My motto these days is to do the next thing — what’s straight ahead of me. In life, in faith, in parenting.
The next home task, the next creative project, the next scriptural study challenge — I choose to do this because I don’t know what else to do. So I do the next thing. I say yes to requests and a chance to help those in my immediate life. I want to be useful. This is tale about something l learned while trying to be helpful to a friend and be a good mom.
I should know to welcome an imminent challenge when I write about parenting. And I should also know by now that when I get intentional about any aspect of life, experiences come up that cause my “great” ideas to suddenly seem anemic held up to the light of day, real life.
One of my kids came home today particularly ornery.
Nothing I said was good enough. Or correct. Or useful. Finally when I had had enough I stormed off angry saying: “I don’t know why I bother to say anything around here.” (I know who’s the kid, right?) The more I thought about it, the madder I got. I was steaming, white hot mad and before I knew it, even slamming doors.
Fuming I went downstairs to fold their laundry. I decided if that’s the way she wants it fine. What if I simply refused to talk to her anymore? …. for a while, for a good long while. I’m thinking, yeah, I will pass information along via her brothers. That way I could make my point (which was that she doesn’t listen to my sage advice) and still get things accomplished.
Before long she came creeping downstairs. Still seething in my plans for my “cold-war” campaign, even though I knew that my plan would never work. Beyond the plain immaturity of the idea, it just wasn’t kind. And if anything, I try to always be kind.
“I’m sorry I don’t believe in Jesus” she says inaudibly. “Not right now.”
“What?” I asked breaking my short-lived resolve. In this moment, when a child says something like that, at least a thousand thoughts run chaotically through your head within the space of milliseconds. You’re dizzy from the swirl of emotion. Still, in these kinds of parenting moments, my main thought is stay calm.
I remind myself: Do not say anything you cannot take back! You cannot let on that you’re freaking out … no! It is not like the whole world is sinking.
How she even knows what she accepts as true is decidedly up for consideration. She is just a child. Stay calm.
She came home saying she didn’t want to go to church anymore. What was the point? Then, as well as now in this moment, I mostly listened. I said something vaguely like: “We just want you to continue going, so that you know what you’re choosing.”
I’m kicking myself. The last time we had this conversation I totally choked. Later, as I was telling Tom it was all so clear to him what he would have said. And with hindsight it was clearer to me as well. I should have been ready for this one, but instead of that I’m hyperventilating inside about MY BABY is rejecting my faith! (Perhaps only mothers know what I’m talking about here.) Yes, I’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t believe that at fourteen she’s already rejecting the Church, and by that I mean big C church. “I already know everything I need to know” she had said. And I think that was somewhere in the vicinity of when I stormed out of the room earlier.
“I’m sorry that I don’t believe in Jesus” she repeats. “Not right now.” And I looked her square in the eyes. And shrugged. Obviously I’m no Billy Graham. There will be no coercing from me. No broad explanations or great appeals for faith. I know that I understood less than nothing about spiritual things when I was her age, not really. I really couldn’t grasp the concept of substitutionary atonement at all. If someone had tried to convince me of it, I would have written them off completely.
I believe that one comes to an understanding of the truth of scriptures slowly, and a huge part of that is seeing others whose lives are utterly transformed by Jesus Christ. This is one reason I had so much trouble with my personal faith for more than two decades—I didn’t see people around me transformed. (Blame the Methodists and Presbyterians?)
So, I looked her straight in the eye. And shrugged, as I turned back to folding.
Later, I decided that I wanted her to come with me as I delivered soup to some sick friends. This is it! (I’m thinking I’m pretty brilliant.) She will see the feet of faith—the good deed, out of my love of my friends that makes me want to do kind things for others. This is it!
So with her mumbling loudly and her iPod blaring, with great drama and complaining, she got into my car as I put the Tupperware of soup on the floor between her feet.
After several questionings about why she had to come, we arrive. I reached toward her. She reached to hand me the soup, grabbing the handles of a grocery bag – and bam! Soup splattered everywhere. “Fuck! ” (Yes, that’s an exact quote)I yell: ” How could this have happened?!!” I fumed loudly glancing up at the house. Stomping around the end of the car, I see that there is soup top to bottom in my beautiful (if dirty) Honda—with a large portion of the soup on the floor, irretrievable. It was a colossal mess!
Again, we find me furious.
Ironically what I had intended to be an example of my benevolence turned into me a fuming and cussing, even accusing her, in my mortification!
Then a light bulb went off.
This isn’t about the “good deed” or about the soup spilling all over my car and daughter. And though I was tempted to blame her for the spill, it wasn’t even her fault.
This is about how I choose to handle it, right now. This is about me being transformed by Jesus.
Self-conscious about the half empty Tupperware, dripping with soup, I sheepishly rang the doorbell and delivered my soup. Then I went to the car and calmly drove home. At home, after collecting my thoughts, I told her “You don’t need to feel badly about this because it wasn’t your fault!” If anything, I should have warned her that it might be messy or risky to pick up.
So we cleaned up the car together, which was a lot like cleaning up vomit we both agreed, only it smelled really yummy. It was good soup. And we had another little disagreement. This time about whether “Drinking until you vomit” was the same as just social drinking. (Do I know a thing or two about that?) Still, she walked away from me into the house, sheeshing me about acting like an expert and saying that I was “wrong that I didn’t trust her ideas.” And I, once again, I was left alone fuming and wondering.
Now if she can just make the connection. If only I can too, more often be transformed.
Yes, faith transforms me, sometimes.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor 3:18