I’m about to date myself. But just bear with me because the struggle never becomes old.
Does the name Nellie Oleson ring a Monday Night prime-time television bell? The sassy, outspoken classmate of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the book and television series, Little House on the Prairie? You may recall her charming personality. Charming to herself, that is. Nellie was a fan of Nellie.
She was ruthless, self-focused, and never hesitated to put down another. What was in her heart was out of her mouth.
Have you ever known a Nellie? Do your kids know a Nellie? Could you quite possibly be a Nellie? Nah.
Maybe you’ve talked with a Nellie. Been in relationship with a Nellie. Possibly been hurt by, yes, a Nellie.
As grown adults, it’s one thing to deal with the pain from our own youthful school days where “Nellies” seemed to populate the playground in Sassoon jeans (vs. printed dresses with high necks and puffy sleeves), dominate the locker bank (not the corrall) or be at the center of 10 girls or more, but when it comes to helping our children handle those Nellies, how do we encourage and direct them to be God-centered when dealing with meanness?
Our teaching must begin with the broom. That’s right. The broom used to sweep off the dust from our own front porch–first. Do we need to do some inventory of our own? Perhaps we need to ask, “What are my responses in dealing with difficult people? What are my children seeing and overhearing as they observe my reaction when I’m offended, hurt or angry? What baggage am I lugging around from yesterday’s hurts that have caused me to respond with anger and bitterness?
When we can clean up our personal grudges, bitterness, and hurts, and release the Nellies from our lives into God’s hands, including the hurt and frustration or perhaps poor choices we made as a result of those pains, we can better help our children handle their Nellies in a centered and healthy way. Do we want them to hang onto the hurts others have caused or allow the affects of painful acts from people to tear down their beautiful spirits that would keep them from becoming all who God has created them to be? The friend to others God has purposed them to be?
Over time, that pain of rejection can tear down spirits and cause discouragement and despair. Time brings healing but it can also be the catalyst for a snowball of bitterness and resentment that leads to all sorts of negative playbacks that run in our minds. You don’t want your children to harbor anger that gets covered with dust season after season.
Neither does God.
If we have tension, anger, are reactive and angry, we may very well parent and coach our kids from the same foundation and our children will take our cues. Without realizing it, we might be teaching our children that holding a grudge and hanging onto resentment is normal and acceptable. Ultimately, their relationships could greatly suffer later in life, and their ability to resolve conflict, never attained.
So let’s move them and ourselves in another direction.
I had a few Nellie Olesons as a child who definitely left scars. I wish I had then, known a God who could help me process that pain and to show me who I truly was by His design. But I know now and so do you. Thankfully, my children will have a different view of themselves. The view of How God sees them-in His image, wonderfully made and purposefully made. As long as I point my kids to God, I pray that their identity and self esteem will be founded on who He is, not by what someone says they are. “Keep falsehood and lies far from me.”
How about you? If you take that past hurt or problem and process it with God, you may very well be surprised as to how He can empower you through those spots where you feel vulnerable, release you from victimhood and replenish you with His perspective on who you are and who He has called you to be. You are no less of a Godly person because someone mistreats you. Your identity is in His care…not the care of others. People, bosses, friends, colleagues didn’t design you. God did. How you handle that mistreatment may very well be make the difference between healing and suffering and taking in love while releasing hatred. You might teach someone about the person of God through your ability to forgive and you (and your child), just might be the light someone needs in their lives.
So now that we have you taken care, how about your children? Like I said, when you start with yourself, that’s the first great step because now you are a source of credibility in knowing and understanding their pain. The difference is, while being empathetic when your child shares with you his/her pain, you are going to take the high road in your speech and not react as much as it might be hard to resist.
You are going to first, understand. When they start expressing their emotions, you will of course listen with empathy, compassion and understanding. “Tell me about that.” “That must have been really hard.” I would be so frustrated and angry, too!” Be real with them. They are humans. This is human, yucky stuff. Being a child of God does not mean we don’t experience emotions.
And then help move them forward.
Pray with your child about their feelings and ask God for His direction and counsel–together.
Offer to pray with your child for that person who has hurt them (a hard one but nonetheless that person needs the power of God in their lives, yes?) Your child’s prayers might be the best thing that ever happened to that Nellie.
Decide to read through God’s promises together as a reminder of who God is (He is “an ever present help in times of trouble,” for example, Psalm 46:1). In situations like these, we have to study the character of God and give Him the focus in our troubles. In return, He gives us His promises of strength, power and wisdom. He gives us peace. God needs to receive just as much attention and focus from us if not more, than the Nellies in our lives. Afterall, He is worthy of our praise and focus. Nellie is not.
Read about God’s people who experienced suffering at the hand of others (age appropriate, of course.) There are people in scripture who are encouraging examples of how God used their pain for something greater and how He empowered them to overcome their hardships (for example, Joseph, Gideon, Moses, Mary, Jesus Himself and so many more who were ridiculed, hurt, ostracized or met with opposition from an unfriendly foe.) But God took care of them. He also took care of their enemies. He is the ultimate judge…and in His time, He will act justly and accordingly with all of us. Everyone gives an account. (Romans 14:10-12)
Pray and ask God to give you and your child insight and wisdom. A level-headed response and a pure heart are the ways of the Lord and ultimately, the ways that make YOU and more like HIM. And you are not a Nellie. (“Create in me a clean heart Oh Lord and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10)
Hopefully, our children will have more Lauras in their lives than Nellies, but when those Nellies do show up, they don’t have to tear down our souls. If they do, we need to ask God for His power and over our abilities and where we feel weak. He will equip us and strengthen us.
And that truth you can take to any prairie.