I don’t yell at my kids anymore.
I used to a lot.
I’m not talking about the warning kind of yelling as they wander into the street. That makes sense. I’m talking about the habitual way I would get them to do what I wanted. Mostly during the morning when I’m making breakfast, getting coats on, and trying to get them out the door to school in time. I used to yell at them a lot and I could never imagine Jesus yelling at me.
I was really embarrassed about it and started asking for help. First, I asked my boys to let me know when I yelled at them. That was really humiliating and hard to ask. I’d have to apologize all the time to them. I also grabbed lunch with a dear friend who has two boys just like us. His boys are grown up and love Jesus and really love their Dad. He did a whole lot right with them and I was hoping some of that would rub off on me.
Now, I’m far from a perfect parent. I’m far from a good Christian too. In fact, most of my life doesn’t look anything like Jesus. I make mistakes every day and usually this whole effort of following Jesus feels rather defeating.
But, I don’t yell at my kids anymore.
And that’s a lil’ win.
Chutes And Ladders
See, I used to view my spirituality like a ladder. I’d rank myself a certain number from 1-10 depending on how much I prayed or didn’t swear or didn’t look at porn. The trouble with the ladder view is it’s mostly made up of things I didn’t do. This flies in the face of the majority of Jesus’ messages which focused on what we do. Things like generosity, caring for the poor, or forgiving.
The other problem with my ladder view was the moment I’d mess up, I would put myself at the bottom of the ladder again. In my head, I’d be a zero. And nobody likes to continually see themselves as a zero continually working themselves up a ladder only to fall to the bottom again. It was a sick game of chutes and ladders where there was little hope and little progress. A game built on guilt and shame.
The King’s Castle
Rick Mckinley taught me a different way of looking at my spirituality. The kind where you can celebrate lil’ wins. Instead of a ladder, my spirituality is a castle. The kind of castle where the King lives in the middle. The castle is lighted and warmed by a single fire at the center of the castle where the King lives. The closer to the King you are, the warmer and brighter your life will be.
In this approach, I got to thinking what areas of my life are close to the King and what areas are in the cold and dark. I noticed some areas of my life were closer to the King than others. For instance, the patience I have for my kids is getting warmer and brighter everyday. However, I still use most of our money on entertainment and that looks nothing like my King who was homeless and cared for the needs of others.
In this view, I start counting what I do as well as what I don’t do. I’m able to celebrate the lil’ wins while recognizing areas that need growth. The ladder approach is rather static and fixed while the castle is dynamic and complex. The ladder forced me to define myself by one habit where the castle sees me as a vast collection of characteristics, mistakes, wins, and growth.
The ladder felt isolating where the castle feels communal. See, there are other people living in the castle with elements of their life which are closer to the King than mine. I can learn from them and maybe they can learn from me. I’ve discovered healthy people are not void of problems. Healthy people ask for help (a lot). We’re all in this together. Lastly, I’m not a number anymore. I’m one of the King’s people and my home is always in the castle.
The most important part of the castle view is it’s sustainable. I have friends who have grown so tired of the ladder they just walk away from Jesus entirely. Some have self-destructed their marriages with an affair. In one way or another, they’ve called it quits because who likes to feel hopeless, and defeated, and a zero all the time. I’m not excusing what they did. However, I’ve sat across a lonely table in the back of a pub a few different times with a few different men and that’s exactly why. They just couldn’t live that way anymore so they chose to walk away completely.
The castle brings hope. It’s sustainable. I could see myself growing in my spirituality this way for the rest of my life. The castle recognizes the small steps forward and the lil’ wins in order to keep me encouraged God is not done with me yet. He will finish what he started. The King wants nothing more than for me to be in his presence where it is truly warm and well lit. I am a member of the kingdom.
Are you on the ladder?
Please stop. It doesn’t end well.
Notice your lil’ wins and see your life as more than a number. You are a complex, dynamic, brilliant masterpiece of the King. He invites you in where it’s warm and well lit.
“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14:1-4 MSG)