Mornings are hard.
They just are.
They always were, even before I was a mom, before babies became kids, before school drop off entered the equation, before I became a teacher and started writing. Mornings make me sad and sometimes even mad. I’m working on it.
Mornings run smoother when evenings are calm, lunches are packed and bedtime is on time. Those stars do align from time to time but I am realizing real, good life must go on even when reality doesn’t adhere to my imaginary best mothering practices. I have high standards and small margins. It’s a dangerous combination and I often act like there isn’t a net under the tightrope I’ve strung.
Yesterday was long and full and a few important tasks were left undone when we shut the whole thing down and closed our eyes last night. I barely finished half a cup of coffee when I heard tiny feet on the floor above me. I breathed deep as he made his way down the stairs, trying to steady my heart and set my intentions for a good and peaceful morning.
It all went fine for at least the first fifteen minutes. And then it was time to wake the others, which I put off about ten minutes longer than I should. When I worked up the nerve to really start the day, we were already behind. Kids moved slowly and I was annoyed. They never know where their shoes are. One kid didn’t have a clean uniform, one didn’t have a belt. One kid had to fight disappointed tears at the sight of the lunch I was slamming together. I didn’t yell at anyone, I didn’t outwardly lose my patience, but there was deep sighing and negative energy flowing out of and all around me.
I don’t think I have to go into detail about the monologue I had running in my head as those minutes flew and we were pushing to get out the door.
Any time I get serious about berating myself for one thing or another, it’s not just my voice I hear. I think deep down underneath all the things I say about God, there is still a part of me that sees the old man with the white beard and furrowed brow, and that imaginary God is often disappointed and angry. Somewhere down there, I think there is a part of me that still expects to be given up on, that still believes I’ll never be shaped up enough to measure up.
My twenties brought with them the gift of the breaking down and rebuilding of my faith. It halfway cured me of the obnoxious habit I had of quoting concise-but-oft-out-of context Bible verses to alternately placate hurting people and convict sinners as I saw fit. Remember when everyone was signing their emails with the Prayer of Jabez, even though none of us knew who Jabez was or what God actually had in mind when its author was inspired to write it down? I did my fair share of that kind of thing and I say I’m only halfway cured because this morning, I slid right back into my old vocabulary and tone before I had backed the van completely out of the driveway.
One of my children, frustrated with a sibling, spoke in a tone I recognized as a mirror image of my own. Words of condemnation, razor-sharp correction, and self-righteous indignation rolled over my headrest and into my ears. The intended target didn’t respond. That child isn’t as skilled in arguing as the one correcting him. And, to be totally fair, there was more than a hint of truth in the correction being doled out.
I didn’t skip a beat.
“Did you know that the Bible says the power of life and death is in YOUR tongue”?
“Every word YOU say tears down or builds up.”
“What kind of person do YOU want to be?”
“Did you know the Bible also says that a fountain can’t produce bitter water and sweet water? What kind of fountain do YOU want to be? Because you can’t be both.”
My tone was measured, level, even. If you didn’t speak English you’d have thought I was talking about the weather.
Oh, no. I had all that on the tip of my tongue, didn’t I?
I walked into the trap I had set for my child without realizing what was actually happening. I saw someone’s sin, it offended me, and I shot straight without so much as a warning. I’m the mom, I’m smart, and I have the authority of God on my side. I took what could have been an opportunity to connect with my angry and sad kids and point all our hearts homeward and instead I shamed my own child into silence. Who can argue with God, right? The whole exchange took less than the time it took to drive to the end of our street and three minutes later, they were jumping out of the van and waving good-bye as they walked into school, where they’ll spend the next seven hours navigating their own complicated days.
I pulled away from the school parking lot, replaying the morning in my mind. At first, I felt pretty pleased with myself. I stayed calm, I didn’t yell, I was even and self-controlled. What more could anyone ask of me?
To be certain, this is not where I instruct you to leave Scripture out of child-rearing. Did you hear that? I am not telling you that I think you should leave your book on the shelf and raise your kids however you want.
Deep down, I knew God was asking something brand new of me. I had used Scripture to correct my child, but when was the last time I used it to bless my child? When was the last time I laid my hands on my children’s heads and called them chosen by God, beloved of God, already redeemed and made whole by God? When was the last time I marveled with them at the deep love of Jesus? When was the last time I told them about the Mother- God who longs to gather all her people under her wing, to give them refuge and safety and peace and comfort?
I kept my mind busy with NPR while I drove across town.
I could sense the Spirit drawing me in, and I tried to stiffen my neck. I’m good at that, a stiff neck is very comfortable for me.
“I don’t have time to do any heavy interior lifting today, I have an essay to write. Did you hear me, God? I have things to do and I can’t discuss this with you right now.”
I got to my corner of Starbucks and ordered my Thursday treat, a $6 flat white. I opened my computer and tried to sew together some fig leaves to cover what I didn’t want to see.
And then I realized, I haven’t spent much time proclaiming God’s goodness over my children because I haven’t yet truly laid hold of it for myself. I am still spinning and toiling and scheming to earn the love of God and all of that keeps me so busy I forget to remember that I am chosen, beloved, redeemed and made completely whole. When is the last time I saw the Mother-God in my imagination, raising Her wing, drawing me in and covering me over? When is the last time I exhaled deeply enough to find the refuge and safety and peace and comfort she offers?
I remember again the words of the prophet Isaiah, telling the old story of God’s faithfulness to the beloved people. I am reminded again that I am not a slave to the old way and I don’t have to dwell on old, dead things. The table is prepared in front of me, the feast is set, my place is open and my name is written down. God is always at work in me, making every old, dead thing new. When I have eyes to see and ears to hear, there is goodness springing up all around, making a way out of no way and making the dry desert bloom with new life.
That’s the good, good news. In a few hours, we will all be home again. I’ll do my best to make the morning right and I’ll trust grace to come and make up the difference because isn’t that what grace always does?
Thanks for being here, friends. I hope the week has lifted you up and not beaten you down, but either way I hope you’ll receive this blessing and breathe deep and exhale all the way and find the goodness of God near you always.
The Lord bless you, and keep you protect you, sustain you, and guard you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you with favor,
And be gracious to you, surrounding you with lovingkindness;
The Lord lift up His face upon you with divine approval,
And give you peace and a tranquil heart and life.
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