Posted by Abigail on November 5, 2010
Like Hillary McFarland, I also am the child of sinners.
My parents sometimes spoke too harshly to me. Now and then, I was blamed for something I didn’t do. As the oldest of six children, I had to share everything, even when I didn’t want to share. Sometimes my younger siblings broke my things. Sometimes my feelings were hurt.
I was my mother’s apprentice in the kitchen and with the younger children. When everyone got to go out and work in the garden, it was always my job to watch the toddlers. I didn’t always like it.
Sometimes we didn’t have much money. I often wore hand-me-down clothing and was required to dress only in styles that my parents considered modest. Sometimes other children mocked my appearance, and that hurt.
Once, our parents promised us a pony. A friend had offered the pony as a gift, so my father set out to build a barn, requiring all of us older children to help him clear the land and then to help him build it. We were little and clearing the land was a tough job. At the end of those days, we were filthy and scratched, sometimes bruised and bleeding, with blisters on our hands from the pruning tools we used.
My sister and I got it worst as New England’s vicious biting black flies hid under our long hair and bit our necks, creating innumerable, itchy welts. By the time we got into the house at night, exhausted, we’d lift our hair to show those masses of bites. Our brothers would cringe and cry, “Ewww!” And they’d back away, disgusted.
After the work was done and that barn was complete, the friend changed her mind. She had no pony for us, after all. Our parents had no money for a pony, so it seemed that the new barn had no purpose. It was empty for some time, eventually becoming home to my father’s tools, pieces of lumber and various kinds of clutter.
I really wanted that pony, but God who knows me best and loves me most never has given me a pony. Should I be bitter and angry toward my parents? Toward the woman who didn’t keep her word? Toward God for not giving me a perfect life?
One of the keys to a happy life here is to accept the fact that this isn’t Heaven. This is Earth. Earth is sometimes a disappointing place to live, but the disappointments here have deep purpose. They are gifts, to draw our hearts away from the desire for status or approval or material things toward Christ alone. Again and again, He urges us to find our hope and satisfaction and joy in Him, to lay up our treasures in Heaven, to live for His glory and not our own. He must increase, and we must decrease.
It’s been 35 years or more, but I still remember those days of back-breaking labor, my father urging us to keep going and not slack off. The work was hard and sometimes it hurt, but I have no regrets. I remember those days as a joyful, happy, precious time. Some of my happiest memories are of time spent working with my family.
I do remember the blisters, the bites and the bleeding, and I can still hear my little brothers’ disgust at our ugly, raw necks. (I love those guys.) But as I write, my eyes are misty and my heart is full of thanksgiving and a longing for the time when, for God’s people, all circles are unbroken.
I’m thankful that, along with many other childhood opportunities to work and serve, the lessons learned building that barn have translated into an eagerness to do much, and then much more, to spend and be spent for the Kingdom of Heaven, to bless my children and my husband, to be very imperfectly faithful in the sphere to which God has called me.
Clearing that land was especially hard work, and in the end it was disappointing, but I lost nothing important. Yes, I had an imperfect childhood. It was sometimes messy, sometimes sad, and sometimes disappointing, but it was wonderful, and I would not trade it for another. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” means, among many other things, that I must acknowledge that I could never write a history for myself as wise and rich and wonderful and eternally profitable as the one that God has so graciously written for me. Disappointments and all, I don’t wish it might have been different. It’s been exactly what He ordained.
God, for His own glory and according to His perfect wisdom, does not assign the holy angels of Heaven to parent children. He requires sinners to bring up sinners. As this is His plan, it provides no occasion for resentment.
As much as I love my children, I fall short of what I want to give them every day, but God uses my weakness for His glory, drawing the hearts of my kids to Himself as the ultimate source of satisfaction. He loves my children far too much to give them such a perfect childhood that they would be tempted to trust in their parents to meet all their needs.
God’s grace–to love us, to die for us, to reach out and conquer us–never finds a dead end in Christian hearts. Much grace received will ultimately be much grace extended, so that it will not be possible for us to live very long like the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Grace in our hearts becomes grace extended to those who disappoint us.
