By Audrey Stallsmith
I recently read one of Ann Rule’s books, titled Everything She Ever Wanted. It’s about a woman named Pat who, according to Rule, was badly spoiled as a child by both her grandmother and mother.
The grandmother, at least, should have known better, as she was a religious woman. So she would have been familiar with the “spare the rod” verse, which The Living Bible translates as “If you refuse to discipline your son, it proves you don’t love him.”
The same must hold true for granddaughters! Yet, while that grandmother apparently was able to punish her other grandchildren when they misbehaved, she couldn’t bear to punish her favorite, who had the advantage—or disadvantage—of being a beautiful child. I say “disadvantage” because children who are spoiled never learn to deal with frustration.
Many of us want a god who is like that grandmother. “We want, in fact” as C. S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, “not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in Heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves.” If all we ever do is enjoy ourselves, however, we never develop any strength of character.
Fortunately, most of us, especially those of us with many siblings, discover early that there is a lot of competition out there and we aren’t always going to get the biggest piece of pie or cake. In fact, unless we step lively, we may end up with no dessert at all!
Siblings have a way of bringing you back to earth if you begin to think too highly of yourself as well. But the Pat in the book only had one not very assertive brother whom she despised, dominated, and shoved into the background of the family. It’s little wonder that he ended up a suicide.
Of course, having extra siblings didn’t help Old Testament Joseph, because his father doted on him much more than he did those other children. Joseph’s being sold into slavery, though it seemed catastrophic at the time, may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. At the beginning he was on the winning side of life’s unfairness. Then he was forced to view it from the opposite perspective. I’m guessing that the latter experience taught him empathy.
It appears that the woman blessed with Everything She Ever Wanted as a child never learned that. According to Ann Rule, Pat grew up to be the type of person who would revert to poison, both literal poison and the poisoning of minds, to continue getting what she wanted. In the process, she scarred many other lives and ended up in prison more than once.
So did the people who spoiled her really do her a favor? Obviously not. They were thinking of themselves more than Pat, not wanting her to be upset or angry with them, or perhaps just not having the stomach to endure one of her tantrums.
When we get angry at God for allowing suffering and difficulties into our lives, perhaps we should consider what type of children we would be without it. Would we too be cocky, self-important, tattle-telling type such as Joseph apparently was originally? Pointing out all the faults and weaknesses in our fellow Christians to our Father without recognizing our own?
Despite his being a Biblical patriarch, we can deduce that Jacob wasn’t an ideal father, since he made no secret of his preference for the children of his favorite wife. I suspect that many parents naturally like some of their children better than others, due to personality issues. And, no, I don’t mean that the parent always prefers the child who is most similar to that parent. Sometimes the opposite is true. People who are too much alike often tend to clash with rather than complement each other.
Love is different than liking, however, in that love is a choice. Good parents choose to love even the most irritating of their offspring, but true love—in God or any other father—does not mean catering to those children’s’ every whim. Should God spoil Christians, just because they are the ones obeying him, by protecting them from the disasters that befall all other human beings? That, as someone once pointed out, would be to turn us all into loathsome teacher’s pets.
We would also be bored, since it takes the sufferings of life to make us properly appreciate its joys. We almost need to have certain things taken away from us before we notice, acknowledge—and miss—what we had.
Actually, many children secretly despise any parent or teacher whom they can manipulate too easily. When in real trouble, they turn to the ones they respect instead, the ones they can’t “get around.” If our lives were too good, I suspect we’d be inclined to ignore God altogether, taking Him for granted or feeling that we didn’t need Him.
If we really want to grow up, we need to get over the idea that God or our parents owe us something. Most of us haven’t come close to earning the kind of love and largess we get from them. As a result, we should be humbly grateful, instead of demanding such things as our due.
What I’m trying to say, along with Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is “I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given—it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.”
Obviously, we need to be smacked out of that attitude if we don’t manage to mature out of it ourselves. Frederick Buechner said of childish people in Whistling in the Dark what could also be said of spoiled people: that they “tend to go on being spoiled, selfish, unreasonable, quarrelsome, egocentric, afraid of the dark, scattered, helpless, and so on long past the point when they should have pulled themselves together and wised up. As the saint suggests, you don’t automatically grow out of those things the way you do diapers and acne. You have to make a conscious effort to put them behind you.”