I’m not sure I was quite prepared for all that came along with my daughter turning 13. I was a teenage girl once, so I sort of knew what to expect. I was familiar with teenage mood swings, the temper tantrums, the eye rolls, and sarcastic tones; however, I was completely unprepared for her direct arrows of anger that, quite frankly, left me emotionally LEVELED.
Following a direct shot to my heart one afternoon, tears instantly filled my eyes. I felt my anger rising like water in a flood-driven river—overwhelmingly fast, surging, and nearly uncontrollable. My body shook. Somehow, I refrained from screaming what I wanted to in response to her stinging words that broke my heart.
Trembling, I managed—through clenched teeth—to get the words out, “I’m going to pray.” As quickly as those words left my mouth, I was gone, out the door, in my car, and driving to the perpetual adoration chapel at my parish.
I was shattered. How could my little girl, my precious girl, hurl such cruel words at me? I had made a deal with the Lord years ago when my husband and I were desperate to conceive. If He would answer my prayer to bear a child, then I wouldn’t just make up for what I thought my childhood lacked, but I would be infinitely better—no, I would be THE BEST mother. And now, according to my daughter, for whom I had prayed to God for, I was so much less than that.
I held it together as I walked into the chapel, and not wanting to offend the other woman already there, silently knelt to pray. Mercifully, she left only a couple of minutes later. Alone in the chapel, I let it all out. Heaving sobs echoed in the small room. Tears streaming and eyes lowered, I wept, “Lord, I am so sorry!”
My deepest fear had been revealed—I was a failure. And it had been revealed by someone so dear to me. My mind raced as the tears fell. I begged aloud, “What should I do? What should I say? How can I make this right?”
I couldn’t possibly return home and be the mother she needed me to be! I wasn’t cut out for this! My heart screamed. I ferociously journaled my feelings and all the ways I had not lived up to my promise to the Lord.
And then, just like that, I literally stopped sobbing. The tears just stopped. I looked up from my clenched hands for the first time since I had entered the chapel. I locked my eyes on Jesus in the monstrance.
“Do not be afraid. I am here,” I wrote in my journal at that very moment.
I kept writing with my prayer to the Lord: “Father, only You will make my heart right. Only You will make her heart right. Soften our hearts toward each other, Lord. Allow her to soak up Your love for her. We are your beloved daughters.”
I realized then that it was no longer about my failure or my daughter’s anger. It was about Him. Jesus. I couldn’t possibly make this right by myself. I didn’t know what to do by myself. I stopped looking at this problem as being all up to me to figure out. It became less about me or even about my daughter. It became all about Him. “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
In that moment, in front of Jesus, it became less about me and all of the things that I had said or done wrong.
It became less about my daughter’s words, her hurt feelings, or even my own self-doubt.
It became all about Him.
It became all about His love for my daughter. It became all about Jesus filling my heart with the grace I desperately needed.
It became all about His grace softening my heart and her heart, so we could open our ears to each other and listen with love instead of shouting with anger.
It became less about who I was in my own eyes or in my daughter’s eyes. It became all about who I was in His eyes.
It became all about laying this situation at the foot of His cross and taking my eyes off myself so I could lift them to meet Him.
When I stopped clenching my hands and beating myself up, I opened my hands to receive His love. I was right where Jesus wanted me to be: in His presence, receiving His love. Author Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, “Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell.” In this moment of feeling like a failure as a mother, in my poverty, Jesus lifted my gaze to meet His. He did this so that in my weakness I could receive His love, grace, and strength. And there, in my poverty, revealed for Him to see, I could RECEIVE His blessing and, in turn, bless others.
I’d love to tell you that I left the chapel that night, returned home, and instantly became a perfect mother. I didn’t. I did leave that chapel filled with peace. With God’s grace, I returned home, my anger and hurt feelings replaced with fierce love, open ears, and clarity. Resolving the issue with my daughter took time, patience, firm discipline, and love. And all of that came from the grace God filled me with as I poured out my heart to Him. Without His grace, my anger surely would have won. And when anger wins, we all lose. I am convinced that all of this only happened with God’s grace.
I will never be a perfect mother. But HE is perfect. I will never love perfectly, but my daughter and I are perfectly loved by Jesus.
 Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (New York: Harper One, 2006).
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy.
I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good-it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic, and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak-prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters, and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest. (Exodus 20:8) He knows us completely-we are the apple of His eye. (Zechariah 2:8) He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them our to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list, and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
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