Sadly, grace and compassion toward parents seem to be in very short supply at Quivering Daughters. For Hillary McFarland and others, normal childhood disappointments have not yet yielded to compassion toward the parents who, as fellow heirs of grace, imperfectly gave much and loved deeply. Lord willing, change is yet to come as these young adults grow in their knowledge of the grace of God, as they learn to see their sins against God as infinitely greater than their parents’ sins against them.
God has His way with His own, teaching us to be gracious to our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends. Amazed by grace, our love will cover a multitude of sins. In the event that we do encounter sins that are so grievous and dangerous that they demand a degree of public exposure, even then we scrupulously avoid making a public spectacle of our loved ones.
As I read the blog at Quivering Daughters, Romans 1:28-2:5 has been on my heart, especially Romans 2:1-3–
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
I see Hillary McFarland publicly, repeatedly, and deliberately treat her parents the very same way that she says they once wounded her privately, occasionally, and unintentionally. She is returning the offense in kind–but in greater degree. One of her most frequent complaints is that she often felt that she did not measure up as a daughter, but this experience has not left her too shy to tell the world that her parents do not measure up and were not good enough for her.
When I first encountered the Quivering Daughters blog, I expected to read one of those heartbreaking stories of genuine abuse that can be found in every culture and subculture. But after bracing myself for the worst, I found Hillary repeatedly assuring me that her parents have always loved her and have intended only good for her. Hillary’s material is shocking in the very fact that it doesn’t tell a story of dangerous cruelty. Hillary’s story is of parents who gave much to a daughter who still believes that she deserved far better.
Some of the ways that Hillary’s parents fell short are painful to read. She writes,
I hovered over the kitchen table and arranged a poem so they’d see it when they arrived. They will like this, I thought, excited. I took time to make it right; every syllable, every nuance flowed perfectly. I crept off to bed, leaving the door cracked slightly to hear their response—happy to have something, finally, worthy in content and structure, to reveal.
I heard them, from my bed—our old green and brown station wagon, whirring up the driveway, the soft thud of front door, groceries unloaded in the kitchen. My mother’s voice. “Hey, what is this?”
I shivered with anticipation. They are reading it! I waited, clutching moments, silence screaming in my ears.
“What is she trying to tell us?” Her voice startled the night. Not a hint of praise or approval.
Dad’s quiet, thoughtful reply came after.“I don’t know . . .”
Quietness again. I knew that kind. My heart stopped. I could just see them, paused, world frozen in black and white, the paper I’d written and re-written pulsing with flashing red lights, alarms. My face burned in darkness. I couldn’t breathe. Light-headed and dizzy, I wanted to dash to the kitchen and snatch away my poetry. Hot tears slid to my pillow. I shouldn’t have shown them, my mind tormented, the little girl inside shrinking with shame. Why do they always think I am trying to “tell them” something? This is why I don’t want anyone to read what I write. It probably isn’t good, anyway. This is what I get for feeling proud, for wanting them to like it.
I could hear no more. Turning over, I let tears claim me before drifting into troubled sleep.
While there’s not much a parent can do about silent tears in the middle of the night, the wise parent who sees a child in this state will feel genuine sympathy for the young sufferer. Perhaps the best parental treatment for a sinful, inordinate desire for approval is a loving hug together with a gentle, loving rebuke.
While parents ought to faithfully and truthfully encourage their children, it is sinful for a person of any age to so desire a compliment that it becomes impossible to remain content without one. When we see this sin in ourselves, we must repent and turn our hearts toward Christ, finding our happiness in Him. When we see this sin in our children, we must urge them to do the same.
Hillary says that calling this “sin” and lovingly urging repentance upon young people in this state is “to trample Christ,” but God’s Word on contentment clearly teaches otherwise. For the sake of Christ, we Christians are to be content with weaknesses, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, let alone a scarcity of compliments in the middle of the night. Disappointment is real, but it really calls for a holy response. When we bring forth sin instead, we must repent, for we are the people (Acts 16:25) who are called to sing hymns in prisons!
It appears that this episode occured well over a decade ago, but the cure is the same today as it ever has been: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” The desire for approval and the desire for perfection run deeply in humans, but we tend to look for them in all the wrong places, among sinful humans on a fallen planet. God gives us sinful, weak, imperfect parents for His own glory, and He calls us to be content with whatever history and parents He’s given to us. Our parents’ weaknesses and sins are an opportunity to prove our faith by exercising forbearance, forgiveness, and loving discretion.
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.