Simple act of love or veiled criticism?

My attempt at a gentle teaching moment for a child I’m close to but who is not my actual child wasn’t met with appreciation.

I certainly never intended to overstep. I care deeply about a large number of kiddos in my life, this one included, and think a lot about ways I can assist their parents in developing the good parts of their character.

But the parent took my offering as indictment rather than assistance in what I know is already being taught in the home.

Obviously I have no experience as a parent and don’t claim to have any advice for raising children.

I merely recall how many times I clung to every word and piece of advice offered by extended family members, mentors, teachers, coaches, church leaders, public figures and other such heroes in my life growing up while thinking my parents didn’t have a clue.

Obviously, I discovered how wrong I was about my parents’ level of wisdom once I moved into adulthood myself. And the older I get the more I appreciate the advice, direction and concern my parents provided and continue to provide.

Still it is the rare child who discovers during his or her childhood the value of listening to parents who truly have their best interest in mind and are striving to follow God as they fulfill their role.

Built-in resistance

And because of that built-in reaction to resist and stake our independence, we need a collective force to help us grow into what we hope would be considered responsibile adults.

It’s certainly an extra load none of us have to add to our already overpacked schedules but I’ve found it fulfilling to watch a young person grow and mature, sometimes knowing I had the privilege of contributing to his or her development.

Of course, it can be discouraging at moments as well, like when they refuse to listen to anyone with rational intentions or when they take full credit for something that someone else actually taught them.

I’m guessing parents deal with that scenario on a daily basis.

Trust issues

And, if I’m honest, I can see how another person attempting to share life lessons with a child could upset a parent.

As long as the advice being shared or actions being modeled are in sync with the parents’ comfort level, I’m sure they would normally welcome the reinforcements.

But in a day when criticism is tossed about so freely and flippantly, it is possible the ones who take offense are often times misreading simple acts of love and kindness as veiled judgmental stabs. Then again, it really is hard to tell these days.

I’ve found myself in several day-to-day situations (nothing to do with children) defending a straight-up answer to a question or simple request for assistance in a certain area as being exactly what I outlined. The accusers claimed that what I was saying could not be as simple as I said, that there had to be a hidden agenda.

It hurts a bit when the person saying this to you is someone you thought knew your heart, but it has made me realize the unfortunate degree of how much we as family members, friends, co-workers and believers in general have built walls because of past hurts.

And it inspires me to keep fighting to share God’s love and light, and to remember I desperately need His guidance and strength — and the support of fellow believers — to push through the darkness.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

On a scale of puny to healthy

0520932978003Think all that is good related to Thanksgiving and know that is where I am, breathing in the warmth of family, good food and a slower pace.

And while this blog isn’t really holiday related, the topic did spark a funny memory from Thanksgivings past — the “healthy” versus “puny” grandmother test.

Once I left for college I only saw my grandmothers at holidays and on special occasions and of course they both were quick to assess the weight situation the minute they saw me.

I remember one Thanksgiving when Grandma Davis told me she was going to tie rocks to me because she was afraid I was going to blow away. And Granny McCaig rated me as “puny” once or twice. Admittedly these were the grandmother evaluations I preferred.

However, the more consistent assessment from both grandmothers was “healthy” — not what I wanted to hear but always honest and accurate.

Do I really want to know?

It’s never easy to have our less than successful areas pointed out but it does provide an opportunity to improve.

Still we all handle critiques differently. Some welcome feedback and soak up every word tossed their way. Others dare you to say one thing that indicates they aren’t perfect. Many people fall somewhere in the middle with a healthy or semi-healthy view and application of constructive criticism.

The Alabama Baptist editorial staff and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions communications staff are currently working together to broaden the evaluation process for work done among Baptist communicators.

The rating scale ranges from “needs improvement” to “excellent” with “good” falling in the middle. Someone receiving a ranking of “good” on this scale means they performed at an acceptable level. Their product or project was adequate.

