I have a confession.
I have a big head. I mean, physically, as in my head is ginormous for my relatively short, apple-shaped stature. In high school band, I always had to take the walk of shame to the boy’s line to get my already nerdy marching band hat (in case you’re counting, that would be double shame). I have a hard time finding cute sun hats because they don’t make sun hats for people with the head size of Michael Jordan. Honestly, I’m surprised that I was able to lift my head at all as a baby; in my mind, it should have taken the fully-developed neck muscles of a four-year-old to lift my infant watermelon head.
Okay, so I also occasionally have a big head spiritually. I usually can keep it under-control, but sometimes circumstances arise where my pride spirals out of control and I end up patting myself on the back for a good hour. Don’t worry. Then, God smites me to smithereens and I remember that I am just a lowly human who sometimes does cool things because God lets me.
Referring to the adoption, sometimes people say, “Oh, I could never do what you did. I just couldn’t…” This is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, if someone says this in front of my son, he hears, “Whoa. Can’t believe you chose to be a parent to that guy. You must have superhuman strength and patience.” It would be akin to going to a party with your significant other and someone leans over to your spouse and says, “You married her? Good on you. I couldn’t have done it”, which, of course, is grounds for a good, old-fashioned face punching.
What I find more troubling about that statement is the assumption that I somehow have more something than anyone else that caused me to adopt. As if, only people who are totally selfless with hearts of gold and an infinite amount of patience could ever consider adopting.
That’s the subtext that I get from that statement. (Maybe partly because that’s how people mean it and partly because my big-head problem exacerbates that statement and runs with it).
The problem is that I ain’t no saint. I may be an adoptive parent; I may work with refugees and immigrants at a non-profit; I may make my own dish soap. Don’t be fooled. You need not go any further than my son or my husband or my parents or my sister or my co-workers or my church or anyone who has had more than a 15 second facebook interaction with me to know that I fall far from the perch of sainthood.
Alas, sometimes people Mother-Teresa me.
If you’ve never heard that as a verb before, picture putting someone on a saintly pedestal, saying that someone is more _____ than the rest of us, someone who is a little closer to heaven.
If you google “Mother Teresa doubts”, you’ll find that even Mother Teresa felt Mother-Teresa-ed.
The reason this human tendency is so troubling is that if the person being Mother-Teresa-ed is a people pleaser (LIKE ME), then they feel this immense pressure to live up to your expectations, however unrealistic they might be. For instance, if you ask me how parenting is going and you have that gleam in your eye that lets me know you want me to tell you that we farted rainbows at breakfast and danced to school holding hands, then I feel like you’re not interested in my well-formed opinion that parenting often makes me want to slam my face into a wall. It immediately shuts down any hope of a real, honest conversation about how things are actually going. It prevents me from being vulnerable and having to carry a narrative burden that I don’t really want.
Are there people doing ridiculously awesome work that most of us would fail terribly at? Absolutely. (I am not saying that I am one of those people.) Should we put them on a pedestal and saint them? No. It’s good for us to give people a chance to be real. Yes, God allows people to do some really cool stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ALWAYS awesome or ALWAYS so rewarding. Sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes, it sucks hard. Regardless of the work that they’re doing, a human is still a human. We still get impatient and selfish and prideful. Things get hard; we get discouraged. All people, even saints, should have a chance to feel whatever they’re feeling about the things that they’re doing. Those feelings won’t always look like you expect them to look.
The other problem with Mother-Teresa-ing people is that it is a slippery slope for the person who is doing the Mother-Teresa-ing to think, “Ah, well that person is a SAINT. I would never be called to do something like that.” This kind of thing is rampant in our culture with celebrity worship and government worship (If only a Republican was in office, then the country would be perfect…). In non-profit circles, fund development employees follow rich people around and compliment them on the color of their shoes. We call it “schmoozing” and I’m terrible at it (I snot-bubbled once). But it also happens in church, where the burden of “saving the lost” and “visiting the sick” falls squarely on the shoulders of the pastors and church leadership because they’re a higher caliber of person than “the average person”.
Ya’ll. Here is the God’s honest truth. We are all called to be set apart. We are all called to be like Jesus. We are all called to love people, especially marginalized people.
Those things are non-negotiable. So, when we put these “saints” on pedestals and Mother-Teresa the heck out of them, it makes it so much easier for us to say, “Oh, well. That’s the pastor’s job” or “Oh, well, that’s for someone who is more selfless than I am.”
When I read Shane Claiborne or Francis Chan, I used to gawk at their weirdness, but there was never really any personal challenge to me. They were cool guys doing cool things that were completely unrelated to me. I’ve read through Claiborne’s “Jesus for President” twice now, and, quite honestly, it’s scaring the crap out of me. God has shifted my thought process from, “Good for them! Keep on keeping on, guys! I’m going to keep doing my thing here.” to “Holy bologna, Jesus, what does this book and Shane’s witness mean for me and my family?”
Not gonna lie. It’s a wee bit terrifying. Doing things for the Kingdom of Heaven costs something. It might cost money or time or your job or your security. It will most likely be uncomfortable. It will be hard. It will be inconvenient. Jesus promises a hard road, guys. Why do we forget that so easily?
I guess the thing that we need to remember is that we’re all working towards righteousness. Being “saintly” is not something that is inherently in some people and not in others. Righteousness is a journey. I’m sure Mother Teresa wasn’t perfect at loving every person she came across when she started, but she stuck with it and got better and better at it. I still wouldn’t define myself as a patient person, but I’ve been told that I’m more patient than I was before parenting. Thank the Lord, Jesus pulls us along.
We can’t be afraid to try. We can’t hesitate to step out in faith because someone is doing it better or we have x, y, and z reasons why it wouldn’t work. We’re going to mess up. That’s a given. But we’ll also get better and better.
So, let’s all open our minds to the possibility that God might use us in crazy ways to bring glory to Himself. Let’s stop putting other humans on a pedestal. Let’s work together, shoulder to shoulder, and push each other towards the way of Jesus.
Don’t Mother-Teresa me, bro.