Right before we left for our trip, both Mercy and Aaron had check-ups at our pediatrician’s office. During the kids’ doctor’s visits, I am used to Dr. Jamie asking us lots of questions about the kids during the exam, like how they are sleeping, pooping, talking, etc. But this time she addressed some of her questions directly to Mercy during the exam. The one in particular that got my attention was when we were talking about food. She turned to Mercy and asked: “So Mercy, what are some of the good foods that you like to eat?” I held my breath to see if Mercy would name the Tater Tots her daddy cooks for her or the Alphabet cookies she gets in the church nursery or the donoughts she eats with Auntie Anna. “Broccoli….,” she answered, slowly. Then after a brief pause: “And watermelon.” I exhaled, happy that there was some evidence that we feed our children healthy food.
I later realized that that is a very clever approach for our pediatrician to use. Ask any parent, and we will surely be quick to rattle off the fruits and vegetables and whole grains we love to feed our kids. But the real test is to ask the child herself.
In that doctor’s office, I was surprised by the amount of restraint it took for me to not answer for my child or at least try to prompt her. And I realized that that is mostly about my own desire for our pediatrician’s approval. Doug is working on a paper right now (he had to take an incomplete for his coursework from the summer due to my pre-term labor and weeks on bed-rest) where he has to examine different elements of the life of our church. As I read his places of honest critique, I find myself wishing that some of his conclusions were different, and it feels much like that afternoon in Dr. Jamie’s office. As a pastor, we are often called upon to describe our churches, and we likely rattle off the list of positives much like I would have named the good, healthy fruits and vegetables I feed my children. But the true test comes when members themselves are asked to describe their experiences within our communities.
It is a good reminder to me, as a minister, of the importance of listening to my community assess our life together without a desire to prompt or influence what is said. It is also a good challenge to me that my need for approval or good reputation is never what it is about, yet always where temptation is strong. I bet it is hard to cultivate an environment in the church where pastors can do this well.