We took a trip to the library today. I had agreed to meet a friend there to help with some job applications, and since our library has an excellent children’s area, I decided to make a fun trip of it for the kids, so that everyone could play and choose a book. As they contemplated their options, played on the computers, and raced trains around the train table, I saw a young family come into the children’s area and sit down.
Understand, when I say young, I don’t mean a mid-twenties family a couple of planned children. I mean two obviously teen parents with their toddler. My first thought was “Good for them! They are sticking this out together!” Unfortunately, this was not the predominant response from other library patrons. While these young parents obviously loved each other and their child, they were also obviously insecure and completely bewildered by this parenting thing. I remember those feelings all too well with my first, and she was planned and prayed for! Honestly, three kids into this gig, I still have a lot of days that I think “Wait, what the hell am I doing here? I’m so lost!”
As I watched these very young parents sit down to talk, their sweet little boy wandered over my direction. He was very interested in Ella Ryan and she seemed eager to play with him. This is NOT a typical response for Ella Ryan at all, so I was thrilled to see her branching out and making a friend. At one point, she screamed and dropped what she was playing with. As she proceeded to cry, these parents, on the brink of panic said “What did he do? I didn’t see what happened!” I assured them that this was because nothing DID happen, Ella Ryan was simply angry that he had picked up a toy she apparently wanted – on the other side of the play area. I made a joke about women wanting men to be mind readers even at this age, and reassured them that it was no big deal at all. I could see them visibly relax that I wasn’t angry and that their child was not at fault. They obviously want to do this right, but their insecurity was palpable.
A few minutes later, a woman brought her two children into the play area. These girls, whose ages I am approximating to be between six and eight, went straight for the doll house, where this little boy had been contentedly playing for the past few minutes. He was clearly delighted to have playmates, and began ‘tagging’ them and running away laughing, watching to see if they would follow and chase him. He never hit, never pushed forcefully, he simply touched them in a way that said “You’re it! Come get me!” Moreover, the girls seemed completely nonplussed by his antics. Not even a hint of annoyance showed on their faces, and they even smiled at him, even if they didn’t join his game. After a couple of minutes, the girls’ mother yelled across the room to these young parents “He’s been hitting them for the past few minutes! I’ve been sitting here watching!” The young mother responded very meekly, “Well, he’s just trying to play. He’s not actually hitting them.” The other mother responded “I’m not blind! I’ve been watching this whole time! You need to handle this!” The young mother was visibly flustered, and muttered “He’s…he’s just a baby. He just wants to play.” The older mother threw her hand up at the younger mother in a condescending gesture and retorted “Look, let’s not do this. You clearly don’t plan to control your child. Girls, let’s GO! I’m not going to let you play with that rough little boy!” I was furious! What a bully! Her quest for intimidation was not wasted on this young, fragile couple. They were shaken and upset. The father muttered to the mother “He didn’t do nothing wrong. She’s just crazy.” The mother was on the brink of tears. I walked over and told them quietly. “Don’t let it bother you. You are doing a great job. Heck, I’ve already been told today I should beat my autistic child. You are always going to have strangers try and tell you how to parent, especially since you are young. Don’t let them. You be the best parents you can be and to heck with folks like that!” They laughed and relaxed a little. At that moment, I was so thankful that another mother had reassured me with a very similar pep talk earlier in our library trip when Brinley was mid-meltdown. We are meant to speak life to one another, friends!
Before leaving the library, I overheard a few more comments about this couple, all unwarranted. If a curious toddler had been trying to climb on the train table and his parents had been my age, these people would have laughed and said “Oh, I’ve been there!” but because these parents were young, eyes were rolled, comments about “teen parents” were muttered, whispers exchanged, and derisive glares were cast their way.
At what point did we develop such contempt for teens who choose to take responsibility for the lives that they create? At what point did we decide to vilify someone who chooses to take ownership of their choices and become parents? I do not, and never will, advocate for abortion, but if we are going to champion life, we must also champion the families that those little lives create. We must build them up, support them, encourage them, and speak life into them. I, for one, was disgusted to see young, scared parents being shunned and sneered at. Why are we not doing our best to encourage them, and reassure them that parenting is incredibly tough, and that even the most seasoned parents make mistakes? Simply put, why are we not giving them the same love and grace that we expect ourselves?
I know shows like MTV’s Teen Mom don’t do much to improve public opinion, but I think we need to distinguish between reality and pseudo-reality television. These teen parents were two kids – good kids, from what I could gather in my time with them – who simply made an irresponsible decision. I’m sure some will respond with the same tired rhetoric about this social ostracizing being ‘the product of their choices’. Here is my question to you: If you are going to define them by their choices, which choices will you choose to define them by? The one where they did not use responsible sexual practices? Or the one where they chose to put on their big girl and big boy pants and take responsibility for the child that that choice created? Do you want to be defined for the rest of your life by your least responsible choices? Or are you just glad that maybe yours weren’t as visible to the world and can be brushed under the rug? Yeah. Ouch. I went there.
You see, it is the world that assigns value to our sins, our pitfalls, our poor decisions, and our shortcomings, not God. He counts all our sins equal, and provided equal covering for all of them with the gift of the Cross. Jesus didn’t die only for middle class Americans who made all the “right” choices in the “right” order. He died for all of us. Let’s take a minute and really explore what that means. He died for those teen parents. He died for the would-be parents who chose abortion. He died for the arrogant, for the self-righteous, for the addicts – and here’s where it gets really difficult – for the abusive husbands, the child molesters, and the serial killers. He died for ALL of us. He didn’t qualify His sacrifice, He simply came to the world and freely gave it. However, we are the ones who choose whether or not to accept it. I am not claiming that he completely frees us from the natural, earthly consequences of our choices – a baby at eighteen means you don’t get the untethered freedom and social life your peers have, to be sure – but he does free us from the weight and shame of our sin, and from the eternal ramifications. He chooses compassion, and so should we. To me, one of the most powerful verses in the entire Bible is this:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So the next time you are tempted to let someone be defined by their worst choices, remember what it might feel like to be defined by yours. The next time you want to look at someone through the lens of their sins, choose to look at them through the lens of grace, the lens through which Christ looks at us. And rejoice in the fact that we, like anyone who chooses to follow Christ, don’t have to be slaves to our worst moments, but can be enveloped by His love, mercy and grace. Choose grace. Choose grace every time.