At the beginning of 2015 I choose a word to define the year – soften. At the end of the year I did feel softer – in my attitudes, in my words, and in my relationships. And I wanted to keep that flow going. So this year, rather than choose a word, I chose to consciously and intentionally seek to not be critical. And I see a tangible difference in my life, especially in my attitude. As it turns out, my days go by much more joyfully with more laughing and dancing when I am not being critical.
One of the concrete examples I’ve seen in myself lately of this change toward a softer and safer Suzanne happened this past week in my classroom.
Since I moved to the Dominican Republic three and a half years ago I have learned first hand and on many occasions the strict legalism of much of Dominican Christianity. There is a lengthy list of non-negotiable DON’Ts that apply to those who profess to be Christians in this city. Now, as with any observations of human behavior there are many expectations, but far and wide those who claim to be Christians see my tattoos and think (or say right aloud), that I must not be a real Christian because “get tattoos” is listed firmly on the list of things that Christians DO NOT do.
The first time a four-year-old told me (and I quote, yet I translate) that I was “going to hell because tattoos are of Satan,” I was mostly hurt. But hearing the same accusation repeated over and over again quickly got frustrating. “That’s not in the Bible!” I would retort with just about as much love and compassion as I felt from the accuser. But this past week, when I had the age old conversation (recorded below) I found myself not feeling frustrated, not burdened or persecuted or even charged with the setting free of the Christians of San Pedro, but I felt… joy. And whimsy. And the childlike excitement of learning something new and wonderful.
Could it be true? Could it be that Christianity isn’t actually about a list of NOs? Could it be that there is freedom in following Christ? Could it be that God doesn’t want robots, but real, breathing, at times tattoo-covered human beings? Could it be that there is room in Christianity and in church for questions? For self expression? For trying something new? For art? For growth and change?
I have found so much more room in my heart and in my life for joy that was previously occupied by criticism. I am not completely recovered, of course, but I am striving every day to choose joy. I read this morning in Deuteronomy a list of blessings and a lists of curses. God said, “If you obey me, this is what is going to happen. If you disobey me, this is what is going to happen. You choose and I will respect your choice.”
It’s like when I change a student’s color from green to yellow* for throwing crayons in class and they dissolve into hysterics. This is the conversation we have:
Me: “Why did I say?”
Student: “Don’t throw things.”
Me: “And what did you do?”
Student: “I threw a crayon.”
Me: “What is the consequence for throwing crayons?”
God’s like, “What did I say? If you want to live the best life possible, I have told you what to do. Choose joy. Choose life. Choose love. Put others first. Listen to the Words that came out of my mouth and were recorded on this page.” And then I’m like, “Wah, wah, wah why don’t I feel content?” And God’s all, “What did I say? …. What did you do? … Why are you surprised when the consequences of your actions are exactly what I said they would be?”
So I’m not surprised that life is just generally nicer when I am generally nicer, but it’s a nice observation to make and I believe in celebrating growth and change and conscious decisions to a more love-filled life. To self-observation and self-evaluation. I am on the right track.
*For those non elementary teachers/parents among you, “changing a color” is a method of classroom management. Each child has a spot in a pocket chart with a green, yellow, and red card. Every day every student starts on green. Green for great! If the child disobeys or breaks a rule, the teacher moves the yellow card out in front of the green. Yellow for caution, for warning, for stop now or there will be consequences! If they continue in their craziness, the student gets their color changed to red, which means five minutes off recess the next day and no toys at dismissal time!