In our house, we have periodic discussions about pierced ears, specifically whether or not the ten-year-old can get hers pierced.
It's not a question of morality or appropriate age, many of Caroline's friends have pierced ears. For us it's a question of responsibility and a ten-year-old who is notorious for loosing small items. It's also a question of if mom and dad want to find the lost items in the bottoms of their bare feet.
Recently, however, Caroline changed the conversation. She told us she no longer wanted to have her ears pierced because she thought God would not like it. A little prompting led to a conversation about outward adornment versus the making of a good heart.
We talked for a long time about how God is most concerned with the condition of our heart - that he cares about the condition of our bodies and wants us to honor Him through them - but His biggest concern is our heart and who we become on the inside.
I'm not really sure where this thought came from, the if-I-get-my-ears-pierced-God-will-be-displeased with me thought. Perhaps out of something in our nightly devotional or something said at church. Maybe something a friend said or something we said. But it was planted in her, the if-I-do-this-God-won't-like-it-or-maybe-me thought. Since the conversation, I've been struck at how easy this thought creeps in on us. How easy it is to believe we have to win the favor of those around us. How easy it is to believe we have to win the favor of God. And how hard it is to believe someone might actually love us unconditionally - that we do not have to win favor.
We have been here with Caroline many times before. It was the story of our first year of motherhood and daughterhood - Caroline consistently trying to gain my approval and having an irrational fear reaction when she thought she had done something to lose it. We're seeing the same pattern again with Andy as they establish fatherhood and daughterhood. Perhaps this pattern is a little more rational for Caroline given her past. Given the losses she's already lived. How easy it is to jump from loss to something in me is causing the loss.
What I love about our conversation about pierced ears is seeing her growing love for God and a desire to please Him. What I hate about it is seeing her fear of loosing His love if she makes a mistake.
How do you correct that thinking in a child? How do we correct it in ourselves? How do you truly teach grace when you are so bad at showing it and accepting it yourself?
In the end, we told her we didn't think God cared one way or another whether she got her ears pierced. We think God cares about her heart and her caring more about her heart than her outside. We encouraged her to take some time to think about it and to pray about it. We encouraged her to ask, seek and knock. And we decided to let her live in the struggle for a bit. The struggle of learning God's specific will for us and discerning when He's trusting us to make the best decision on our own.
I have to admit it's a struggle I find myself in again and again. I want the clear writing on the wall saying go in this direction. But then I remember the old story about King Belshazzar and the hand which actually did write on the wall, I am also reminded that King Belshazzar and all of his diviners who could not decipher the writing. Only Daniel, summoned to the king's presence, could read and interpret the writing on the wall.
I suppose Daniel and his love for the Lord, his faith and trust, are the true writing on the wall. The love, the faith, the trust which draw us nearer to Him, make us more like Him, and lead us to answers within ourselves inspired by love, faith and trust. The love, the faith, the trust which help us decide whether or not to pierce our ears, take that job, confront that person, make that decision.
I do find as I age in Christ some of the choices get easier. I can more easily discern on smaller things like pierced ears, but I still get tripped up. I still sit in the struggle all the while praying and hoping to be a bit more like Him.