* house for a football party that her aunt and uncle (whom she lives with) were throwing. The street was lined with cars, people had been streaming in for the past hour carrying various foodstuffs, and you could hear laughter and music coming from the open garage. It looked like a good time.
In a kids-say-the-darndest-things moment, nine-year-old Riley announced, “I asked Aunt P. if we could invite you, but she said no because then we’d have to invite your husband and your kids, and she didn’t want to deal with getting extra food for you guys.”
Ahem. After the hours and hours that Riley spent at my house this summer, the countless times she’s has eaten lunch or dinner at my house (the most recent being just a few days ago), even when it wasn’t exactly scheduled that she’d dine with us, even when there wasn’t enough…we weren’t invited to her aunt’s party. Let me just say that it was tempting to tell the girls to hang on for a moment while I walked over to my calendar and wrote “feel sorry for self” or perhaps “bask in glow of righteous indignation” as my scheduled activity for the rest of the evening.
The situation left me with an opportunity to ponder the topic of self-pity, particularly as it relates to the Christian life:
First of all, before I say anything else I should note that the main thing Aunt P.’s actions did was establish us as kindred spirits. Not only have I said my fair share of things behind closed doors that I would die if my kids repeated, but this move in particular is so my style that a good adjective to describe it would be Jen-esque. Many times I’ve bristled at the idea of last-minute guests attending one of my events, not out of anything personal against them, but simply because I get overwhelmed by hosting parties and don’t deal with change well. For this reason alone it’s stupid for me to feel insulted. But wait! There are even more reasons…
This situation made me look at my own motives for continuing to have the girls over, even when I often feel like I can’t do it anymore. The truth is that I mostly do it out of love for God and the love for them that he originally instilled in me. However, this situation made me realize that I’d fallen into the temptation to expect a worldly payoff for my actions, e.g. “I’ll really work on being more Christ-like in this area of my life, and the great thing is that everyone will love me for it and be super nice to me!” I see now that I have a looooong way to go in terms of loving my neighbor in that pure, true way that does not expect anything in return.
The main point (and the one that I found most frustrating when I was looking forward to devoting a solid chunk of time to wallowing in self-pity) is that I don’t get to feel sorry for myself because none of my kind deeds were mine to take credit for. As I said back in my first post on the subject, this situation has been all Holy Spirit from the beginning. It is not at all in my nature to have other people’s kids around my house for hours on end or to invite them to our table when they’re hanging out during mealtime. If I had encountered these kids the way I did a few years ago, the only affiliation I would have had with them would be when I saw them in Small Claims Court for the nuisance charge I filed against their parents because of their constant doorbell-ringing pranks that woke up my children every day.
And that’s perhaps the biggest thing I learned here: how tempting it is to think that I’ve done the things I’ve done all on my own — that it was just “Jen the Nice Person” who, for example, raided the pantry for extra food to feed Riley dinner the other night — instead of remembering that it was only through the grace of God that I was able to cheerfully set an extra place at the table even though I was tired and nauseated from morning sickness.
To be clear, I am not saying that you have to be religious to do nice things. I know lots of atheists who act in kindness all the time. But in this particular situation, which hits on pretty much everything I’m terrible at (forgiveness, having guests over, dealing with kids, cooking, cooking for other people, adapting to change), it’s been abundantly clear from the beginning that a Force other than me is orchestrating it all, and the rest of us are just floating along on a wave of grace.
* Not their real names.
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