“Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says, ‘you are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.’ Jesus made it clear that the same voice that he heard in the Jordan River and on Mount Tabor can be heard by me. He makes it clear that there is a home with the Father. But if I decide to keep control, if I go out into the world, I will keep running around asking everything, ‘do you really love me, do you really love me?’ I give all the power to the voices of the world. It is the world that defines me then. The world's love is full of ifs, ‘yes I love you if you are good-looking, if you are intelligent, if you are well off, if you are educated, if you have connections, if you are productive’… But when I am home with the Father then I know I am the beloved, I can confront and console and admonish without any fear of rejection or need for affirmation, I can suffer persecution without the need for revenge or receive praise without using it as proof of my goodness.
- Henri Nouwen,
I have spent my life begging the world to affirm me. I have spent my life being sweet and fun and hoping that in return you will say, “She is so sweet and fun!” A lot of times it has worked.
I have spent my life withholding my opinion for the sake of the happiness of the crowd. I have spent my life in love with your praise. I took praise from the teachers who called me “responsible” and “nice.” I took praise from the youth group leaders who called me “a leader” and “a servant.” I took praise from every friend who would give it to me. From the boys in college who took me aside to proclaim my “godliness.” (I was at a Christian school. “Godliness” was basically like saying “hotness” in Jesus code.) I’ve spent my adulthood begging you to affirm my gifts. I’ve spent motherhood longing for someone to crown me The Dream Mom. Every Boy’s Ideal Mother.
And when that hasn’t come, when the coworkers’s personality was not into “sweet and fun,” when the teacher wasn’t impressed with “niceness,” when the guy I liked was not in love with “godliness,” or when my failure as a mother was lit brightly on display for the passerby (or family member) to experience, I have been crushed.
I have been broken into a helpless mess.
It’s not just that it’s hard if you don’t like me. It’s everything if you don’t like me. You’re opinion of me is My Everything.
They call that a “People Pleaser,” you know. They say I have a problem.
We have the upstairs flat of a typical San Francisco house. We moved in November 1st and are still deep in the process of settling into our home, a home where our lives are lived directly above our neighbors. Our neighbors have been in the flat below our place for around eight years. They’ve been lucky in terms of city-living: always they’ve had a quiet couple living above them. For eight years they tell us they never heard their neighbors.
Until now. Our hallway is long and open and it flows the distance of the apartment, all the way from the living room at the front of the house, straight into the boys’ bedroom. It’s a dream hallway for little boys. Can they do anything but run? Do four- year-olds and almost-two-year-olds ever get anywhere without running? And how does one go about helping a toddler learn not to throw their cup out of the crib onto the unforgiving floor at 5 in the morning, the crash making the sort of sound that wakes my sleeping neighbors?
Our sleep patterns don’t match. My neighbors are artists: up working late, sleeping into the morning. My boys, of course, are screaming from their rooms at 6 am. I’m snagging them and rushing to the other side of the house and keeping them contained until 8. What else can I do?
We’ve had ongoing discussions with our neighbors about the noise made in this house. We’ve bought them flowers, said, “We’re taking this very seriously. We want to be respectful of you.” We’ve kept our tempers. We’ve prayed. I’ve instituted the, “do not run rule in the hallway” rule. (Which is the worst rule ever because I feel like I’m saying ‘no’ all day long and nothing’s ever changing.) We’ve spent more money on carpeting. And my husband says, That’s all we can do, Micha.
And it’s true. I can’t unmake my children’s childishness. I can’t stop the tantrums that erupt in the unforeseen hours. I can’t curb the loud playing. And I don’t want to. This is my children’s home. This is their childhood.
So, instead, I’m living my days tightly wrung. Clenching my jaw at every sound, tightening my throat in fear of every doorbell. What if it’s them here to say I’ve done it again? Here to say that if I were a good mom, I’d have some control over my kids?
I had a realization a couple of weeks ago. I found myself more concerned with what the strangers downstairs think of me (my character, my success as a mom) than the comfort of my kids in their home. And I realized, I have a problem.
Where does it stop? How do I let the anxiety out of my jaw, content to live with kindness, but not controlled by the thoughts of every one else? How do I untwist the fear of failing (in this case: failing as a neighbor) that is making my days jumpy and angst-ridden?
So, of course, yesterday on the second Sunday of Epiphany, when spoke about Christ’s baptism, he spoke directly to me. He spoke to those of us who are never .
He said, “John the Baptist is saying, ‘Repent. See that this great king is coming – and he’s good. He is coming with grace in his hand.’”
With grace in his hand. My pastor said that when the heavens opened over Jesus in his baptism, the scripture describes the skies as literally “torn.” They cannot be put back together again the same way. Nothing will ever be the same between earth and heaven.
And God announces his son as his beloved. “Of course Jesus will remember that he is the beloved,” my pastor said. Over and over, throughout his humanity, in every moment of uncertainty, in every moment of pain, Jesus will have to remember that God split open the heavens and said those words: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
Learning that I am enough, no matter what judgment any one else makes of me: This is the process of becoming whole, of becoming wholehearted. I cannot remove the anxiety I feel when my kids run down the hall and I picture the neighbor’s frustration or disapproval. But I can stand in the mirror and say: I am enough because . My kids are enough because they are God’s beloved.
And I believe that might just change everything.
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