“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you…
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now its springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” –Isaiah 43:1b-2, 18-19
Yesterday my almost 11-year old son was lamenting his life. Things are not going his way, you see. He’s shorter than other kids in his class. He doesn’t like school. I won’t let him get a snake until his birthday. We were having chicken for dinner and he had chicken for lunch. The list went on and on.
And just so you know, this is not a new conversation. I am sure some of you may have had it with your kids—life’s not fair, they say. And they list the reasons why—you’re nicer to my sister than you are to me, I want to eat candy and you won’t let me, I want to buy something everyone else has and you said I am not allowed.
Knowing that a child needs to be heard and needs to be acknowledged for their feelings, I listen to this stuff as best I can. I try to not argue, but reflect back with things like “sounds like everything is hard for you right now.” Or I say something like, “I can tell you are frustrated.” In the interest of full disclosure I also say things like, “if you really want to make your life fair compared to all the children in the world you will come out with a lot less than what you have right now.” And in my tired and frustrated moments I have been known to say, “that’s enough!”
Part of being a mother is listening. Part of being a mother is correcting. And part of being of mother is having enough.
Last night I had had enough.
I had just read the paper a few hours before and seen a picture of a little Japanese boy, probably about my son’s age. The little boy was looking up at grown ups with masks on with a questioning look on his face. His face said, “Please tell me what I am supposed to do. Please help me.” It said so much to me—that boy’s face. And I wondered if any of the grown ups around him were his parents. It didn’t seem like it. I read a distance between him and the adults in the picture. They were the people in charge of the shelter where he was. They were the people trying to help everyone there get what they needed—an impossible task. And here was this little boy, needing so much and ready to have someone help him and take care of him. I felt sick in my gut just thinking about the air there and imagining what kind of pit he had in his stomach. Everything is wrong in his life now. Nothing is right.
So, last night when I was listening to my son’s complaints about his life I hit my limit. I went and got the paper and I asked my son to sit down. I showed him the picture of the little boy. I told him some of what had happened in that little boy’s town. I told him that little boy was his age. I told him about the big wave that washed away villages—and how a school of children was spared because their school was up on a hill. I told him that the kids had to wait there overnight and that the next day only some parents showed up to pick up their kids. No one knows where the others are.
My son and I sat there together and cried for that little boy—and for the people of Japan. And we remembered how many other places and families and children suffer from natural disasters, wars, abuse, hunger, and violence.
I told my son that when I hear him being negative about his life I understand his feelings. It is hard to have a bad day, it is hard to feel lonely and frustrated. We all have times when we need more love than we get. At the same time, I am the person who gave birth to him and hope everyday that he can feel life’s joy and delight and love and not just its pain and its tragedy and its cruelty. Everyday there is way to be thankful. Everyday there is a way to combat despair with hope. And everyday there is a way to resist evil with love and compassion.
Now before any of you who might happen to read this blog cast a stone in the direction of my parenting, please read on just a few more sentences. You might think I laid a heavy burden on my son—you may think I should have let him have his adolescent angst. You might think it is wrong to tell a child so much about a natural disaster and our vulnerability in this world. And you may be right. But I’ll do what I have to do as a mother to help my son turn his gaze up, away from the pit of negativity. Life can be so very painful. And no amount of material comfort can exempt us from that. Negative thinking is a well-supported and oft-times justified activity. At the same time, God’s golden thread of redemption shimmers among the ruins of disasters and cruelty. And I believe God is inviting us to look up.
The little boy in that picture was looking up into the face of a person who may well have been a stranger. And he was looking for kindness. He was looking for love and assurance.
I want my son to look up and see the beauty that is around him even when things are so very hard. It may be as simple as a mother’s instinct to want to protect her children from despair and death. It may also be because I can testify that redemption’s golden thread shimmers in a chaotic pattern. And if we don’t look up we can miss it. And I don’t want him to miss it. Please God, help him not to miss it.