Parenting the Ordinary, Extraordinary Child

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My son gave us a glimpse into a college essay he’d been working on. The subject was his journey to discovering his giftedness, and as he proudly told us about the paper, I was taken aback by the way he arrived at his conclusion.

He explained that he tried to prove himself in all the places that he noticed others gaining recognition – through exceptional grades, success on the football field, or clocking in the fastest time in cross country.

My son struggled in each of these areas and in others while trying to find his niche. He wandered amongst various groups trying to find that place he might be applauded by someone other than mom or dad. I remember every aspect of this challenging time. But, about a year into his first job working at Chick-Fil-A, we noticed him holding his head a little higher. His hard work was acknowledged, and a promotion quickly followed.

As my son stood in the living room finishing the brief description that represented pages and pages of real-life struggle, he told us the conclusion to his essay:

“I’m good with people,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “That’s my gift. That’s what I’m good at.”

I stood in the room after he left and quietly thanked the Lord for encouraging his heart. I thanked Jesus for creating and gifting my son uniquely, according to His plan.

The Pressure to be Extraordinary

We don’t live in a society that typically praises the ordinary. We applaud those who graduate Summa Cum Laude, who have a full ride for an athletic, music, or academic scholarship; we place on a pedestal those who do extraordinary things. And for many reasons, we should.

We should praise the students who are using and applying their unique giftedness, and we should gladly and readily rejoice with them (and with their parents) at their successes.

But sin creeps into our hearts so easily. Many of our children sit through awards ceremonies and simply watch because their giftedness doesn’t qualify for a trophy, and so they begin to think less of themselves. And as parents, we watch these successes with envy or disappointment because our child has not flourished in the same way or received the recognition that we wanted for them.

The pressure to push our kids toward these kinds of achievements – which for many are virtually unattainable – comes from a variety of different places:

Social MediaThere are good reasons to utilize social media, but it often feeds our competitive nature as parents. Facebook and Instagram tend to highlight the smiles and sunshine but very rarely expose the day-to-day struggles in life. Because of this, over time we begin to believe the lie that our kids are less gifted, and our parenting is a failure.

A child can sense our disappointment in them, and while it’s one thing to be disappointed by behavior, it’s quite another to be disappointed because of who they are. Unfortunately, things like social media offer to us the opportunity to wear a critical attitude and we too readily put it on. Be proud of the child that God has given to you, even when their giftedness does not result in a trophy, and verbalize regularly how treasured they are because God has created them uniquely and wonderfully (Psalm 139).

College AdmittanceStudents begin hearing about college admissions as early as freshman year in high school. The pressure to have a list of major accomplishments and activities on college applications is real and felt both by the student and the parent. Unfortunately, this often results in parents exasperating their child with the sometimes-good intentions of ensuring they can check off every activity box listed on an application.

Are we pushing our children to do their very best by using the gifts God has given them, or are we pushing them into many different endeavors to satisfy our own longings? My tendency is to want to take the pen out of the hand of the Jesus, the author of my children’s stories, and try to write the book myself. By His grace and mercy, Jesus has shown me time and time again that His plans are better. The Lord will direct and guide our children in His ways, and for His glory, no matter what.

Reinforcing StereotypesI overheard a young boy tell my daughter that he’s not normal because he’s not great at sports. “I’m into creatures,” he said. “I like bugs and stuff.” I smiled while my heart ached. Why does “normal” equal being good at sports? Society has done a good job painting for our children what extraordinary looks like, but God paints a very different picture.

Have we bought into a cultural view of success, or are we pushing against it by encouraging our child’s unique giftedness while assuring them that God loves them more than they can imagine?

The Beauty in the Ordinary

The disciples of Christ were ordinary folks in their day: fishermen, craftsmen, low level bureaucrats. Jesus Himself was a simple carpenter. But His followers were extraordinary, not because they stood out in the crowd, but because Jesus called them. Jesus gifted them. Jesus used them.

As I watch my son interact with strangers, acquaintances, even with family members, I see the giftedness that he talked about in his paper. My prayer is that He will use this gift with people to the best of His ability and honor the Lord with it. He may not receive a plaque, but when I watch him, I see extraordinary. I see a young man who Jesus has gifted, and who Jesus is using to teach even his own mother.

Recently, I listened as a senior in high school shared his testimony with his classmates. The young man grew up in a Christian home, but his faith became his own during his sophomore year, and he has been growing in faith ever since. That was the gist of it. There weren’t any astonishing moments, just the gradual growth in grace.

Extraordinary.

The words this young man shared may have seemed “ordinary” in our Christian circles, but they are astonishingly beautiful. I texted his mother acknowledging how proud she must be of her son, and she responded with these four words: “All glory to God.”  

Yes, and amen. When the God of heaven and earth uses our children to advance His kingdom, when by His grace, He uses their giftedness to bring glory to Himself, and when He draws our children close while revealing His goodness, this is amazing.

This is extraordinary.

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