I discovered some valuable lessons at the fabric store the other day. I quickly observed that, as people, we don’t thrive for long “up front and center.” Needing to be “right” or the focus of attention is not always pretty. The need to be noticed, or feel significant does seem to be in our nature. Who doesn’t at least want to be appreciated or acknowledged for a job well done? But honestly, most of us probably don’t desire to be the kind of person that demands attention, puts themselves first, or has to always be “right.” We actually avoid those kind of people. Well, some how I have been running into “those” kind of people lately. But through my interaction, I soon discovered I had much in common with them.
The Fabric Store Ladies
It started at the fabric store the other day. I was standing near the cutting table trying to make a decision between two different fabrics. I couldn’t help but overhear Mrs. Drape Maker lamenting over drapes. She found a decent deal on some drapery fabric, however she was tired of making or altering drapes for her college-age daughter. See, this was her daughter’s fourth apartment during four years of college, and her fourth drapes to make for her. She was so ready to be done with it. Two other ladies at the cutting table attempted to share their “drape” stories and sympathize, but Mrs. Drape Maker would not listen. She kept talking as if she did not even hear them interacting with her. She would speak over them, and even interrupt. I wanted to tell her to stop talking and stop making drapes — and stop putting herself in the center! But if I did, she wouldn’t have heard me anyway. When we are up front and center, it is hard to hear the input of others or be aware of other’s needs.
The next day I was at a different fabric store. I found my upholstery fabric here with a nice 50% off deal. As I was leaving the check out area a few school-age girls were hoping to buy one more item, but realized they didn’t have enough money. I am not sure why, but they began to interact with Mrs. Kids Need To Grow Up. I heard her say to the girls in a loud and angry tone so everyone could hear, “You need to figure out how much money you need before you come here!” But I guess she indignantly gave them a coupon, for as she walked out the door, loudly and sarcastically said, “You could say thank you for the coupon!” I also wanted to say, “They are just kids and are learning. Don’t you remembering counting your change as you were headed to buy some candy at the convenient store.” I always would forget about tax! But I don’t think she would have listened. A critical spirit tends to be paired with the thinking that our way is the only way or the best way.
The last lady (this happened three days in a row!) lives nearby, but I don’t know her. The neighbor boys acquired a golf cart and were excited to give my boys a ride. I wasn’t so sure about it, but I wanted to give it a chance. There is not much to do outside in this awful heat, so it was a nice distraction. They headed down the street to a wide bike path. It seemed okay, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t last long. Later, Ms. No Mercy was out and began staring at them intently. While she talked on the phone she continued to stare with a mean face. When they passed her she said, “You shouldn’t be doing this, so I called the police. The police are coming now!” (Supposedly she is usually after kids on bikes.) She never asked to speak to the boys about it, warn them of the hazards, or ask what their parents thought. The boys were respectful and apologized though. I wanted to go find her, but I doubt she would have cared what I thought. For when we are at the center, only our opinion matters and it becomes our responsibility to correct and reprimand.The golf cart actually had belonged to my neighbor’s father who had died recently. I imagine it was encouraging for my neighbor to see his sons enjoying his dad’s golf cart.
My reaction to all three women was, “Who put them in charge?” It bothered me. I wanted to tell them so and yet, I wanted to keep my distance from them. I didn’t like how the situations made me or other’s feel. It seemed to spoil the delight of others and cast a shadow over things. I don’t know their stories. They may have been having a rough day, or are in the midst of some difficulties. After the third situation I thought, “People do not thrive when they put themselves “up front and center” — when they or their ways are the focus. In the long run they alienate themselves from others.
This is what our sin does, it alienates. Don’t you think many problems or struggles come from self being in the center? But if I am honest, I can relate to making my “self” the focus, though I can be good at hiding it. It is hard to flourish as a person, as a family, as roommates, or as a team when “me” has to be first. Maybe you are like me and it doesn’t come in the form of loud, always talking, being in the center of attention. Possibly, it takes the form of feeling I need to protect myself, not do anything foolish, be in control and have everything perfect. Maybe it is in a complaining and critical spirit or in needing to be right.
This is nothing new, for it all started in the garden when Eve put herself and what she thought was good, before God and His good for her. She listened to and valued something different than what was best for her. If she ate the apple she could be like God, in control, and “up front and center” of her own life. But as we know, it didn’t work out, actually everything fell apart.
The Way of Thriving
A thriving person is a flourishing person. God desires for me to be a person who flourishes, therefore God wants to protect me from myself. For my tendency will be to set myself in the center of life — to put my needs first, protect myself and my opinions, be in control and not have the time to give mercy or grace. A flourishing person hi-lights others, shows compassion, values others and their opinions.
The fabric store had me thinking. So many things are better when the focus is off of ourselves — so other things can shine or be complimented.
- Friendships- When we can rejoice with them and not compare.
- Leading- A thriving leader hi-lights the strengths of others, delegates, and gives others a chance to lead.
- As a wife and mom- My family flourishes when I serve them and others– not putting my short term needs higher than the needs of the family.
- Decorating and Hostessing- The people and conversations stand out, not our “stuff.” We want it to a place that is inviting not a distraction.
“Up front and center” is like a distracting center piece. Have you ever been to an event, a reception or at a person’s home when they have a large center piece that you can’t see around or over? I have had this in my home and it soon ended up on the floor! It is the kind of centerpiece that makes it so you can only talk with the person right next to you, because you cannot see anyone else. The center piece is beautiful but it gets in the way of the purpose of the event– the point at being at a table with others is to share a meal and conversation. It is as if the center piece is saying, “Look at me. I am the most important. Appreciate me.”
God knows our relationships don’t thrive when we are at the center. We do not flourish when we are the focus. Christ’s life was given so God would have His rightful place in our lives. Christ is our example. He stepped out, humbled Himself, to give His life for us–His death to gain our life.
I realized I actually have more in common with these women than with Christ’s humble life. I am not better than them. Well, I may be better at disguising my self-focus in public. I am so glad for the reminder that even in the small things of life, like buying fabric, only one thing should be up front and center, and that is God, Himself. Maybe the best way to have a thriving life is to stand near the back.