It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.
You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”
“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.
The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.
One of my sons had a birthday last week, and our neighbour brought him over a gift while he was sleeping. When he saw it the next morning, his brown eyes ignited, the smile stretched across his face as he excitedly talked about finally owning his very own fidget spinner.
For the uninitiated here’s my best fidget-spinner explanation: It’s a piece of metal somehow connected at the centre, and the blades spin fast. This is apparently a source of endless fascination for children, or at the very least, a good source of income for toymakers.
But for my son, this red, white and blue piece of metal is something else entirely. He leaned over to me and whispered in awe, I’ve been wishing for one of these, Mommy.
Wanting to understand what he meant, I prodded. He had never asked us for one. This was my first time to hear of it. Fidget spinners, it turns out, are a popular commodity at school. Several of the boys in his class have them, he’s been watching them for weeks and the seed of desire grew in his heart. Even though he didn’t tell us, he wanted one.
See, I smiled at him, God knows – but the words stuck in my throat, silencing me. I started talking without thinking, and I could feel grown-up fear fighting the words back down.
You can’t tell him that God gives him what he wants, what if he grows up thinking he’s entitled to whatever he wishes for.
You can’t teach him to expect good things when you know bad things are always around the corner.
But I ran my fingers through his brown hair, looked in his eyes, and pressed into territory that feels dangerous and somehow wild and unknown.
God knows what you want before you even say it, I said, he loves giving you good things.
A small postscript: I have not done much research into fidget spinners, but I appreciated the thoughts in this article, “What the fidget spinners fad reveals about disability discrimination.” It’s well worth the read, we all need to be more sensitive, knowledgeable and helpful toward adults and children in our lives whose minds are different from ours.
I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.
The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.
1Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.
When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.
2Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.
Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.
3Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.
4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.
Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?
It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.
There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.
Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times?
Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:
I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.
I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me.
I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.
But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.
I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering.
You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.
You know that God has not called you to easy.
I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued.
The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke.
We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.
It is perhaps the revelation every parent comes to at some point. I can’t take the pain away. But you try, the baby falls over and you swoop in to pick her up. The toddler runs too fast for new feet and smashes a knee, your kisses make it all better. Is there anything a regular parent wouldn’t do to take the pain away from their child?
But I’ve done almost nothing. I’ve sat there, reflected his words back to him and rubbed his back. Not because I think it’s the best thing for me to do, but because I have no idea how to fix this, and authenticity is something I aim for as I love my kids. And I know that there is no real answer in the in between we are in right now. We are waiting, waiting and waiting some more. I don’t know when we will find a house, I don’t know that everything in our shipment will be as it was when it left Stockholm, I don’t know if my sons will be happier here than they were in Stockholm. I have no idea, so I do the only thing I can. I nod my head, and I listen. I pray he knows there is a safe space in me for all of his emotions.
Maybe I’m looking into the future to a time of broken hearts and girls, to jobs lost or exams failed or friendships betrayed, and I can see the truth: I won’t be able to do anythingabout it. There is a deception about these little years, the feeling that I can do something, I hold the keys to their health, happiness and security. But I do not. I am not their healer and provider.
And there is yet another side to all of this. My boys have no idea if we will ever get a car or a house or find work because they have no memory of having to search for these things in the past. They got carried to car seats, they ran around a house they loved. The work involved in finding these things? They knew nothing of it. I know we will find a car and a house even though I have no idea how or when these things will materialise.
I’m doing some tantrum-throwing, too, not in public of course, but into my pillow, words poured out to God, Why? Why does it have to be so hard? Why does it have to take so long? When will my life get back to normal? When will my children stop waking us up at 6am?
I wrote several weeks ago about wrestling with God, and I am still living in that place right now. One morning a few weeks ago, the boys were stirring and getting up around 5:30am, way too early for us and way too early for them. We lay in bed and prayed, and I don’t mean just prayed, Husband and I begged God to make the boys go back to sleep. They didn’t, they woke up, the morning was unpleasant. We were unpleasant, and there has been a lot of this. Many, many prayers thrown at God, without the answers we hope returning to us. And there is profound pain in this process, it shows me the things I long for, why I long for them, and why it hurts when things don’t go as I want them to. But there have always been answers, even if it is not the answer we hope for, God has spoken clearly in the middle of our questions, there is a light leading us on this path. It is a path that shows us daily a bit more about who God is and he is showing us who we are as well.
This is what I am trying to say: I need to let my boys face the pain in their lives because this is teaching them something about life and about God, something that is necessary for a long-term life of health and wholeness. I could give them words and things and experiences that numb their pain, but that only trains them to turn away from pain and toward what they can consume to take the ache away. It is a set up in the direction of addiction and escape. They need to know that experiencing pain is a normal part of life, and that our God will be their companion in the middle of it. And while it is tempting to speak my promises to them – think something along the lines of We will find a house soon! It will be amazing! –turning their hearts toward God’s promises gives them tools for the future. Jesus is with us, he will never leave us, he has good plans for us, he will take care of us, those who trust in the Lord are safe. These things are true.
Every day that I live this out with them, I am giving myself another gift. The daily reminder that I am God’s child, and he doesn’t come to take away my pain. He comes to redeem it. Redemption is not escape or numbness. It is an exchange, it requires a total and complete acknowledgement of what happens, it is never ignoring the bad. I have lived this year after year for over a decade now, and I see it in story after story in the Bible. Deep pain, profound human failures, and a God who sees it all. He didn’t make it go away, he hung on a cross in the middle of our pain and experienced it. God knows the pain for the hurt that it causes, and in his time and in his way, he exchanges it for something beautiful, he turns it into something we cannot imagine. Only God can do this.
Beauty for ashes. The oil of gladness instead of mourning. A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. So that we may be oaks of righteousness, his planting, that we may stand forever in strength and beauty, smiling at the future because we know we are in safe hands.
Now it’s your turn: What pain in your life do you need to face today? What do you need to believe about who God is to help you do this?