It must have demanded a special measure of wisdom to discern when sympathy or firmness was in order. My shyness in junior high required that kind of wisdom. Having moved from Massachusetts to Illinois I was filled with loneliness, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Every day after school I poured out my woes and you comforted and reassured me. I was certain that everyone else had his own friends and I had nothing to offer. I will never forget the day, much later on, when you took a different tactic. “Miriam,” you said, “I have listened and understood. But the time has come when I must make something clear to you. At the very heart of shyness is selfishness. You have made your concern for yourself so important that you are failing to think about others.” You continued on and concluded with this challenge: “There is someone in your school who is worse off than you. Tomorrow when you feel so uncertain, you look until you find that person and you be to them what you are looking for others to be to you.” I could see she meant business and that sympathy had come to an end. That took courage, and involved risk. To this day when a situation looks too big for me, I look for that one person more uncertain than myself. (Miriam Huffman Rockness, Keep These Things Ponder Them in Your Heart)
I know that story (but I didn’t realize Mom had written about it in her book!). I grew up with it. It was a part of our family culture. It impacted my mom, and it impacted me. To this day, I too, think of that “lesson” when I find myself in situations where I’m feeling left out or alone. I try to be pro-active and look for someone I can reach out to, rather than wallowing in my “uncertainties.”
Two things stand out to me as I reflect upon my Grandma’s words to my mom. One: the wisdom of the advice, even today. And secondly: the lasting impact of our words to our children.
It’s the “golden rule” ~ do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. It’s also the tenth commandment: do not covet. Coveting doesn’t just apply to things, material items. I know I often covet relationships. And the funny thing is, so often I’m skewed in my view of relationships. I think I’m being left out, when I’m really not. I sometimes think certain people and groups of people seem oh so desirable. I’ll waste my time wondering how I can become their friend, when there are so many other wonderful people around and near me who desire connection as much as I do. That’s when Grandma’s words, in the context of mom’s situation, are most helpful.
What more timeless and relevant challenge could there be? It’s ageless ~ whether one is in kindergarten making new friends or an adult sorting through friendships, we all at one time or another (or over and over again) struggle with friendships, relationships, and the desire to be liked. Whether someone was growing up fifty-some years ago, thirty years ago, today, or in the future, this advice applies. We all will be faced with situations in which we feel left out or uncertain. In those situations we can remember to look for someone else who maybe, just maybe, looks as uncertain and lonely as we feel. That “golden rule” advice was given ~ and worked ~ two thousand years ago and will continue to be relevant and work for another two thousand years. Grandma and Mom’s story is the parable through which I best grasp what it looks like to think of others first.
Who knew my Grandma’s challenge to my mom, her daughter, would have lasting impact…even to the next generation? And if you count my kids (because they’ve heard the story, too), then even on to at least one more generation! What a powerful realization this is to me. My words, my actions, my interactions with my children are lasting. This could be a scary thing, but I prefer to look at it as a good thing. The time, the intentionality, the heart we put into our jobs as moms makes a difference. Sometimes even to future generations! My grandma had no idea in that moment, in that discussion, that her challenge to her daughter would make such an impact and lasting difference. I’m sure it was a risk (it was probably easier to just continue to be a listening ear…which I believe was also important and appropriate). I’m sure thought and prayer went into her decision (and even if it was shared from in-the-moment-inspiration, it was no doubt covered in prayer…the every day prayers of us mothers who want to say and do the “right” thing; things that will be helpful to our children).
I think of some of the stories I share with my children from my own childhood. Will those lessons and stories leave valuable and helpful imprints in their hearts and minds? Are there interactions between my children and me that they will remember and be impacted by, and that they will share with their own children?
I may never know the answer to these questions. But I will continue to do my job, and to do my best, and to trust God, that He is using me in ways with my children that will have lasting value. I may never know what words or actions of mine will be passed along (if any!) for generations to come.
But as I write this, I realize that I do know what words and actions from both my Grandma and Mom have had lasting impact on me. And I can tell them. I can do for them what I hope might some day be done for me. Sounds a bit like the golden rule.