image by sarah mccoy photo

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mama Bears for Jesus in the Digital Age

It’s very in vogue just now to take a discomfiting exchange and recount it online with the indignant gravity that causes your friends to rally to your side in supportive outrage. You know what I’m talking about, Christian mommies. Grocery-Store-Stranger Angst.

Here are the examples I see most frequently:

“My big family attracted this sarcastic criticism…”

“My mixed/adoptive family attracted this intrusive curiosity…”

“My homeschool family attracted this leering condescension…”

And all these complaints end with the italicized kicker: “…and they said it right in front of my kids!

Beloved sisters, here’s my exhortation to you.

If you’re a Christian and you’re in any of these categories (or all of them!) then you have probably become the sort of family that draws public contempt in direct response to the call of God on you to glorify him by leading an off-trend life.
What that looks like in 2016 is not what it has looked like in other eras, but rest assured this is just another iteration of the promise that we will never look like the world and that we will draw its [frequently negative] attention.  So first of all, congratulations on reflecting Christ in quietly bold ways!

But…there’s always a but... when we take our frustration at the world’s lack of understanding and trumpet it as indignation, we’re reflecting our culture, not our faith. The expectation that society should be sensitive to our preferences and hide signs of natural curiosity is our culture’s current reigning ethic.

It is not a Biblical one.

The Psalmist cries, “Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” But he cries out to heaven, not to his facebook fanbase. And like James, he knows that trials, and even the temptation to vent, produce endurance and joy. Like an HIIT workout for the spirit.

Families making counter-cultural stances must expect some hostility and view curiosity as a welcome opportunity. Especially, especially right in front of our kids.

Here’s the thing. If you’ve got eight kids, or if your kids are eight different skin tones, or if they trail after you at Target during regular school hours (in matching jumpers or not) it’s a little unfair to expect people to not wonder. We all try to make sense of what we see. Whether those curious strangers should say anything or not may be a matter of opinion, but I’ll say this: can we simultaneously bemoan the loss of community and village-mentality in our culture and act scandalized when a stranger engages us? Even if the question betrays ignorance, as Christians we should extend grace where the intent seems innocent. It’s how we’d all want to be treated.
But of course, sometimes it isn’t innocent. Sometimes the hostility is blatant. Well, if you can write an eloquent and witty blogpost, you’re probably smart enough to know when to walk away (pearls before swine and all) but I tend to view even many hostile openings as openings.

Think of this. Your family, just by existing, is prompting conversations with strangers.

Every. Single. Day.

You have daily invitations to explain the reason for the hope that is in you. Speaking of your children, do they see you jump through that opening and offer up something to send that stranger off pondering, or do they see you grit your teeth and go home and rant online? Your children will hear things that hurt (which in many cases still doesn’t really compare with the suffering of myriad children worldwide if we’re honest) but what they will internalize is what you did in that moment.

Remember this. Our culture is hostile to big/colorful/homeschooling families because they fly in the face of the imperative to seek self-gratification. Here’s what we offer the world, and those who are grasping at fleeting pleasure: whatever thing they fear to lose, that your ten children threaten, is its own reward. There is no derivative benefit. Jet setting, night life, power career, whatever it is, its pleasures never outlast the moment.

Are our family choices inconvenient? Yup. They really are. We really do sometimes wish we could leisurely try on bathing suits and then read at a cafĂ©, or prioritize bikini waxes and manicures and travel. We really do. But they know all that. What they don’t know, if we respond defensively instead of joyfully, is that by investing in people (and there are many ways to do this without having kids! Teach! Volunteer! Counsel!) we reap benefits that increase exponentially with time and generations. That’s something you get to share with someone who’s curious enough to ask.

So if someone assumes that the kid behind you in line isn’t with you because you don’t look related (whether because you’ve adopted or in our case, because of hilarious genetic happenstance), put your arm around her and say, “Oh, she’s all mine!” and tell them how she completes your family. Right in front of her. Make her blush. Everyone wins.
If someone questions your qualifications to teach your kids and wonders if you’re raising unsocialized weirdos, gush a little about how you get to see the “ah-ha” moments and how much time you can spend reading good books over pancakes and how vibrant their relationships with all age groups are. I’ve seen so many cynics soften when I share my excitement instead of getting (as the Marines say) butt hurt about it.

If someone wonders if you’ve heard of birth control, let it slide and bubble over with the unique joys a big family experiences while you share the sweet anecdotes that make the sacrifices worthwhile. They don’t know. How can they if you don’t tell them?

All that to say… culture will give you a pass if you turn from these encounters and seek comfort from those who are already like-minded. Sensitivity is A-OK in the public arena. But not in the Christian life. We were called to stand out, take some abuse, and turn it all to his glory. So rejoice if someone notices how weird you are. You have a unique platform. I know you can use it faithfully and well.