Different things for different people
When our foster daughter, Teenaisa, came to live with us for the third time, just over a year ago, at age six, she immediately took notice of everything about our daughter, Jamie, who was four at the time. While Bill and I recognized we needed to quickly get Teenaisa up to speed with Jamie in terms of a wardrobe and a basic supply of toys, it quickly became obvious Teenasia was comparing everything about herself and her new place in the family with Jamie.
If Jamie had a skirt on, Teenasia wanted to wear a skirt. If Jamie was coloring, Teenasia needed to color too. If I lifted up Jamie in church, Teenasia put up her arms for Bill to hold her. For the first month or so, we acquiesced, trying to be as fair as possible; trying to demonstrate to T that she was just as much our daughter as Jamie; that she was loved just as much. Mindful of the terrible situation T was pulled from, we recognized that the task of helping Teenasia to believe she was loved, cherished and worthwhile was one that would likely to take years, but would begin with her being able to simply understand that within our family, she was equal to little Jamie.
Except that in a family, things are never really equal. Someone is going to get the biggest scoop of ice cream that night for dessert; someone else is going to clean more than their share of the basement that week; someone is going to get invited to two birthday parties in one weekend, while someone else doesn’t get invited to even one. And as Bill and I lived through that first exhausting month of Teenasia’s re-entry into our family (she had lived with us twice before), we admitted that we could not make things fair for her, and that in many ways, our effort to do this was a disservice. Instead, we came upon the phrase, “Different things for different people.”
We decided that it was enough for us, as parents, to know that we loved all four of the children and our intention was to be just with them. It was our responsibility not necessarily to make all things equal, but rather, to teach Teenasia—and the other three, too—that life in a family may not always be fair moment by moment, but that each child will be loved and taken care of. “Different things for different people,” became our mantra. Those first few months, we sometimes said it six times a day. We used it at times when Jamie had something Teenasia wanted, but also at times when we wanted Teenasia to recognize that she had a privilege that Jamie did not.
Jamie gets to go shopping with Mom. Teenasia is staying home with Dad. Different things for different people. Now, Jamie is going to take a nap, but Teenasia doesn’t need to because she’s not tired. Different things for different people. Jamie is wearing a bow. Teenasia is wearing sparkly socks. Different things for different people.
It was tedious yet exhilarating at the same time. Different things for different people, states something so obvious that it is tiresome to even say it out loud. On the other hand, the phrase gets to the root of some of our most profound problems and struggles as human beings.
Different things for different people can speak to every one of us who has ever wished for something we don’t have.
Two of the Commandments—numbers 8 and 10-- directly address this.
You shall not steal. (Different things for different people.)
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Substitute “car” for ox, and “paycheck” for donkey and you’ve brought the commandment right into the present. I can almost see God shaking His head at Moses and the Israelites as he hands them the tablets.
“Remember, as you read these: No coveting or stealing. Different things for different people.”
Now, about 14 months into Teenasia’s stay with us, we need to use the phrase less and less frequently. Sometimes, T will even use it herself when she feels it coming in a conversation. Other times, Bill or I will use it with one of the boys.
“Did you know his family has cable and a pool table and a Wii, plus he has an iTouch?”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Different things for different people.”
We still have far to go with Teenasia before her heart is completely healed; before she feels whole. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever get there. But other times, I recognize that Teenasia is on the same journey to healing and wholeness that all of us are on. She, like the rest of us, must spend her life discovering the path that God has chosen for her. And the more she embraces her own path; her own call, the more she will find peace.
Different things for different people. Don’t covet or steal. They both mean the same thing. Be present to your own life. Live as you are.
And know always, you will be given everything you need.