1 Timothy 5:24-25 (NIV)One of the things I struggled with in childhood was the notion of myself as a “good kid.” While my religious education convinced me all of humanity was imperfect, that no person should be elevated above the rest of us, I admit to having a hard time processing my place in the big picture as it related to the “bad kids.”
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
I think my family, generally, and most of my teachers would label me a “good kid.” I was never in danger of being arrested (because I was clean, not because I was good at not getting caught), my grades were always good enough and I always made it to all my games, performances, church events and so on. I’m not ashamed of the reputation. What I struggled with at the time, however, is allowing that label to creep into my psyche.
When you consider yourself a “good kid,” that means you’ve decided there are a class of “bad kids.” These are the kids who swear at teachers, earn detentions, ditch class, smoke cigarettes just off school property and so on. They commit what Paul might refer to as obvious sins. By avoiding those infractions, I was able to believe I was good — too good. My sins were more the “trail behind” type. They affected my personality, my world view, my relationships. I didn’t land in the police blotter, but I was not always the person I wanted, or claimed, to be.
If I were, at the time, more honest with myself, I would have realized there are no “good kids” or “bad kids.” There are just kids, and people, and we all have our own burdens. Whether our sins race out in front of us or bring up the rear, they are inescapable. Convincing myself I was good allowed me to turn a blind eye or two to my very obvious shortcomings for far too long. It was a mentality that enabled me to sit in judgment of others when I should have been working on improving my own life.
To an extent, I’m not sure how much I’ve changed. I like to brand myself an optimist, but sometimes that manifests itself in thoughts like, “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have yelled during bedtime… but at least I wasn’t out all night getting plastered!” What good does that accomplish? It simply allows me to equivocate, to let myself off the hook. If I was a lesser dad than God calls me to be, it doesn’t matter which direction or how far I strayed from the path. There’s a right way, God’s way, and everything else is wrong. Degrees are not important.
Likewise, being a “good kid” can be a lot more about seeking the reward for obvious goodness than it is about making right choices for the sake of following where I’m led. But those rewards are from other people, and they don’t mean much in the long run, at least not compared to finding favor with God. Back then, it was about setting myself apart from the “bad kids” in the eyes of peers and adults. Now, such behavior is obviously shallow and misguided. I don’t deserve to be set apart, and I’d get a lot more benefit out of trying to push for equality instead of pushing for isolation and preferential treatment.
This also will be a good lesson for my children. We’re all capable of doing good things and bad things. We can’t tell how someone else lives their life just by what we see on the surface, nor should we care. What’s important is focusing within, thinking about the choices we face each day and what it will take to choose to listen to God’s voice above everything else.
I’m sure that was taught to me as a kid time and time again. I’m also sure I wasn’t a real good listener. But if I had listened and learned, I think I would have been much better off for doing so.
A prayer for May 24:
Lord, I try to keep humble. Sometimes I’m not very good at remembering to come to you openly about the ways I have fallen short. My heart knows I need you to forgive me, and somehow I let my mind get in the way and start to believe I can be just fine on my own. But I know it’s not true — I know how much I need you to heal me, guide me, love me and hold me close to you. Thank you for your patience with me, and for always giving me the chance to get it right. Amen.