Few moments are worse than when you get home and realize that your fly has been down all day. Or your shirt is on inside out. Or you have cilantro smiling from your front teeth or a cliff-hanging booger or dry blood smeared on your neck from a zit you scratched in the morning. That moment of realization is an awful one. I immediately think back to everyone I saw during the day and wonder why nobody told me. But I know why they didn't tell me. Two reasons really. Either (A)- they didn't notice. Or (B)- they were being "polite" and didn't want to embarrass me. I obviously think about these serious issues a little too often since I wrote this post about the rules for telling strangers when they look ridiculous. But my nephews have made me rethink the issue because of several of their recent comments.
Four year olds have no filter. It's one of the beauties of being four and it makes hanging out with them hilarious. They are honest to a fault because they've not yet been groomed by society to learn that sometimes, to some people, you're supposed to a lie just a little bit. Case in point:
We were watching Beauty and the Beast (yes, per my suggestion) and Vander watched Bell in that opening scene, completely mesmerized. Looking remarkably pensive for a four year old he asked, "Katie, do you think Bell is pretty?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Do you think I'll marry someone as pretty as Bell one day?"
"Of course you will Vander!"
I could see the wheels in his head turning at this point. ("a dangerous pastime. I know") Then he looked intently over at me and asked, "Do you think I'll marry someone as pretty as you some day?"
Flattered, I replied, "Oh definitely."
But then he shattered my moment by adding, "Well, maybe a little bit prettier."
"You little punk."
Yes, I called him a punk. And then I tackled him and maybe wished an adolescence of acne on him. He knows what that is too since he used to always point out my zits, try to scratch them off and ask, "what are these?" My response was usually something along the lines of, "These are punishment for not being nice to my aunties."
Being four means you can be completely truthful and it's never rude. And Vander is a remarkably observant four year old. After our "free dress" practice, I went to my parents' house in my basketball clothes with leggings and my hair in two ridiculous high buns. My family raised their eye brows but didn't say anything. This concerned me- do they think I typically dress like this? But Vander pulled through and looked me up and down and said, "Why are dressed like that?" and then added, "Your hair looks kinda crazy, Katie." Four year old honesty. Gotta love it.
And now Hudson is joining his bro bro's honesty club and is becoming an obnoxiously observant two year old. The other day I went back for a second helping of dinner and he looked at my plate and said, "Whoa. Stop eating so much, Katie." Then, while driving in the car, he sweetly smiled at me and said, "You smelly, Katie." Granted, I had come from practice and had not yet showered so he was probably right but sheesh, now I've got TWO boys without filters dishing me the harsh truth.
On that same drive, Vander asked the guy sitting next to him if he had forgotten to brush his teeth. Heidi could only cringe and stifle a laugh. You can never have bad breath around a 4 year old and not be informed.
What I'm realizing is that I need Vanders and Hudsons in my life. I need people who are observant and notice the way I live and think and treat others and then will be honest with me. But this type of honesty can be tough.
It's easy to tell a friend they have a crusty booger hanging out of their nostril, but telling them they have a tendency to be negative is not as easy. However, it's quite similar to the booger scenario. The booger afflicted person will be embarrassed when they are informed- it won't be pleasant for them when they realize that others have been seeing a crustified, green cliff-hanger all day. However, they will also be immensely grateful to the person who finally informs them. They won't begrudge them for noticing the booger; they will thank them for noticing and making them aware so they can pick that nastiness and move on with clean nostrils.
So too, when I am slandering others or have the wrong atittude, sometimes I don't even notice it. Just like the booger. And I need a friend to come beside me and point it out. Just as others would have noticed my giant boogey, so too others would have noticed my bad attitude. And yes, I'll be a bit embarrassed when the friend points out my mistake, but I'll be even more grateful.
This process of "pointing out the boogers" in others can be a tricky one, though. Just as you don't walk up to strangers and tell them about the dried nasal mucus in their nose, you don't typically walk up to strangers and tell them their impatience is not very Christ-like.
