As I turned and walked away, the smile I had been so forcefully wearing started to fade and my heavy heart took control of my facial expressions once more.
Feelings of guilt and regret, failure and hopelessness, confusion and fear danced in my heart. Time we’d never get back. A time now passed, never to be repeated. Fears I hadn’t been able to keep at bay or even disappear altogether.
If high hopes and unrealistic optimism had called out with the early morning alarm, angst and pain seamlessly took their place.
I don’t think I ever expected parenthood to be easy and straightforward, but somehow, I don’t think I could ever have been fully prepared for the way it would change pretty much everything, for ever.
Daily, we all have moments where we smile, filled with joy, but, if you’re anything like me, guilt and failure ride high on the emotional roller coaster of life. Why didn’t I do that differently? Why did I say that so quickly without thinking first? Why do I preach so much, only to realise they probably haven’t watched me practise it so much myself. Why can’t I make it all better ?
Watching a little face crumple, tears spilling from angst ridden, innocent eyes is painful and exhausting. Repeatedly, you tell them it will all be ok. There’s no need to worry or panic. As long as you do your best, you don’t need to worry or fear.Because you are loved. Totally. Utterly. Completely. But you still can’t stop the fear and worry.
You pray with every fibre of your being, silently and out loud, asking, begging for those fears and anxieties not just to ease, but to be taken away from that tiny little body. Fears and worries that they won’t be able to do the work they’re given – even though you and they know that they’ve not only done it before, but they actually can do it.
Being the ‘brave’ one, the ‘grown up’ is, I believe, a category the Oscars ought to have nominations for. After the last week, I think I might be in with a good shot at an award. We’ve been here before and we’ve made it. Truth be told, I was there myself as a scared child in school uniform. But I don’t think I’d quite learned how to hide the truth then.
For any of you who have been there or are there right now, you’ll know the dread I have in my heart as I take a breath after a Sunday evening counselling session, having told my little one she doesn’t need to be fearful. Such a hypocrite.
How often do we tell our children how brilliant they are and how treasured they are and how much we love them? How that love is unconditional and that it’s ok to make mistakes – all the while beating ourselves up about those very issues?
Over the weekend, we’ve looked at the verse from Philippians 4, which we’ve paraphrased as, ‘Don’t worry, just pray.’ But, I noticed, perhaps for the first time, the little phrase in the preceding verse: ‘The Lord is near’ or ‘at hand.’ And it’s that very closeness that allows us to bring our every anxiety to Him.
Praying with my fearful little one this evening, we recalled how God’s love, and that of those who love us, is not dependent on whether we can do work or pass tests. That we don’t need to worry and, that ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ And as we prayed with and for her, so we remembered all those in the same situation, consumed by fears that make no rational sense at all, while silently praying for the courage that those of us offering words of hope and encouragement need.
Perhaps it is moments like these which cause us to think about how we see ourselves as well. We tell our children not to fear, all the while being frightened ourselves. Telling them that the opinions of others and the standard by which the world judges aren’t what matters, nor do they reveal their true worth.
Are these perhaps words we need to say to ourselves as well? Should we live by example- not just saying the right thing, no matter how Oscar worthy our performances may be.
Watching a smile and a sense of peace and calm return to that precious little face filled me with hope. But I’d be lying if I said that the mood tomorrow morning brings doesn’t cause me concern. Yet, didn’t I just tell her not to worry about things that haven’t happened? As we continued about our Sunday evening routine, a verse from Exodus 14 vs 14 came to me: ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.’
I pray both for myself and for those in similar situations, that the truths and the encouragements that we share with our loved ones will be less acting and more believing in our own minds and hearts as well as theirs, as we head into another week.
If the need arises and we have to force those smiles while fighting our own tears as we wipe away those of our little ones, may we know, and truly believe, that this is not a battle we need to fight alone.
May we spend less time beating ourselves up about getting it right, and more time trusting that even in those moments there is a purpose and that, ‘we need only be still.’ And maybe, as we aim to convince our children of their worth and value, we might even start to believe it of ourselves as well.