If you know me, you know that I am not known for my fashion sense. I am not frumpy, but I am definitely not stylish. I like to fall right in the middle, to blend in with the scenery, not drawing too much attention to me, whether for good or for ill.
In keeping with the same notion, I have never dressed my kids ornately or smocked them (nothing wrong with those who love smocking, I love many who do!), but I also try to make sure they at least look like children who do indeed have adult supervision. Try is the operative word, because as children get older, these strange things called opinions tend to grow proportionately with them.
On Sunday mornings, I usually just grab two polo shirts off hangers and find two pairs of shorts that may not match but at least won’t clash. See how gracious God was in giving me boys! If we ever have a girl, she may look like orphan Annie. But I digress.
About two months ago, as I was setting out clothes frantically while brushing my teeth, fixing a bottle and packing church snacks, Ty asked why he had to change out of his thrifted Marvel graphic T-shirt and bright red basketball shorts. I replied, “We need to put on our church clothes.”
Ty looked at me with his sweet, pensive face and earnestly asked, “But why do we have to wear different clothes to church? I like these clothes and they are clean. We don’t have to dress up for God, do we? I thought He loved because of grace and loves us as we are. We shouldn’t have to dress up for him.”
I stopped dead in my tracks with a crying Phinny at my heals and a distracted Eli still searching for his shoes around me. I knew his heart was not trying to rebellious or quarrelsome. It was just that simple to him.
His words dropped in my heart like a heavy weight. He got it more than I did. After all, hadn’t we memorized the verse about how man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart?
Like I said, I am middle-of-the-line when it comes to dressing myself and my children. Until Ty said that, I did not realize how much I was still leaning on cultural trappings, on how things looked or appeared on the outside, on what people thought of me or my children and family.
Our Church meets in an inner-city local high school whose mascot is a Red Cardinal, and the second time we attented our church, Eli said, “Are we going to that bewd (bird) church again?”
While I had a good chuckle, I have to admit that our new Church was quite an adjustment for all of us. One of the first few weeks of attending, there was a large lab roaming through the auditorium. We are not talking lap dog here, nor a seeing-eye-dog, but the beloved pet of a homeless friend who was worshipping with us that particular morning. There are no cubbies for diaper bags, no child-friendly bathrooms, no heat or air conditioning, and so forth. These things upset my sophisticated sensibilities even though I did not want them to.
But I have grown to love my Church community deeply. What it lacks in systems and seeming safety and comforts, it makes up for in a great, gushing love for Jesus that welcomes pet dogs, drunk men, and messy families like mine. I love that my children worship God in two languages, have friends of every shade of skin on the spectrum, and feel free to wear Angry Birds T-shirts to church on a nearly weekly basis.
I have been reading a challenging book called Grace-Based Parenting, and the author articulates well the wrestle that I have felt and continue to feel internally as my boys get older.
Dr. Tim Kimmel writes, “Grace-based parenting is a heart-activated plan that takes its cues from a daily walk with Jesus Christ…When it comes to raising kids, grace-based parents tend to dance better than they march.”
Marching orders are more style. Picked-out moderate outfits are my jam. These boys are pressing me in the best way possible to ask what the gospel really means. “Grace-based parenting works from the inside out. Fear-based parenting works from the outside in.”
He continues, “When it comes to superficial and arbitrary standards of dress and style, I’m not particularly concerned with how children look on the outside, and I don’t think God is as concerned with these things as people as people think He is. He’s more concerned with our children’s hearts. I’ve discovered over the years that if you get your children’s hearts in tune with God, then you can leave it up to God to figure out how they will look on the outside.”
Now, just to get their hearts in tune with God. Ha.