Go big or go home

I’m sure you can guess by now that I’m not happy if my rankings aren’t tipping the scale off the right side. Not only do I want the “excellent” rating, but I also want a note indicating that my effort was beyond the scale.

Of course, I can’t achieve this in every area but it is still hard for me to receive an evaluation of “good” much less anything less than “good” — at least in the areas that are officially rated.

What about the parts of life that flow along rarely evaluated? Our time with the Lord, having clear minds during our time with the Lord, the amount of sleep we get, our stressed-induced appetites that keep us from being truly healthy, our quality of life in general.

And what about our knowledge level of areas in which we should be informed?

Are we faking our way through conversations?

A work colleague recently described how most people 45 and younger listen to or read news headlines only to be able to stay afloat in conversations they may find themselves in. He said they (we) really aren’t interested in understanding the full story or knowing all the details, they (we) merely want to know enough of the main points to contribute to the conversation.

That made me think of the latest election and how much time I spent researching the candidates and amendments on the ballot. I did some reading and research, but I certainly didn’t have a thorough understanding of the full ballot when I walked in to cast my vote. But sadly I was ahead of so many others my age who didn’t even slow down long enough to vote, much less register to vote.

Skimming the surface

And if this is how we are living life in general, what keeps us from skimming the surface of God’s word in the same way? Are we living on past encounters with the Lord rather than experiencing fresh ones every day? Are we consistently seeking Him at deeper levels?

My grandmothers would likely both agree my evaluation in spiritual disciplines would be “puny” and this time “puny” is not the desired ranking.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Caring enough to share

“You laugh too much, Jen Jen, and it’s really annoying.”
“Jen Jen, you are really loud.”

Yes, I have officially moved to the not-so-cool aunt stage with my 7-year-old nephew, Jared.

Sure he still loves me, makes me sweet cards and gives me sweet hugs, but he is no longer bashful about telling me like it is.

What really irritates him though is when I laugh loudly after he reminds me how annoying I can be. And Christmas really tried his patience with me as we enjoyed a couple days of family time together.

Still I have to hand it to the little guy for being honest and sharing his suggestions on ways I can improve myself. And when you really think about it, I am loud and do have an annoying laugh!

He’s not the first to point out my laugh and how often it appears. Sometimes I think it is my all-encompassing reaction — not only do I laugh when I’m happy or tickled but I also laugh when I’m nervous, angry, sad or tired. You know, the laugh instead of cry mentality.

Laughing truly has been a positive and negative for me through the years. It has been an action that built relationships in some cases and needed taming at other points.

But along the way, I’ve always had people who cared enough about me and my personal growth (like Jared) to point out when my laughter is just too much.

And, yes, too much laughter is my sole weakness. There’s really nothing else I need to improve.

Right! If you know me at all and/or have read any of my columns, then you are the one laughing hysterically at the moment. My weaknesses and areas needing growth are so numerous that I could fill this entire blog detailing them for you.

And as we enter a new year, I’m spending time evaluating myself and determining which areas need the most attention. It’s a great time to start fresh, refocus and determine (through God’s guidance and strength) where to make improvements.

We shouldn’t be scared of evaluating ourselves and working toward a better us. It’s a great opportunity to sharpen skills, shift schedules, improve attitudes and realign priorities.

Even if you don’t necessarily want to do this yourself, you may have recently been forced to do some evaluating through your place of work and/or ministry. It’s not always easy to be shown areas needing improvement. It’s always more fun to be told how wonderful we are and what a great job we are doing. I agree. I’d much rather hear those words than to be told that this area is not good enough, that skill needs improvement or this situation must move to a new level.

But I also know that if no one ever cares enough to tell me the truth, push me to a new level or challenge me to do better, then it would be all too easy to sit back, get comfortable and just coast through life. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve the Lord at the fullest level that I am capable if there weren’t moments of evaluation that lead to improvement.

We all need a Jared in our lives to help us in these evaluations, so instead of being upset with the Jared in your life, be thankful he or she cares enough to share.