“When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”” John 21:21
It’s a concept as old as time itself. The question of fairness makes its way all the way back to the garden when that serpent planted the doubt that it was fair for God to set limits on mankind. That question of fairness weaves its way through Biblical history stopping at Cain and Abel to ask if it was fair for God to accept one sacrifice and not the other…pausing at the flood to ask if it was fair to wipe out all of mankind while rescuing animals…stuttering past 40 years in the wilderness for one generation and 40 years of quiet in the Promised Land for the next. We see it weave its way all the way through to Jesus where we find Peter almost muttering it out loud when he asks what John will have to suffer after Jesus jpredicts Peter’s end.
What is fair? Honestly, I don’t think in our human finite minds that we can comprehend the answers to that question. I think it is far above our capacity to understand and determine. While we declare absolutely that fair is fair, there are about a million little variables floating around out there that could prove us wrong with just a slight shift in perspective. Fairness is simply beyond our comprehension.
A counselor told me recently that research has seemed to point out that children under the age of ten are more able to deal with suffering and tragedy because they have yet to form a concept or opinion of fairness. They simply don’t look at a situation as fair or not fair, they just look at it as what is happening to them that they must find a way to cope with. This, in part, is why younger children can show such signs of resilience. They simply don’t give in to bitterness, but rather adapt to changes that happen to them.
That is unless or until they are taught to see the world through different lenses. Most of the time, it is us adults that bring the concept of fairness into the picture. Even in parenting especially in Western culture, our kids are taught from a fairly young age about what is fair and what is not. “Johnny, you can play with that toy for 5 minutes and then you share, or it’s not fair to everybody else.” “Susie, you can have a cookie too since your sister got one.” “Okay, everyone gets to have one friend over tomorrow night.” We set the standard for fair with our children.
It’s why I have finally resorted to being an unfair parent. I admit it. I probably need a recovery group or something, but I’m just so sick and tired of the status quo that fairness creates. We are raising children that do not know how to cope with an unfair world. Even if we could make people perfectly fair, we can’t change the climate or control the animal population or get rid of all the thorns in the world. We can’t eradicate all the germs or cure all the diseases or make sure all the food is healthy. We live in an unfair, broken, messed up world. And our children are not served by growing up to believe that everything is “fair”.
To prove my point, let’s lay out a couple of scenarios that I deal with on a regular basis that “fairness” based parenting might deal with differently.
I have a child who has an eating problem. Somehow in the early years of her life food became her comfort and she clings to it. She will sit at the table for HOURS and eat anything you place in front of her. I have another child who gets distracted when she eats and so she rarely finishes even half her meal without prodding. So on any given night, you might walk into my house and see me telling one child, crying to finish her food, that she has had enough and needs to get down from the table, while telling the other, crying because she is “full”, that she needs to sit up at the table and finish her food. From the outside, this would look very unfair and probably even mean, but in my knowledge of my children, I know that I am doing what is best for them both in the long term.
I have two very different children that like to be involved in activities, but we also have very limited time in our family schedule for extracurricular activities. Sometimes I might allow one child to be involved while telling the other child that they need to wait. Sometimes I even make one of my children do the activity that the other wants to do because it fits the family schedule better that way. To the outside eye this might seem unfair, but I have the perspective of the whole family in mind as I make these decisions.
I could go on, but I think you see my point. Our concept of fairness can often be an opinion that is formed without all the right information. While making things seem “fair” in the eyes of my children, I could actually be harming them in the long term. While making things seem “fair” in the eyes of society, I might actually be doing my children a great injustice.
This is the point that Jesus drove home when Peter asked him about John’s future. “Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? YOU follow me.” (John 21:22) Peter was saying “It’s not fair.”, but Jesus was answering “Fair is none of your business. YOU follow me.”
Maybe that’s why these children under 10 are thriving under pressure…fair hasn’t become their business yet. Instead of complaining that the sickness isn’t fair and all the other kids get to play, they instead are grateful when there is any reprieve and use it to live to the fullest. Instead of whining about why they have to live with grandma while momma and daddy run off and do their own thing, they resume their normal routine and make the most of it. Are there underlying feelings that should be dealt with? Usually. Does this mean that we fight for justice any less? Of course not. But perspective can change everything. Even our attitudes while we face what we feel are the most unfair of life’s circumstances.
Kate, my 5 year old, has a condition called fibrous dysplasia. It weakens her bones and has resulted in 4 total femur breaks in her short 5 years on earth. She rarely even mentions it…even when she can’t do things that the other children can do. The other day, however, she was at a party at school that included a “jumpy thing”. Since I don’t believe in raising her in a complete bubble, she was allowed to jump and tweaked something in her knee. For the first time since I have known her, this upset her.
