Other titles for this post could have been:
“Grace is an acquired taste. Like fine wine.”
“Dressing up every day as a super-hero can be dangerous to your health.”
or “Baseball is God’s favorite sport; it’s the one where you can fail about 70% of the time and still get voted into the Hall of Fame.”
If you’re in a hurry – here’s the summary: If children are given a safe place to fail, they’ll grow up to be adults. If children aren’t given a safe place to fail, they’ll grow up to be adolescents.
I didn’t grow up with an appreciation for the taste of grace. My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher. Enough said.
We sang “Amazing Grace” – we even claimed it to be our favorite hymn. All the while I wondered why we had to hide my mom’s mental illness – among other things.
The message at church was most often: “get everything right” – and those who didn’t…well, I just remember not wanting to be one of “those.”
School always told me to “get everything right” – and those who didn’t…well, I just remember not wanting to be one of “those,” either.
My best option for getting dressed in the morning always included my favorite mask – the one that said, “Good Enough.”
I wore it for obvious reasons:
- I was a preacher’s kid,
- anything “less than” was like lighting the fuse of dynamite my mom seemed to be holding most of the time,
- and I enjoyed the attention my teacher’s gave me when I got all the words right on my spelling test and colored inside all the lines.
The “Good Enough” mask served me well if you consider I was an honor graduate in high school, and I headed to Baylor as a freshman with almost a full combination of scholarships.
The “Good Enough” mask was a primary reason for the fast approaching season of intense and painful struggle, too – that would last almost three decades.
You see, I never learned it was ok that everything wasn’t ok.
I didn’t experience a safe place to struggle; struggle was something I had learned to hide.
The most dangerous effect of dressing up as “Good Enough” every day was that, at the stage of life that offered the most opportunities – and the most obstacles – I had no relationships with the real me…the one who was smart and capable – and who also struggled like everyone else did.
I had never learned to share my needs; I didn’t even know if was ok to have any. I had never learned it was ok to ask for help.
When anyone loved me – my mask got all the love.
Any love or attention I received was because I was performing in the way others required of me.
Read that last sentence again – it’s part of a recipe for disaster.
This recipe has another potentially fatal ingredient: a faulty definition for “sin.”
For a long time, I thought “sin” was the wrong answer on the test, or under age drinking, or pornography, or wearing immodest clothing, or dancing. (Remember – I grew up the daughter of a S. B. preacher!)
I didn’t know that “sin” is a force to be reckoned with, and that I could never “reckon with it” in my own strength. Sin is a literal battle with the dark side.
Sin is the reason God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” It’s the reason He made a blood sacrifice and invited Adam and Eve to give up their fig leaf masks.
Do you see the danger here?
I hid all the ways I wasn’t “Good Enough” – which meant I tried to do battle with sin all by myself.
There was no “Good News” for me in the gospel…not if I couldn’t get everything right after all Jesus had done for me.
The original “Good News” is that the gospel is the safest place to fail – just ask the adulteress woman, or the tax collector, or the woman at the well. Or me.
When the gospel doesn’t offer us a safe place to fail, Christian homes and schools produce adolescents instead of young adults. Young persons start hiding – and wearing weird masks.
“No safe place to fail” is the recipe for adolescence.
“Self-reliance” is the recipe for adolescence.
“Hiding” with people who struggle with the same things I do is the recipe for adolescence. Our current model of “middle school” is a petrie dish for cultivating adolescence.
Adolescence is an American invention – it’s the dysfunction that happens when children “grow up” into adolescents, instead of young adults.
Adolescence is the season of life that results when we think we’re supposed to get everything right – so we develop relationships with fellow “pretenders” or fellow “rebels.”
You see this picture represents my relationships as a young person; we’ll call this group “The Pretenders” –
I fought hard to hang with this “Good Enough” group; I didn’t know we were “Pretenders”.
And this picture represents the relationships I tried to avoid, but where I ran to at times – thinking I never really belonged in the previous picture.
We’ll call this groups, “The Rebels” or they might be the ones who’ve just decided, “Never Mind”-
Living life in one of these two circles kept me both immature and wounded – way past the age that said I was supposed to be an “adult.”
Adolescence is the dysfunction that happens when children, like me, live in environments when it’s important to get everything right, to get 100%, to keep a high GPA, and that unintentionally invites us to hide when we struggle.
I didn’t know shame was a force to be reckoned with, too – and that I couldn’t reckon with it in my own strength, either.
Children only grow up to be mature adults when they grow up in relationships like this:
God is the Perfect One; He’s the only “Good Enough.”
My weakness is made perfect in His strength – not my own.
My identity is changed because of His work – and my trust.
Understanding the original Good News, my relationships can now look like this:
- I now have real LOVE to offer others; love is the process of meeting needs. (trueface.org)
- I have a new identity – that sings “Amazing Grace” with renewed hope.
- I only have this love – and this new identity, because I let God love me first. The real me.
And now the real me gets to grow up. Love is the fuel of maturity.
There is great hope when we – as a people who want more than adolescence for our children – begin to give them a safe place to fail.
The best place to start is showing them in our own lives it’s ok to admit that everything’s not ok. We get to model what it looks like to admit we’re losing the battle with the dark side when we try to fight it on our own.
We get to model what it sounds like to ask for help.
Our homes get to be wound hospitals.
Our dinner tables get to be battlegrounds – not where we fight against each other, but where we fight FOR each other – against the dark side.
I’m learning to ask for help. I’m learning to give Doug – and others – permission to protect me in the arenas where I’ve habitually lost the battle against the enemy, trying to pretend – or showing up with my army of just me.
What if we recognized pornography as an invading enemy that requires an army to defend against it – instead of a shameful failure in the lives of our own children? or of ourselves as parents? What if our children felt safe asking for help in this battle?
What if we saw alcohol – and social media – as an illegitimate way to meet legitimate needs – and what if our children gave us permission to help them do battle against these forces? instead of hiding their struggles? or hiding themselves…rather than facing shame?
What if we created societies where our children grew up in multi-age (even multi-generational) relationships – that offered safe places to struggle – and get help from people wiser and more mature than their peers?
What if children learned to trust this wisdom?
“What if there was a place so safe that the worst of you could be known and you’d be loved more for the telling of it? (John Lynch)
What if this place was home?
Please comment and let’s start a conversation; we’d love to hear your questions, too. JN&C exists to find others who want to journey together so our homes and schools can be communities of grace – let us know if this is you. Welcome friends and neighbors!