Several years ago, a good friend and I set out to bake and decorate a three-tier wedding cake for a mutual friend. The baking went off without a hitch. The decorating, however, ushered in a few glitches, primarily when it came to the stacking of the layers. We put the bottom tier on the cake board, positioning it just so and then proceeded to set the second layer on top. Mission accomplished! Or so it would seem.
As we moved on to the third layer, we noticed the second tier was sinking ever so slightly into the base layer. Not to be deterred or discouraged, we continued. In fact, we were so confident in our ability that I actually flippantly asked my friend, “How much lower can it sink?” It wasn’t long before we had an answer. Much lower. Much, much lower. It was now 1:00 in the morning the night before the ceremony and we had a sinking wedding cake on our hands.
As we surveyed the situation, we realized quickly that our confection creation needed some serious support. We even wondered if such a thing existed in the bakery supply industry. With little time for deliberation however, we sent my friend’s husband to the basement where he cut some dowels and jerry-rigged some platforms to hold up the cake layers. It worked. In a pinch.
A couple days later, I received a call from my baking co-conspirator. She informed me that she had been to the cake supply store and they did indeed make a product to stabilize and support multi-tiered cakes. The product was called “Circles of Strength”. The irony of the name was not lost on us.
Fast-forward many years to last Monday. I ran into a new friend in the grocery store and we began chatting about school, and eventually about kids. Over the next few minutes, the friend revealed to me that both of her children were playing multiple sports and excelling at all of them. Her daughter had been personally contacted and recruited for a high-level team, while her son was making considerable strides in his athletic endeavors as well. As I listened to her legitimately proud diatribe on her children’s successes, I sank a bit. You see, we don’t produce stellar athletes in the Herring house. When it comes to sports performance we are smack dab in the middle of the average category. While our kids can kick a ball and swing a bat, there are certainly no phenoms in this household.
I’ll admit that hearing about other kids’ trophy worthy performances stings a bit. Okay, it stings a lot. It leaves me feeling less than. Furthermore, it finds me reaching for other levels of competition that I can retaliate with. As others boast about their son’s baseball championship, I access my own arsenal and retaliate with my son’s academic excellence.
But I wonder, when I mentioned Josh’s aptitude for math, did my friend sink a bit? I wonder, as we walked away from the conversation, if we both felt a little lower. If we were both wrestling with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
The Greek word Paul uses for “build up” is oikodome and literally refers to the base or support of a building, such as a house. Or perhaps a cake. While I realize that cake decorating was a nonexistent hobby in Paul’s time, I’m pretty sure that he was telling all of us to be Circles of Strength. Much like I needed Circles of Strength to support my sinking cake, as mothers we need Circles of Strength to support our sinking spirits. When our children are failing or struggling, we need Circles of Strength to rally around us. When our choices are difficult and our paths unclear, we need Circles of Strength to provide direction and vision. When we feel inadequate, we need Circles of Strength to remind us that we are all in this together.
What if all moms adopted this approach? What if we rallied together to become Circles of Strength? What if we met in grocery stores and preschools, at soccer games and school assemblies and had different conversations? What if instead of starting each interaction with “My child”, we asked about your child? What if after each bragging right, we were required to exercise vulnerability and disclose something not quite as glossy about our child or ourselves? What if, when asked how our kids are doing, we responded honestly and openly? And what if we looked for ways to rescue the ones who are sinking?
I want to be a Circle of Strength to the moms in my world. If you’re a mom who can’t make a cake to save her life, let me be a Circle of Strength and rave about the way you use your time to play games with your son. If you’re a mom whose kids don’t even know what a homerun is, allow me to be a Circle of Strength and celebrate your child’s perfect score on the Science test. If you’re a mom whose daughter didn’t make the cheerleading squad or school play, I will be delighted to be your Circle of Strength and marvel at that same daughter’s gentle spirit and kind heart. And if you’re a mom whose home looks more like a page from the Toys R’ Us catalog than a Better Homes and Garden spread, allow me the privilege of being your Circle of Strength and cheering you on in your unwavering commitment to your children.
As moms, we need to work together to encircle each other and celebrate the victories that really count. There are always opportunities to elevate ourselves, but those opportunities usually leave some spirits sinking on the sidelines. Instead, God calls us to build each other up. He calls us to “bear with the failings of the weak.” He calls us to support one another, to please one another, to love one another. He calls us to be Circles of Strength.