So a lawyer decided to test Jesus by asking Him one of those big theological questions everyone likes to fight about. He said, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded without hesitation, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:34-40). And with that, the debate was over. The hip hop version of the Bible states that after speaking these words, Jesus dropped the mic.
I know we aren’t supposed to have favorite scriptures, but it seems Jesus gave us permission to hold these words in rather high esteem. The greatest commandment is that we give God all our love and the second is that we love others in the same way we want them to love us. Pretty important stuff to consider, especially when keeping office hours at Starbucks.
My Starbucks office
Like many pastors, I work from Starbucks for many practical reasons. First, the rent is reasonable. For the price of a venti drip coffee I get unlimited wifi, table space, and electricity. As long as that beret wearing, goatee growing, screenplay writing dude doesn’t take up all the outlets. Second, Starbucks gives me the feeling of being in community without the burden of actually having to interact with anyone but the occasional barista. Third, I have an addiction to caffeine that I’ve elaborately disguised as being a pastor at Starbucks.
Like most pastors, I go to more than one Starbucks. When I’m community minded I pick one of the Starbucks located within the city I pastor. When I’m frantically working on my next sermon or writing project, I choose a Starbucks in an adjacent city. Sometimes I must go farther, as I often run into fellow hometown pastors in adjacent city Starbucks. Therefore, to avoid all possible relational entanglements, I frequently head beyond Judea and Samaria towards ends of the earth Starbucks.
Regardless of the location, I’ve noticed certain scenarios consistently manifest themselves. Some are rather obvious, such as every Starbucks will have at least one earbud wearing, mac user thoroughly engrossed in his or her technology. There’s also usually someone waiting with papers for people to sign or for people with papers to sign. And of course there’s frequently some sort of team meeting to finalize the project plans and to continue the perpetual lamenting of clueless Frank in accounting. “I mean, he just doesn’t get it…I can’t even…it’s like he’s just totally….”
And finally, if you stay in any Starbucks location long enough, you’ll eventually run into an adult chatting with another adult, while they grow perpetually annoyed with the fidgety kid or kids they forced to tag along with them. This is one of my least favorite scenarios; one that often gets me thinking about what Jesus said to that annoying lawyer concerning love and God’s greatest commandment.
Kids and parents can be annoying
Now, I realize that little kids can be annoying. I’ve raised four kids through the little kid stage and I wasn’t always completely at peace with the ways they chose to interact with me in any, if not all, settings. Let’s just say that young kids don’t always have the same goals for the day, nor the same desire to achieve those goals. I also realize, that when caring for kids, it’s sometimes really difficult to have or make room for grown-up conversations. If you’re the primary caretaker of the kids, they are eventually going to go with you pretty much everywhere. This includes tagging along to Starbucks as you try to have an adult conversation with a good friend.
Even so, I’ve noticed that some do better than others when it comes to handling the inevitable conflict that will occur between child and parent once the toddler has consumed or grown tired of her vanilla milk and cookie. Inevitably, the child is going to get bored and fidgety. It’s at this point the best and worst of parenting rises up and the voice of Jesus begins to resonate within me.
“Stop squirming…Sit down…Get over here…Please don’t interrupt me when I’m talking…I’m not going to tell you again, sit down!…You are going to get a timeout if you don’t stop this behavior…That’s it, when we get home you’re going straight to bed…What did I tell you! Sit down!…I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into her.”
I’ll tell you what’s gotten into her: she is completely and totally bored with every single thing that is happening within this nonalcoholic adult bar. Besides the milk and cookie, there is absolutely nothing here that would keep a toddler’s interest. She doesn’t enjoy slowly sipping her drink or getting off her feet and she certainly doesn’t enjoy listening to two grown adults talk about the complexities of their adult relationships. I have news for you, your toddler does not want to be at Starbucks for more than 10 minutes, let alone an hour. And they certainly do not want to just sit there waiting for a seemingly aimless conversation to end at the whim of two adults who appear to be in no hurry to go anywhere. Your child hasn’t suddenly become a disobedient monster, they are actually expressing the very natural behavior of reacting to forced, seemingly unending boredom.
Jesus’ words also apply to children
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you have and everything you are. He also said that closely tied to this commandment is to love or treat people the way you’d want to be treated. That means as Christians we are to perpetually, consistently and diligently look for ways to love those around us in the same way we’d want to be loved. Sadly, it seems that sometimes we act as if this mandate only applies to the adults in our lives, not to the children who’ve been entrusted to our care.
I know this can sound harsh and I have certainly not always followed my own advice, but I feel it needs to be said and re-said again and again: good parenting means that we learn to treat our children the way we would want to be treated. It means we learn to realize, value, respect and act upon their needs. It means we put ourselves in their tiny little shoes and realize how not fun it is for children to sit still and quiet in a Starbucks while waiting for their parents to finish talking with other adults about stuff that doesn’t remotely interest the children.
To love your children the way you’d want to be loved is to respect the fact that you would not tolerate people treating you in such a manner. You wouldn’t let another adult drag you to a location that didn’t remotely interest you and then watch politely as they engaged in an activity that had nothing to do with you. And you certainly wouldn’t just wait around indefinitely for them to finish. Or at least you’d get up and go somewhere else while they were busy doing whatever it is that they thought was so important. Regardless, you wouldn’t just sit there quiet and still in your seat, unless there was the possibility of a paycheck or promotion at the end of the ordeal. Even if they gave you a cookie and a vanilla milk.
I know these are tough words, but I’ve just seen so many kids scolded and scorned for being kids. I’ve seen them forced to completely yield to the wishes and whims of their parents. Worse yet, I’ve listened as these once happy children slowly become naughty kids in the eyes of their parents because they simply didn’t want to be held hostage at a Starbucks.
I know some are saying it isn’t abuse to make your kids sit still and quiet for awhile. But I would sincerely respond that it might not be abuse, but it certainly doesn’t look anything like the words of Jesus lived out in the life of someone who is suppose to matter a lot more than a good cup of coffee and an engrossing conversation. Children are not an obligation or a distraction; they are gifts from God to be loved. We love God best when we love our children as ourselves. Even when it’s in Starbucks.
Consider the possibility of leaving
Thankfully, not all scenarios end with increasing conflict and greater threats of punishment. Sometimes, the parent understands. Sometimes the child gets fidgety and the parent smiles, asks them to wait a couple minutes more, then wraps up the conversation and leaves. Or sometimes, instead of shushing the child, the child becomes part of the interaction as they are asked questions and given voice. It might not be the best conversation for the adults, but it is the best opportunity for expressing love to the children.
Parenting is difficult and we certainly will not do it perfectly. Even so, we must urge each other to keep life in proper focus. My wife and I have had to apologize many times to our kids. Often we have lost sight of Jesus’ mandate to love our children as we would want to be loved. Even so, we try our best to remind each other that God did not give us children so that they could serve us. He gave us children so that we could love them. As a result, if you ever saw us in Starbucks with our little kids, you would have noticed that just about the time the milk and cookies were consumed, we’d smile and head for the car or the park or anywhere but Starbucks. Some call this letting your kids have their way, we called it treating people the way we’d want to be treated. Actually, we simply call it love.