It is amazing to me how every child has a unique personality from the very beginning. Even in the womb, Reuben (my eldest, age 2) was reserved and stubborn. He didn’t budge from his firstborn position, no matter how much Eli (my second, by 15 minutes) flipped, kicked and nudged him. On the outside, Reuben has lived up to the typical firstborn personality. He takes good care of his brothers, is less prone to take risks and remembers what I say, particularly when it concerns safety.
When we go to the pool, my kids are the ones who bring toys and play in the water enough to get their feet wet. Those crazy fountains and anything beyond two inches deep are a little too wild for the Appel boys (which I am sure will change as they grow—God help me!). Last summer, on a lovely quiet day at our neighborhood pool, Eli decided to try to walk to the pool ladder, which was where the water was three feet deep. We started walking together from ankle deep towards the ladder, him with one hand on the wall and one in mine. I told him that I wouldn’t pick him up until the water got to his chest. He was nervous, but Eli, usually up for a challenge, carried on with a smile. I gently encouraged him as we went along, telling him how brave he was and that he was doing a great job. At the right moment, I carried him to the ladder and he practiced climbing up and down, feeling a great sense of accomplishment.
Reuben watched this whole thing sitting on the edge, with his feet dangling in the shallow water. When Eli came back to where we started our journey, excited and eager to try again, Reuben decided that he wanted a turn. You could almost hear him gulp as he stood up in the water and took my hand. We went slowly along the wall, water rising slowly from ankles to knees, knees to waist. Reuben started to tremble a little. All of a sudden, he yelled out, “I’m doing great, Mommy! I’m so BRAVE!” I had to agree! We continued our journey to the ladder and repeated this circuit with both boys several times.
Since that time in the pool, Reuben often encourages himself. He does it when he is climbing a ladder at the playground, right at the point when he is not sure whether he should go to the top or back down again. He does it when he tries something new like going down the big slide or doing something by himself that he normally holds a hand or needs assistance. Tom and I laugh a little and say how cute it is, but I think it is so much more profound than just something cute my toddler says. I love that he wants to overcome his fear. I love that he wants to encourage himself when he feels he needs it most.
My mother-in-law is one of the most positive people I know. When I met Tom, he thought he could walk on water, win a gold medal at the olympics, and be a rock star, brain surgeon, superhero. All of this is because his mother is an uber-encourager, as mothers should be. When he met practical, sarcastic, pessimistic little me, I helped his head shrink a few sizes, which I think was for the best—and he would agree. I have drastically—I hope—adjusted myself to be an uber-encourager to my husband, my kids and to others, but what about myself?
I am my worst critic. I am a perfectionist. In my mind, I am never good enough. I have very little confidence. With all my time spent at home minding and molding the offspring, I start to see my self worth directly related to how large the laundry pile is, how long it has been since I swept the floor, how well behaved the boys are and how productive I have been during the day because I must have something to show for myself. I forget that God loves me and I am His child. When He looks at me, He sees His perfect Son. I am the one Jesus loves and sacrificed His life to redeem. That has nothing to do with laundry.
If we turn our eyes towards Jesus instead of our daily productivity and have faith that He will accomplish His good works in us, we must see ourselves differently. I try to instill in my children a self worth based on what the Bible says, which is that they are rich, beautiful, valuable creations. If I just imagine someone trying to take them away from me, I see how much truth there is to those words. My life would be ruined. They have worth beyond life. And so do I.
So, my goal is to see myself more like Jesus sees me. To allow myself to hear encouragement from Jesus and even, from myself. When I am standing at that point where I don’t know if I can make it up that ladder or deeper into the water, that “I’m doing great!” might be what I need to keep going in the direction I’m supposed to. That “I’m so brave” is what I need to hear when I am exhausted, frustrated and afraid.
Quieting the critical and hearing God’s loving voice isn’t always easy but it’s certainly worthwhile. We have to choose to say “no” to the pessimistic part that tears us into pieces and say “yes” to the One who sees perfection and wholeness in us, already. Even just pausing to listen to this Voice nudges us in the right direction and we start to be more like Jesus—which is the ultimate goal anyways, right?
Faint not, you’re doing great, you’re so brave, and you can do it. Lean into God and you can even make it to the deep end.
Scripture to back me up: 1 John 3:1, Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 1:6, James 3:13-18
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