Who’s teaching whom?
This morning I have a crying 10 year old. It’s Sunday, the day her choir is singing in church. There’s also a church party in the afternoon and she just spent the morning vomiting. Disappointed doesn’t even cover it.
Her older sister is feeling fine and gets to sing both their solos in the choir, and will most likely be going to the party, unless she too begins to throw up. Life just isn’t fair.
“It’s not like it’s a normal Sunday where nothing special is happening,” she says. “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long. Why couldn’t I have gotten sick last week? It just isn’t fair! Can you keep my sister home this afternoon and not let her go the party either? That would make me feel better.”
So, I sit on the foot of her bed and try to find the right words. It’s hard. There’s no way to fix this and make it better. I can’t wave a magic wand and make her well. (Boy, if I could do that I’d be a millionaire!) I can’t change time or have the choir performance postponed. I can’t move the church party. I can’t do any of the things that we parents all wish we could do. But I can understand.
As I talk with her, I realize that I need to hear the same words I’m telling her. You see, the day before, a young couple I sort of know got married and Facebook was filled with pictures of their beautiful wedding and smiling faces going off on a fabulous honeymoon. And I’m happy for them, truly I am, but I’m also jealous.
My honeymoon was spent in the ER with a 104 degree fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting. My happily ever after involved years of living with an actively alcoholic spouse, and now a baby who has Down Syndrome, intractable epilepsy, severe global delays, and low vision.
At 2 am when this young couple is enjoying their first night together in a nice hotel with room service, my husband and I are changing my two year-old’s sheets for the fifth time because he also can’t stop vomiting. They’re going on a weeklong vacation together and we’ve managed to go on one date this entire year. One.
It’s so easy to have a bitter heart. So easy to look at what could have been, what we think should have been, and be angry. Why did my husband have to start drinking? Why did my baby have to be born this way? Why did I have to get sick the day of the choir performance? Why do I have to be the one to miss the party?
And then, we move from there to being envious of others. Why does she get the nice honeymoon? Why is their baby ok? Why did she get to sing my part in the choir? Why does she get to go to the party? And we think, deep in our hearts, that it would make us feel better if those people suffered too.
And that’s when we need the light of Christ to shine into our dark hearts.
So, what I tried to explain to my daughter (and myself) is this: It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel regret. It’s ok to cry. But it’s not ok to be angry. And we stop ourselves from being angry by looking at things the right way.
My husband might have been an active alcoholic, but, by the grace of God, he’s recovering and it’s been almost two years since his last drink. There are many women who have not been so blessed and I am so very grateful that he changed.
My baby boy might have a myriad of health problems, but this week he suddenly stopped needing to be on oxygen support. He might not be able to do anything that a typical one year old can do, but he’s making huge improvements and he smiles every time I pick him up. I am so grateful that I can now carry him around the house without also carrying a heavy oxygen tank. I am so grateful for 112 seizure free days. I am so grateful that I am not in the hospital with him right now.
We’re going to miss out on lots of stuff in life. This world is a fallen place, full of sin and sickness and death, but if we keep a grateful heart, and look forward to when there will be no more tears, or sadness, or missed parties, we can stop that bitterness before it even begins.
I’m not sure if my daughter really heard me, and that’s ok. Because I’m 36 and I need to hear this every day. I think I get it, and then something happens and I start comparing the worst parts of my life to the best parts of other people’s lives.
But maybe each time we preach the truth to ourselves a little bit more of it sticks, and we start to cultivate a heart and perspective of gratitude instead of woe-is-me.
Except for vomiting two-year-olds. I haven’t figured out how to be grateful for that yet…
As I said before, Sunday’s are not my best day. Maybe they’re really the same as every other day, but I always feel like they’re supposed to be quieter, holier, more introspective. Everyone expects to be unclogging a toilet on a Monday. It just seems like things should be more heavenly minded on Sunday.
No matter how well we start the morning, it’s sure to spiral quickly out of control. Like the Sunday my 8 year old came down with his shirt inside out. Then, when told to fix it, he put it on backwards, and when this was pointed out, proceeded to change it to inside out and backwards. Wasn’t fazed a bit. In fact, he was giving me looks like I was some kind of fashionista forcing my avant garde ways on normal people.
(This also explains why I have to do 14 loads of laundry a week. Other moms get upset when people use an extra bowl or plate. I get upset if you change your outfit more than once a day.)
Clothing is not the only thing that suffers on Sunday mornings. Comprehension seems to have a serious dip as well. On a weekday, if we’re in public, I can give an angry laser look or the death whisper and kids will instantly shape up. On Sunday, it’s like I’m speaking a different language.
One Sunday, two of my boys wanted to sit across the aisle with their grandparents. I decided that a reminder to behave was in order (they were starting to wrestle) so I called them over before church began and said, “You guys need to be good. If I have to come over there to lay the smack down it’s going to be a heavy smack.”
“Huh?” they both said.
“Behave or you’ll be in trouble.”
“What do you mean, what?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you behaving and what will happen if you don’t.”
“What’s ‘behaving’?” one asked, sincerely puzzled as if he’d never heard the word before.
“Being quiet. If you’re not quiet you’ll be in trouble,” his sister chimes in.
“What’s ‘trouble’?” the other one asks blankly.
I give up.
But worse than the stress of getting to church in one piece is that horrible feeling of being a total fake. People come up to me and tell me how well behaved my children are, how nice they look, and all I’m thinking is, “Those kids?” The kids I have to arm wrestle into their clothes? The ones who are only wearing matching shoes because I screamed at them? The ones who slapped each other the whole way to church and cried because they dropped their car blankie on the ground and I couldn’t reach it without having a wreck? The ones I just verbally threatened to behave so they didn’t mortify me during the service? Those kids? But I just smile and say thank you.
When the pastor talks about how we are supposed to enjoy coming to church, how it should be the energy charge for the rest of the week, I wonder how much his wife is buffering for him. Maybe it is a relaxing day of worshiping with God’s people for some. But there are those of us who are praying every week that this Sunday will be the day we make it to church without yelling at anyone.
I’ll let you know if it ever happens.
You know that family that shows up to church in the 15 passenger van? The one that homeschools? Ever wondered how they make it through the day or wished you could be a fly on the wall of their house? Well, I'm inviting you in. I'm 36 and I ride herd on 8 children (oldest is 12), 3 cats, 2 bearded dragons, and one puppy. It's loud, chaotic, and imperfect. Welcome to Life in the Big House!