I see you, Mama …
You were on lunch duty, volunteering. You watched her from across the room, sitting alone at that long rectangular table that could fit twenty, while girls dressed just like her filed in and jammed their small bodies into tables all around her. Those 3 minutes she waited alone, craning her neck — too young to have learned to look nonchalant about her solitary state – felt like 30 minutes to her. It felt like three hours to you. Is anyone going to sit with me? – the question masking the real question: am I worth wanting?
The auditorium was silent. Could everyone hear your heart drumming inside of you? She’d been practicing this one dance for months and still couldn’t quite grasp where her feet were to be on beats four and eight. She’d mastered it maybe once, alongside girls who could do this in their sleep. Practice hadn’t make perfect for her and the stage was right now, unforgiving. One hundred and thirty five sets of eyes would be fixed on twelve girls. Her mistakes were minor to a watching mother, but you knew they might mean the end of dancing for your little non risk-taker.
Late nights and long hours studying and countless practice tests weren’t enough to increase her score this time around. She packed up all the paraphernalia from this one college that she’d accumulated over so many years of high school dreaming, realizing as she stared at the rejection letter that it had no allegiance to her. She threw out the gear with the rejection letter. What was that about dreaming with God? she accusingly questioned you. After all, you’re the one who’d encouraged her to think big and press hard and ask Him.
The thin sheen around my daughters’ “safe” childhood snapped long before lunch tables and dance lessons and college acceptance letters. They were adopted – which, for them, meant there was messy loss before beautiful gain. But the undercurrent of their story is not so much different from the stories your four walls might hold — if they haven’t yet.
We sign them up for classes and sports and buy them cute clothes. We decorate their rooms and theme their birthday parties and teach them to read scripture. We practice piano with them. A lot. And while all of these things are good and beautiful and necessary, there is another reality our daughters will face at eight (or thirty-eight) for which we must prepare them.
One day their world will break.
Scripture promises this. One day it all won’t work just so for them.
One day they will know hunger.
At ten, she may lose her best friend or at thirteen, get cut from the team. At twenty-three, he might break off the engagement. Or thirty-five might find her to be still single and longing for a family. Her womb might be closed.
And toe shoes and starting varsity and getting straight As and preaching a sermon to her youth group — all those things for which we’ve subconsciously groomed her — won’t necessary prepare her for this. It won’t prep her for how to respond to the hunger that comes from loss. Even my girls, who were forced into deep heart-pain before they lost their baby teeth, need new familiarity with this: what do they do with their hunger?
A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. (Proverbs 27:7 )
We start from the very beginning with them when we announced over email, hours after birth, “the baby is healthy!” — as if health and wealth and earthly happiness are God’s best. But there is a hole inside of her, just like the hole inside of her mommy that deeply craves encounter with God.
It’s hunger that invites this encounter.
Sitting alone at that table, being dismissed by that boy, floundering on stage, that college rejection letter, all of these childhood wounds — could they be God’s largest entryway into a heart that was already hungry before circumstances only revealed it? My flesh has a resistant auto-response against lack and emptiness and all of life’s gaps — these that were intended to usher me in to a sweet encounter with God. It’s the kind of encounter with Him that doesn’t come through success.
And my daughters watch me.
Am I preparing them to lean in — and not away — from hunger (and the God on the other side of it) by how I respond to the gaps in my life and theirs? Am I saying with my words “we want all that we can know of God on this side” yet working myself into a tizzy to make their earthly life (and mine) work just so?
Lily wrote a letter to the bagger from our grocery store, for whom we’ve been praying for months, all on her own accord. Her intro read something like this: Mr. Michael, Do you know what it’s like to go through hard things? I do. God was the light in my darkness.
Her words awakened me from my western numbness of the day. My little girls’ bitterness — from the past and from what will inevitably come — doesn’t need to be forever-bitter.
If we give them a grid for hunger in Him, our girls’ bitter can scoot them towards a sweet brush with God that will forever change them.
For Your Continued Pursuit: John 16:33 | Psalm 34:18 | Proverbs 27:7 | Romans 5:1-5 (This message is being wedged deep inside of me. It’s been coming out my pores for a few years now, and now will be coming onto shelves. Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet will be released via Zondervan in October. It’s a book for moms. And dads. And single twenty-somethings and forty-somethings and really anyone who has known pain, big or small, and wants to find Him in the midst of it.)