My sister-in-law Erin and I were having dinner one night when Erin, fresh off a swig of ice water, declared "I like water. Why don't I drink more water? I just want someone to follow me around and tell me, 'You like water. Drink water.'"
It was that moment I was thinking of as I sat across the table from my youngest daughter last night telling her, "You like salad. Eat your salad."
We'd gone to this salads-only restaurant because the girls chose it. I definitely did not choose it. They did. Turns out Eve had expected to eat soup at this restaurant, and my husband was determined for her to eat salad. In protest, she refused to pick what she wanted on her salad. The entire ordering process involved me saying, "How about carrots? You like carrots. No carrots? How about grapes? No? Walnuts? No? Pumpkin seeds? No?
When we sat down at the table, Eve's bowl held spring mix lettuce, a handful of strawberries cut into tiny cubes, grilled chicken, and Parmesan cheese. Independently, these are Eve's favorite foods (minus the lettuce). Together, in a bowl (plus the lettuce), she found them appalling.
Getting Eve to eat that salad was not easy. We encouraged. We entreated. We cheered. We threatened.
And we waited. For so long.
London, long done with her veggie-packed, balsamic vinegar-dressed salad, got so bored she started roaming the restaurant striking up conversations with strangers. At one point I went to get Eve a new kind of dressing to try (please, let this work...) only to discover they'd closed the restaurant but would be happy to let us finish.
Eventually, Eve ate most of her salad. We called it a win, got in the car and drove home.
We didn't have to make Eve eat that salad last night. In fact, in the moment, I was mostly wishing we hadn't ever undertaken the task. It was stressful and hard--for her and for us. It was also entirely inconvenient and a lot awkward (we could hear employees giggling as we begged Eve to eat).
But we did make Eve eat the salad and we did for one reason: If we never push Eve to eat salads she'll never eat salads.
Salads are good for her body. She needs to eat them. She doesn't want to. But nobody wants to do what's good and essential--not at first.
The other day I heard an interview on NPR with a woman responsible for training female marines. She'd recently been accused of pushing new recruits "too far," even to the point of abuse. The interviewer asked her, "Why is it you have to be so hard on them?" The woman, a lieutenant colonel with 20 years of service, said, "They have to be ready. They have to know they can withstand more than they ever knew they could."
I'm not saying my kids need a marine drill sergeant making them eat their salad, but as I watched Eve and thought about that interview I couldn't help wishing I had more drill sergeants (or pushy parents) in my life right now--people persistently and patiently encouraging me to do the hard things that make me better, reminding me I'm capable of more than I think.
I want what Erin wants, a person to walk around with me and remind me to drink water (or read my Bible, or pray for my co-workers, or be kind to mean people...).
Thing is, I say I want that, but practically speaking, I don't exactly make it easy. I'm sensitive to criticism. I'm sometimes stubborn. I'm always independent.
I AM Eve at the salad restaurant. I will sit there for an hour not eating, arms crossed, face smug, just to show you you can't make me do it.
Okay, I'm not always like that. Thank You, Jesus. But I can be. And I have been. I've made it hard for the people in my life to encourage me in the most helpful, pushy ways.
I suspect you may know what I'm talking about. I suspect it because I sense it's become an epidemic. We may be the most sensitive, prone-to-offense people ever to roam the earth. We can't take criticism (or even advice) without feeling personally attacked. We feel entitled to our every opinion (even when our opinions are demonstrably stupid). And we don't get close enough to anyone to let them see places where we most need real, uncomfortable counsel.
In other words, we're all making it very hard for people to help us be better people.
In I Thessalonians 5:10, the apostle Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica,
"He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
In other words, you can have courage because it doesn't matter if you live or die, you'll always be with Jesus. Paul says, help your brothers and sisters to have that courage; make them strong. He goes on,
"Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work."
Here Paul tells the church, highly regard the people who admonish you. Said another way, respect and love those who tell you what you're doing wrong. Paul goes further, encouraging everyone to be an admonish-er. He says,
"And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else."
The point of this passage is this: Look out for one another. Push each other to be better. And appreciate the people who push you.
I wonder if this is the way we live together in the church today. I feel like maybe it's not, but I'm sure it could be if only we were willing to give it a try.
So when you see a friend struggling with money and consistently overspending when you hang out together, pipe up. The next time they complain about their money situation ask for permission to give advice.
When you see a brother mistreating his wife, regularly making her the butt of jokes, say something. Tell him you love him and you want good for him. Then encourage him to try talking to his wife differently. Remind him of how Christ loved the church. Explain the blessings that come from treating your wife with respect.
When you see someone being contentious, stirring others up for no practical or edifying purpose, schedule a coffee. Listen to them talk and try to figure out what else might be going on that's got them so riled up. Then speak words of admonishment, helping them understand why their behavior is divisive. Too, pray with them and for them, asking God to bring peace to their hearts and to bring peace into the body of believers through them.
1. Let the people who love you push you around a little bit. Embrace their words of warning, correction and encouragement.
You're going to have to be humble. You'll need to re-frame the way you understand correction, not as attack but as gift. And sometimes you're going to need to seek that correction directly, asking questions of your friends and family--How am I doing at this? Am I ever obnoxious? What changes do I need to make?
2. Be pushier in the lives of the people you love.
Go ahead. Don't just stand there looking in, shaking your head. Offer counsel. Share your experience. Direct them to helpful scripture. Pray with them.
Some people will take it poorly. You can be sure you'll be misunderstood and called judgmental. But sometimes you'll be embraced. You'll find a sister or brother eager to grow, thankful for your help, respecting and loving you not despite but because of your admonishment.
People want to eat salad and drink water and follow Jesus. They just need a little encouragement. So offer it. And offer it again. Be persistent and patient and full of pushy love.