We all have teams to do this for us. We all have people in our lives who are responsible for telling us when we look ridiculous- when we should change our outfits or fix our hair or wipe the eye gunk from our eyes. These are the people who "walk all the way around us" as my friend Kim says and really observe us. These are the people who we trust, who we know love us and want our best. So when they tell us we have a booger in our nose or bitterness in our hearts, we know they aren't telling us in judgement or to embarrass or hurt us. They are saying it in love- to make us more like Christ. And so, when we drink that dreadful cup of humility and swallow a bit of our pride, we can remove said booger and repent of the bitterness.
It is harder for me to serve the bitter truth than it is to receive. Don't get me wrong, I hate being corrected. I love being right and think I'm right most of the time. But when my friends or family point out the hanging cheese on my chin or my unforgiving heart, I am so very grateful to them for it. I am so very grateful that I have people who care about me enough to observe the areas where I'm not living like Christ and then point them out to me.
My family are usually the ones who do this for me. We're not a "touchy-feely" type of family. Heck, we rarely hug each other. And so when they need to point out an area where I am failing and am totally blind to it, we don't have a serious, sit-down intervention-style conversation. Their correction typically comes in the form of a joke- one of those sweetly, sarcastic jokes that cuts right to the heart. I laugh about it with them but when I'm alone in the car driving home, their comments swim around in my mind and repentance typically follows. Maybe it's not the best communication process; maybe we should be more upfront; but it works for us. It eliminates the awkwardness and allows the recipient of the correcting to see their mistake for what it is and then laugh about it.
There is a huge element of trust required to point out someone's flaw. You must trust that they understand you are doing it in love, not judgement. You must trust that they want to hear the truth about themselves, even though no one really likes being corrected. You must trust that they won't pull away from you or resent you, just because you pointed out their booger.
I am often plagued by these fears which is why I hesitate in correcting others. These fears, however, are illegitimate if the relationship is a close one built on trust. Correction can come from outside sources as well but when it comes from my "home team", from the people I already love and trust, there is no fear that a little correcting, a little "booger awareness" will hurt the relationship. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
My dear friend Christy is never shy to point out my boogers. It's one of the things I love most about her and it's one of the reasons our relationship has stayed so strong. We haven't lived in the same city since high school but I can always count on Christy to be honest with me when I'm being selfish or materialistic or rude. We've been close since 7th grade; we walked through the most awkward stage of life together so she knows my heart and mind quite well. She is known to many as my "crazy friend" because she is wild and loud and has a habit of causing scenes, but she is also crazy perceptive, knows when I'm trying to hide certain sins, and never fails to call me out. Like my family, she typically uses a sarcastic remark or a very pointed question to help me see my own sin. Sometimes I bristle when she mentions the "booger" in my life because it's never fun to have a harsh truth pointed out. Sometimes I even get off the phone thinking, "She's wrong." But I always end up concluding that, "No, I'm wrong and need to swallow my pride and repent." I accept the bitter truth she offers and am a better person because of it. My brother-in-law met Christy once when we were in college and knows her as "my friend with the crazy hair who drives that little Tercel like a madman," but I know her as my faithful friend who loves me enough to point out my boogies- to be observant and honest and serve me the bitter truth when I need it.
It's easy to serve the bitter truth as a teacher. It's my job. It's my responsibility to let kids know when they are being lazy or disrespectful or mean. But telling that to a friend is never as easy. I can't go handing out detentions to my friends when they have bad attitudes or are slandering others. But it's actually also my job and duty as a good friend to let them know. Just as it's my job to let them know if their belt looks silly or they need a spray of perfume, it's my job to tell them when they are being negative or unkind. And if they truly are a good friend, if our relationship has been founded on trust, then I know that they will appreciate me "pointing out their booger" and will accept the spoonful of bitter truth with a glass of humility to wash it down.