And the reason I’m sharing this with you (aside from making you feel sorry for me that big mean stranger picked on me at the park) is because I had an epiphany on the way home. An epiphany that relates to all of the recent goings-on in cyberspace. But before I share my takeaways, let me tell you what happened:
Like any summer morning, the park was packed with babies and toddlers and grade-schoolers and even a few “big kids” who were there to play with their younger siblings. My six-year-old Joey started playing a game under the jungle gym with a group of kids. I watched from a distance as the kids threw a four-square ball back-and-forth, over the bars and under.
The game got a little rough. I know that and I now know that I probably should’ve intervened sooner. Because Joey was definitely throwing the ball harder than he should’ve. But I didn’t. I chalked it up to fun at the park and figured the kids could handle it. And Joey went too far. He threw the ball–hard–and hit an eleven-year-old girl in the face. I’m sure it hurt. Joey immediately apologized (thank goodness!) and the sweet girl said “It’s okay” with eyes watering. Precious girl– my heart breaks for her because not only was she kind enough to be playing with other kids at the park– but she got hurt and was gracious enough to forgive my son quickly. And even with her sweet and kind spirit, she got caught in the middle of an altercation between two adults that she didn’t even know.
A dad– a stranger to me and the girl who got hurt– was watching the game also saw what happened. And when the girl said “It’s okay” he ran over to my son and screamed “It’s NOT okay!” Then he grabbed my son and started yelling at him about being mean at the park and bullying girls and all sorts of other nasty things. Then, he ran over to me and started yelling at me about my parenting. He said “your son shouldn’t be allowed on the park” and “you should keep him away from other kids” and “you need to teach your kid about bullying” and “the way he’s acting is never okay.”
And I lost it. I started to cry. I retreated, grabbing my kids who were also in tears and trying to walk away from the barrage. But it kept coming. And I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. I’m embarrassed to admit that I made a rude comment under my breath. I said something about “Okay, guys, we’re going to stay away from here because apparently some people don’t know that parks are for playing.” Ick.
I responded completely wrong. And I know that.
But I was so angry.
On the way home, I started thinking about why this man’s comments– a complete stranger’s comments– had affected me so deeply. And I decided that it’s because I’m hurt that a complete stranger criticized me when he didn’t know me. I’m upset that he judged me. I’m upset that he was so mean and rude and demeaning without giving me the benefit of knowing my heart and my child and my struggles. I’m upset that he was so quick to point out my failings– and my son’s failings– that he never saw that I really am trying.
All that said, Joey made a mistake. He should’ve shown self-control. He knows better than to be mean.
And I certainly made mistakes. I didn’t pay good attention. I didn’t intervene when I should have. I was wrong to be rude in response to this man’s rudeness. I’ve failed as a mom on multiple occasions. I’m not afraid to admit that there are many, many specks (and logs) in my eye when it comes to my parenting.
But this man’s public denouncement did nothing to help me become a better mom.
It’s not like I heard his angry words and was suddenly like “Oh! Good point! I hadn’t known that my son was too rough before but now that you pointed it out in a very mean and public way, maybe we could go out to coffee and you could teach me how to be a good parent.” No. He just made me mad. And my response was in kind.
Now I don’t want to create a stir here– and I certainly don’t want to politicize anything on my little old Christian mama blog. But I have to say that this situation is eerily similar to some of the chatter I’ve seen on Facebook lately. People– complete strangers or at most acquaintances– are loudly and publicly criticizing people for the beliefs they hold and the things they do. And I have to believe that just like this man at the park who felt it was his duty to point out his viewpoint on my parenting skills– whether right or wrong–all of this loud, public bullying is doing a lot of harm and very little good.
And I imagine that’s how a lot of people feel after reading their Facebook posts right now. Hurt that complete strangers are criticizing them without knowing them. Upset for being judged. Upset that people are mean and rude and demeaning without knowing their hearts, their feelings, their struggles. And that makes me heartsick. Because no one deserves to feel that way.
I want to ask you to unite with me as Christian parents to refuse to engage in bullying– because that’s what this is. This man was so quick to point out bullying with my son– when he himself was bullying me. He was quick to judge. Quick to respond in anger. Quick to be mean.
And I refuse to sink to his level.
I refuse to point out other people’s supposed flaws when I have so, so many of my own.
I refuse to assume that I know more about someone’s heart than God does.
I refuse to respond in anger instead of love.
I refuse to hamper God’s work in my life and in other people’s lives by assuming that angry or demeaning words are the way God moves.
Because today, I’m taking a stand for love. For kindness, gentleness and genuine compassion. For empathy and forgiveness. For hope.
And I guess that means forgiveness and empathy for the random stranger at the park, too. Perhaps he had once gotten hit in the face with a ball and injured. Perhaps he’s struggled with bullying his entire life and didn’t want my son to fall into that same pattern. Perhaps he was just having a bad day. So I forgive him. Part of me hopes I’ll never see him again– human nature– but if I do, I pray that I can find it in my heart to be kind.
Because that’s what Jesus would do.