The other day I had to carry my seven-year-old son into school mid-tantrum; it became clear to me that he was engaging in a power struggle--he didn't want to go to school; he wanted to stay home and play with toys. I had to make a choice in that moment: I could allow him to continue tantruming safely in the car away from the eyes of others or I could take him into school mid-tantrum because it was time to go to school. I've tried keeping him in the car until he is calm, and while it allows us some privacy, it allows him the freedom to continue tantruming for however long he wants. So I pulled him from the car--kicking and crying--and in all of my nasty, pre-run, pre-shower glory, I carried him into school, sat him down in the front office, and waited for him to be calm while I bore the stares from strangers wondering what the heck I was doing. Needless to say, I've been a hot mess of vulnerability lately. Later that day I texted a good friend and fellow foster-adoptive momma and explained that I felt stuck on an island as a parent--especially as a parent of children with special needs that are not physically obvious. I told her that I just wanted someone to understand my parenting situation, my choices, and my vulnerability. She replied with an empathetic text that ended with, "Unfortunately we don't serve a God who wants us to be understood but to obey."
Her text reminded me of a devotion by Oswald Chambers I read a few weeks titled, "The Distraction of Contempt." The focus of the devotion was Mark 4:19, and in the discussion, Chambers quotes St. Augustine, "'O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.'" Chambers goes on to explain that we should abandon our constant need to get others to understand us; while Jesus taught others about the truth of Himself and spoke out against wrong religion, he simply didn't correct misunderstandings of his words.
I did some quiet study and reflecting this morning on all of this, and if I'm being honest with myself, my friend's words and the devotion are in direct conflict with where my heart is right now. I have a serious desire to be understood by others--especially in my parenting choices, and I have a feeling that I'm not the only one. We were created to feel and to connect and to live in community with others, and a necessary component of meaningful relationships is that each person connects with the other and tries to understand how the other is feeling. So perhaps our need to be understood comes from the fact that we were meant to engage with others on a meaningful level. The question of the hour, though, is: When do we move from simply engaging in relationships with others to a “lust of always vindicating ourselves”? The more I think about this quandary, the more I'm realizing that a line is crossed when our motive for needing others to understand us is selfish in nature.
Like my friend’s reminder, God wants us to obey Him even when we are misunderstood in this obedience. Oswald Chambers writes, "Our state of mind is powerful in its effects. It can be the enemy that penetrates right into our soul and distracts our mind from God" (My Utmost for His Highest). When I focus on being understood by others, I am often focusing more on myself which distracts me from a deeper fellowship with my creator. God laid foster to adopt on our hearts nearly four years ago, and we acted out of obedience to him (although we were hesitant and scared and still grieving the thought of never having biological children). In obedience, I will be a parent, which requires me to advocate for my children and try to set them up for success. I’m learning, though, that being a parent doesn’t require me to constantly be understood. Like St. Augustine, my prayer this week is, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself,” so I can remove my eyes from me and direct them upward.