You are doomed.
According to the billboard anyway.
I spotted it while your daddy and I were on our way to hear this little one’s heartbeat (or heartbeep, as you kids call it) for the first time:
The billboard pictured an adorable little girl poised to do a summersault on a tumbling mat. She looked happy, but the headline beside her glared at me. “Success Starts Early,” it said. The logo of a local gymnastics center was stamped in the corner, but there might as well have been some fine print too. Something to the tune of “Success Starts Early” (Unless Your Parents Don’t Love You Enough to Enroll You in Gymnastics. They’ve Probably Never Told You to Believe in Yourself Either So You’ve Likely Got a Career in Fast Food to Look Forward To Now. Too bad, So sad.)
Sorry, Kids. Your daddy and I have not enrolled you in gymnastics for many reasons (the amount of time and finances involved having a heavy hand in that), but also because we think that billboard, and message of the modern media, and much of today’s commonly accepted thought regarding childhood self esteem is nothing but a big, fat, ugly lie. (And careers in fast food can be okay too, just in case you were wondering.)
It’s not that gymnastics is the problem. Nor is it the music lessons or sports programs or any of the other endeavors that well-meaning parents sign their kids up for these days. No, the problem is why we sign you up for this stuff, and it’s because we’ve bought into the lie too.
It goes something like this: Believe in yourself! Follow your heart! You can do whatever you set your mind too!
But it’s just not true, Kids. And before you write your mom off as some cranky old childhood dreams-squasher, hear me out. I’ve thought on this one long and hard.
There’s an educational cartoon you like to watch after school. It’s a sweet little show, based on books I loved as kid, but I can’t help but cringe every time I hear the theme song croon: “It’s a simple message, and it comes from the heart. Believe in yourself ‘cause that’s the place to start.”
Now, maybe my first reaction should be just to make you turn the channel so none of us would have to suffer through that tune and its horrendous rhymes, but that’s why I’m writing this letter in the first place.
You’re not going to be able to escape this message no matter what you watch or don’t watch. If it’s not on this show, it’s on a commercial. If it’s not on a commercial, it’s a Disney movie. Or in a children’s book. It’s part of our culture, Kids, and it is not escapable.
‘Cause it sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to excel? Set high goals? Be a winner? And any loving parent wants to encourage their children to aim high. No one wants lazy slackers for heirs, and I’m no different.
So what’s my problem, huh? What kind of mom am I?
Here’s the dealio:
Our culture says “Follow your heart!” And it’s not hard too do. Because hearts often say fun things like, “Yeah, you should skip school!” or “I don’t feel like doing my homework today,” or “He’s cute. I’m in love!” or “This marriage too hard. I’m done.”
But the bad (and true) news is, my darlings, that our feelings are not trustworthy. God said it best, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Without a heart renewed and made clean by Jesus Christ, we cannot trust what that tricky little organ tells us to do.
So please don’t follow your hearts, Kids. Follow Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
That, my beloveds, is something worth following.
Then there’s this “Believing in yourself” mumbo jumbo, which I personally think ranks up there with parenting lines like this: “Yes, there is an Easter Bunny! Would mommy lie to you?” (This is likely the point where I’m going to be tarred and feathered. Promise me, Children, that you’ll help clean me up when it’s all over.)
The thing is, Daddy and I do believe in you. We believe in who God has created you to be, fearfully and wonderfully designed and masterfully planned. We trust that he has a big, marvelous, God-glorifying story laid out just for you, because He knows you and the gifts and talents that He has given you.
But you trusting in you and putting your hope in your own strength is a waste. You and I are human. We fail. We don’t keep every promise. We screw up. We will disappoint ourselves and others. Believing in ourselves is a recipe for discouragement and frustration. We are just too limited.
But God is not.
Again in Jeremiah, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and who makes flesh his strength…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.” (Jer. 17: 6,7)
Notice how he said it twice? Trust in the Lord. Trust in the Lord. Sometimes when I say goodnight, I tell you, “I love you. I love you.” I say it twice, so you’ll get it. I repeat it some more so you’ll never forget. And God does the same. He says it a bazillion times and a bazillion ways. Trust in him. Trust in him. Believe in what he can do through you. Believe in him.
So will I ever tell you that you can do whatever you set your minds to? No. Will I tell you that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength?” (Phil 4:13) Absolutely.
I know which one I believe is true. And I want that for you too. But, my Loves, it all really comes down to a matter of faith.
For parents like your daddy and me, it takes faith that God has even bigger plans for you than we have. It takes faith not to push you to be the best in that sport, or start those lessons early, or sign you up for SAT prep courses when you’re in Kindergarten because we know that God has got this. We don’t have to force your future. He’s got it handled.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
So that’s your momma’s soapbox, Kids. I hope you’ve stuck this out. Because I love you, and I won’t do you the disservice of letting you think this life is all about success, or making yourself happy or pursuing the American dream.
Because God promises more.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9)
Hear that kids? Pursue God. He’s better than anyone or anything else.
And you can believe it, Kids, because, no, your momma would never, ever lie to you.