The F-word…

Remote learning. Stay at home orders. Unemployment. Childcare challenges. Sports postponed indefinitely. Milestone events canceled. Kids missing friends. Nursing home residents separated from their families. Work from home chaos. Toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and mask shortages. Concerts, vacations and celebrations that won’t happen. The list could go on and on.

How could the “F” word not come flying out of our mouths multiple times a day? I mean, it’s beyond appropriate. Even if they’re not saying it, everyone is thinking it. It seems an absolutely perfect response to fully express our frustration! And it seems if we just say it, rather than just think it, we should feel better. Right?

So why isn’t our repeated use of “fair” not doing the trick?

I’d love to say we’re the house that only has the original F-word so under control, we had to move onto “fair” just to give us something to do. Hardly the case. It’s not like we encourage the former, but the latter will certainly get you more than a “Really? That was necessary?” in our house. And it makes our kids crazy!

life-ive-learned-is-never-fair-if-they-teach-anything-in-schools-that-should-be-it-quote-1In my Top 5, “Mom, that’s embarrassing. Please stop. Oh my gosh – please stop.” stories is a gem from about 2 years ago. The boys had a delayed start for some reason and we stopped into the store on the corner on the way to school. While ringing up enough food for a small army to consume during the 7 minute drive to school, the cashier asked, “I’ve seen all these kids in here this morning. What’s going on?” I told her they had a delayed start. “Well, that’s not fair. Must be nice! I wish I could get a delayed start!” was her reply, in a tone that dripped with the toxicity she rarely tried to hide. My “Oh, you’d hate living in our house – the ‘F-word’ will get you a lecture every, single time.” response was meant to serve as a bit of a “life tip” for her. The mortification it caused the boys was just a bonus!

Despite their embarrassment, we had a short, but really good, chat on the way to school about that interaction. Sadly, her regular attitude was unpleasant. There was a bitterness you simply couldn’t ignore and it affected everyone around her. It didn’t take two teenage boys long to realize what an expectation of life being fair can look like.

“Life is not fair, it never was and it is now and it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the trap. The entitlement trap, of feeling like you’re a victim. You are not.”
[Matthew McConaughey]

Before I go any further, let me be clear that I am not talking about fair/equal/justice. This is not in the context of race or gender or sexual orientation. It’s not to say that my thoughts on the word “fair”, in my opinion can’t be applied to such conversations, but I’m not writing with that as my focused intent. While there are important issues to cover in those areas, it’s not in my gifting or life experience to fully do so.

I’m talking about thinking life owes you something brand of “fair”. The kind of thinking that results in us concentrating so much on whether our glass is half full or half empty that we forget there’s actually something in the glass, so maybe we should drink up. The comparison shopping we start to do when it seems like someone else got a better deal in life that leads people down a road of bitterness. The exhausting hole of victimhood that will suck the life out of us because we truly begin to believe we’ve been handed one raw deal after another. The need to make victims out of other people so we don’t have to be alone in our own personal hell or, the incessant pushing away of anyone who tries to help because “No one cares about me!” makes our “Life’s not fair!” ugliness more justifiable.

Life may have dealt us a garbage hand. I’m not arguing that whether we’re born into it or made a single bad decision or were simply walking down the street and got hit with it, life can be downright mean! There are moments when it’s hard. Really, really hard. When it sucks and you did nothing to make it suck as bad as it does at the moment. There are a lot of us in that moment right now. We didn’t ask for a pandemic to virtually bring our country to a stop. Saying “It’s not fair!” feels like a perfectly natural response right now because “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” is crap and we’ll tell you what you can do with your lemons. It’s just that it’s such a slippery slope and before we know it we have gone from “This is so unfair!” to “I’m a victim of life and I always will be. Why bother trying to be anything else?”

I’ve lived there. It’s terrible – beyond terrible. Nothing short of self-torture. I’ve forgiven myself for most of it but it can’t ever be undone. Ruined lives. Ruined relationships. Ruined opportunities. Used others. Let others use me. Abused myself. Let others abuse me. Cheated death time and time again. And probably did a ton of stuff I don’t remember and never want to.

There’s very little about all of this that doesn’t suck – a lot. J will be a high school senior in the fall. We’ve watched him work hard to get here and how he planned for it to get him where he wants to go. And the “work” hasn’t always been pretty or easy or painless. The fallback plan now has 3 other fallback plans and there’s nothing about it that doesn’t suck! We’ve had some serious meltdowns and explosions, during which some variation of “not fair” has slipped through. We’re trying with every fiber to let J & C learn most of life’s lessons the hard way. Watching either or both of them die on the mountain of “It’s not fair!” is one of the last lessons I’d stand by and let them learn on their own. There are simply some of my mistakes I can’t bear to watch our boys repeat. Nope – we are not falling for the trap life is setting for us right now. “Fair”, and it’s best friend “Fear” have no seat at the Miller table. Thank You Jesus, we laid some groundwork long before COVID sent our world into only being able to count on one thing: ”Don’t get comfortable – it will all change tomorrow.”

I’m not saying that our declaring the chaos we’re in as not being fair is going to roll us all into a hole of victimhood and/or entitlement. What I’m saying is we have such an incredible opportunity to teach our kids to shift their thinking. To shift our own thinking. To look for the good and what we do have. To break bad habits. To use this time to really see people for who they are – the ones who make us better and those who don’t. To find opportunities to help others life has kicked around a few times, with a hope maybe they’ll see they can kick life back. To quit thinking life owes us __________ because of __________. To be good to ourselves and come out of this so much better than we went into it.

The reality is this: Yep. This sucks! But it’s where we are so rather than continuing to slam ourselves into the same wall, let’s find a way over or around it. Not easy, but much better than the alternative. Trust me.

Now to close the loop on my “Well, that’s not fair!” story.  A few months later, I walked out from one of my almost daily visits to the same store and realized that over the last few weeks the team behind the counter was nicer. They were smiling and talkative and friendly. The store somehow seemed brighter. They’d made just one change. I truly hope that wherever she is right now, she’s doing well. I really do.

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