“Mom, why do I have to have fragile bones? I don’t want these bones.”
I had a choice right then in how to respond to this. I could sympathize with her and coddle her and tell her how unfair it was and how I wished with all of my heart that she could go run and jump and play to her heart’s content…it wouldn’t have been untrue. I was tempted. Instead I said this…
“Kate, I don’t know why you have fragile bones, but God does. He has a plan for you right down to those bones. Yes, you have to be careful and no, you can’t do everything the other kids do, but that’s okay because God always knows what’s best.”
Her circumstances haven’t changed and honestly, probably won’t, but they aren’t a roadblock to what God has for her, rather they are just another part of the path God has created for her to navigate. Somehow her fragile bones fit into a big, amazing, wonderful plan that we only get to see bits and pieces of and if she can trust that plan she will be grateful for even those fragile bones.
I mess up a lot. Sometimes I am truly unfair and unjust. Sometimes my fair or unfair parenting motives are unjust. As much as my heart wants to parent perfectly, I know that I don’t…
But I know the One who does. We can trust Him with the “fair” question. He has the plan. It might not look fair yet, but one day, hopefully very soon, we will get to see the justice of it all.
So in the meantime, I have found that “it’s not fair” gives us the wrong perspective… after all for every person that we think has it better than us, there are two that have it worse. Instead, when everything within me wants to scream “IT’S NOT FAIR!”, I make myself say, “I trust Your plan. I may not be able to see with my eyes why this is necessary. I may not be able to figure out in my mind how You will ever work this one out. But I trust Your heart and Your love for me. I know it’s going to be okay.”
He makes every “unfair” moment worth it all…
Note: a dear reader sent me the following message and I fully and 100% agree with her words. May no abuser take this post as a condoning of wrong behavior and may I always be oh so careful to keep my life before the Holy Spirit so my “unfairness” is never abuse. In no way am I suggesting that we should purposely leave our children unprotected. Only that we should parent their hearts.
“I always cringe when I hear everyone from child psychologists to parents talk about the resilience of children. While I agree with most of what you said above, I caution you and anyone reading this to understand just what the “resilience of children” means. I disagree wholeheartedly that they are in fact resilient since if you look at any troubled adult around you they can trace their heartaches and problems to significant childhood difficulties that they had to cope with. I don’t think it is in anyway “fair” to put our children through life experiences that we adults could not even handle as adults, and yet you look around at our society and realize that is exactly what we do. When I consider the whole “resilient child” concept what I really see is a child who is forced to comply with whatever the parents have designated. If the parent is trustworthy, loving their child more than anything in the world, wanting what is best for them, and treats the child with respect, love, nurturing and caring, then that child can much easier cope with disappointments or changes in their lives. However, too many untrustworthy parents are relying on this whole concept that children are resilient to make decisions about their children thinking that this will not affect them short term or long term – when in actuality it will. While we parents cannot treat each child the same because they are different little people, we can treat them each justly. That is how Jesus treats each of us – with the same justice, mercy and grace, even if we look at one another and feel “it’s not fair.” I realize that life is not fair, but when my child says to me that something I’m doing is not fair, I sit and talk with them about it because there is usually a root seed to their thinking that I’ve not been aware of. It doesn’t just come from the one instance, but probably deeper. And I do get what you are saying, their idea of unfairness from the eyes of a child is not the same view that we parents are seeing. However, one must be cautious that the children’s needs are indeed being individually met. Candace I don’t know you and I’ve been reading your blog for a little while, so I know your heart is in the right place. I don’t doubt you and I certainly understand where you are coming from. It is just I do know people who are so incredibly unfair in their parenting that it makes me sick. One family, the mom rules the roost, including her husband and they have four young adopted children, and it is the “baby” who is now five that is the princess and all the others are treated extremely badly. This woman is in fact a voice for adoption locally, and in the public eye she comes across as the most doting mom ever, the “perfect” little family, when in reality I’ve seen too much and know that indeed she is extremely unfair, unjust, and even cruel to her other children. The “princess” is without fault and since she has been raised from a baby, is turning into her mom. There is one child of the four, that is the “blame” child. The mom has taught the others through her own actions, words to not like this child and everything gets blamed on this little girl. I’ve confronted my friend about this and other issues, but she doesn’t see it. Because she is the face of adoption around here, leads foster parenting groups and teaches our local DHHR foster parenting class, she is respected and revered, and is looking to open her home to more children.
Candace, your blog is heaven sent to us who understand where you are coming from, but there might be some who read this one and will be reading only what they want to hear and think that being “unfair” is just alright to do not reading that being “just” is also the right thing to do.”