Not all that is gold glitters!

Yesterday my husband and I attended an end-of-year assembly at our children’s school, as we had been told the previous week that our daughter would be awarded the Upper KS2 ‘Progress Shield’ for excellent progress.

I don’t need to tell you how proud we were to witness our daughter being praised in front of the whole school by both her class teacher and also the headmistress, particularly because she had no idea it was coming, and I know she would have never thought anyone would take any notice or care much for what it is she has to offer.  Her achievement was not so much academic, but more to do with her strength of character, good behaviour and sheer determination to stay out of trouble and treat others as she likes to be treated herself.  When she came back from school, she would not stop saying: this is the best day of my life, and as we prayed before she went to bed, we thanked the Lord that although the world sometimes misses what the quiet, unassuming people have to offer, He is always watching, always taking account of how we handle ourselves, and always keeping a record of whether everything we do is for an audience of One or more; keeping a record of whether our behaviour varies according to who is watching.

I grew up in an environment where academic, artistic and/or physical achievement were highly valued, and an essential criteria, if you were to be considered of any worth or importance.  Although my father was not too bothered about the artistic or physical side of things, academic achievement was top of his list of goals to be meet by all of us.  It was tough being a child at our house.  Well, it was tough Monday to Friday during term-time,  but fantastic to live there the rest of the time.  As soon as we got back from school, and having had something to eat, we would all be sent to our rooms (the 5 of us) to ensure homework was done before my father would come back from work.  My mum would warn us he was coming up the stairs of the building, because within 5 minutes of arriving home, he would check on all of us and ask us whether we had done our homework.  Needless to say, we used to dread the times when school results were out and a good telling-off was definitely on the cards, for some of us anyway.

Every end of year, various awards, mainly academic, would be given to the best three pupils in the class (out of 40) and every single year I would get absolutely nothing.  For a few years, I did not deserve anything, I thought, because my maths were appalling and the rest pretty average, but once you become 15/16 in Spain you have a choice at school whether to go for Arts or Science.   You’ve guessed it.  I went for Arts.  I studied Greek, Latin, philosophy, Art, etc. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  To not have maths as a compulsory subject, was just the best news I had had in years.  The word phobia does not even come close to what I felt every time I had to sit a maths exam.  I suddenly came into my own and started giving my all to every single subject. 

Anyway, such pressure was put upon us by my father to achieve excellent results academically that my life between the age of 13 up to about 22 sadly was absolutely blinded by my sole ambition to become one of the best, and that, I did.  On my last year of school, at 18 years of age, I got an A in every single of my subjects, all 10 of them, and at long last, I got my award at the end of that year.  I then went on to do a university degree and a masters degree after that, but that is another story.

Of course, I absolutely looked up to and respected my father so much, that all I wanted was to gain his approval and respect back.  He had been brought up in a very hard environment after the Spanish civil war, and being poor as a child had created this hunger in him to become someone, to do something with his life, to provide abundantly for all his loved ones.  I now understand his background fully and the reasons why he was so strict with us in those days, but at the time, I resented the fact that all he cared about was our academic performance.  He gave us great morals and wonderful discipline which has trained us in the way we should go in life, but perhaps if there had been less of the discipline and a bit more on the emotional side, I would have been a more rounded person.  I still believe he is a wonderful father and I could never thank him enough for the sacrifices he has made so that I could be who I am today and be where I am today.  I am one of the lucky ones.  He nearly walked out on all of us on a couple of occasions for reasons I will enter into on a different post, but instead, he became the “sacrifice” so that others would not have to suffer the consequences of his actions for years to come, and despite his frustration, decided to make a go of what he had.  He decided to put the fate and well-being of others before his own.  There is no love, other than God’s, greater than that.  And as I grow older and become a more experienced parent, I realise how many of our Heavenly Father’s qualities my father did indeed displayed and strived for.  If only I’d been able to be more aware and grateful at the time, his sacrifice may have been made more bearable….

So many years later and in a different country, I find myself seeing in other families the very environment which I was a victim of when I was a kid.  I see many families at not only our children’s school but also other schools in the area, absolutely driven by the desire to succeed, and for their children to stand out from the rest either academically or in any other area such as music, sport, performing arts, etc.  Kids spend loads more time in after-school clubs and private tuition than they do at home or playing in their back garden or in the park.  Children as young as 7 are brought up to base their confidence upon how many skills or abilities they have.  It is assumed, with no questions being asked that one has to perfect a skill in order to be someone in this society.  If you have nothing tangible and obvious to offer, you become an invisible individual. 

This has become such a domineering influence in our community that you can even see it happening in church.  The people who are prepared and willing to take center stage within ministry will be granted recognition and be praised publicly, which perpetuates the fallacy that in order for God to use you in a powerful way, you have to come to the front of ministry and become a “leader”.  Not only that, the bible tells us to humble ourselves and assures us that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted, and yet, in churches around us we find that it is only those who are prepared to stand out from the crowd, those who are sometimes almost coerced to take front line and be granted a title, these are the ones whose voices are heard, whose influence can be seen and who often have the last say in matters concerning the church.  The other bad side effect this frame of mind has upon churches and its members is that leadership and ministry become more glorified than the One at the center of it, and this in turn, attracts the wrong types into it and for the worst possible of motives.  And then, as Christians we often wonder why is it that not more people come through our church doors.  Could it be that the Jesus that we so proudly proclaim to follow and be sold out to, is nowhere to be seen in the way we run God’s churches, He is nowhere to be found in amongst a group of people who Lord it over the rest and treat the body of Christ just like a corporate business?

As our daughter picked up this award not quite believing that she was worthy of it, tears of joy and reafirmation run down my face because I was comforted and reminded that our Heavenly Father is faithful to the promises he has made to us and that he does indeed exalt those who humble themselves; he reminded me that it is ok to be different; it is ok to not follow the crowd, even if sometimes the pull is so strong that it becomes a real battle not to put yourself at the forefront of something even when you know that is not God who is calling you to be there.  The pressure to conform is such; the pressure to become who you are not meant to be is so strong, the rewards for standing out from the crowd and for becoming visible in the eyes of men are so tangible and so within our reach, that many fall by the wayside and miss on the unspeakable joy that will come to those who against all odds remain invisible; to those who wait.   When the tide of God’s scrutiny and judgement goes out, it will all be revealed; the invisible will become visible and the world will finally see what was too proud and stubborn to see all along.

The video below gives a good description of how what may seem silly, crazy and totally bonkers to the world, makes perfect sense in the eyes of God.  Who would you rather believe: the God who made the heavens and the earth whom we will face on judgement day or the rest of the world?  Beware that although the word “raunchy” is used in this video, in American slung it simply means “untidy”

Let those who have ears, hear in this video what the Spirit is saying to the world today.

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