A scene from yesterday…
I found her lying flat under the table, eyes both staring right at me while also trying to avoid me. Suspicious. I know that look. I was a kid once. I know deception, sneaking, guilt. This might come as a surprise to you seeing as I was the very well-adjusted over achieving first born in the family, but I had my moments of misbehavior. Yet what separated me from my misguided (bless their hearts) younger siblings is the crippling fear I might get caught. So yes, little girl under the table, I know you are lying under there because you just sneaked a handful of sprinkles off the counter after I told you enough. I wasn’t mad. I was disappointed. Not over the sprinkles. I mean, you can’t blame the girl. I stuck my hand in there too when she wasn’t looking. But I was disheartened because I realize the age of innocence and complete honesty was closing the gap and edging closer to the just-trying-not-to-get-caught phase.
“My feelings are hurt” I tell her. “I told you not to do something and you did it anyway. I don’t want you trying to hide things from me. I want you to ask me. This really makes me sad.” “I’m sorry. I’m sorry” she continues to repeat. Ugh. So annoying that “I’m sorry.” It always feels like such a brush off phrase. We steal a book from Daniel Tiger and always make her follow up “I’m sorry” with “How can I help?” But that takes some prompting still. “You’re sorry? Do you even know what that means?” “No. I don’t.” And with that she bursts into tears. “Why are you crying?” I ask. I am not patient. Poor thing is crying. I should hug her and tell her it’s ok. But you start to get numb to the crying after so long. “I just don’t know how to help.” “Well, I just want you to listen next time, that’s how you can help.” And with that I march her upstairs. She is tired. I am tired. We both need a break. Nap time routine, yadayadayada, back downstairs for a brief moment of peace. Only minutes later after putting her into bed I hear her crying. Ugh again. One of thirteen thousand animals must have fallen off the bed. I stumble back upstairs, frustrated, tired, impatient. “What do you need?”
“I’m just so so sorry, mommy. I don’t want you to be sad.”
She was crying so hard this time. Not the whiny, I don’t want to do it kind of tears. Not the I fell down and need a bandaid kind of tears. These were different. These were the really really really sad tears, the kind that come from really deep within. I know those tears. I know that shaky voice. She is heartbroken.
And with that, I am heartbroken too. I don’t hesitate for a second to crawl into bed and curl up right next to her. I stroke her hair and I tell her over and over “I know you are sorry. I forgive you. It is all ok. I love you forever and ever. Just like God. He loves you forever and ever and always forgives you.” My tears are matching hers this time. My broken heart is beating so hard next to hers. I want to do everything I can in my super mom powers to let her know she is infinitely and immeasurably loved. I want her to learn but I don’t want her heartbroken. I don’t want her to ever think for a tiny second that she isn’t loved or forgiven.
This must be how God feels. When we beat ourselves up. When we let the guilt creep into our hearts and our heads. When we lie awake because we just feel so so bad that we cannot ever measure up and we just don’t know how to help. This must just break his heart. When his children won’t welcome his forgiveness, forget for a moment that he already promised to love us forever and ever and always.
I’m just so so sorry, God.
The timing of this little moment is not lost on me. On the eve of Ash Wednesday, as we are about to enter into a season of repentance and sacrifice and mindful practice, a little three year old reminds me that we all struggle with guilt. We all fall and feel bad. And we need to learn from this. We need to ask “how can I help.” But it starts with forgiveness. It starts with accepting that from birth to death, from young to old, from beginning to end, from dust to dust, God is there. And he is forgiving. Always. Forever and ever.
I don’t want to break his heart. I have to forgive myself too. I have to let go of the guilt that follows the end of the day when I realize my to-do list has far fewer check marks next to it. I have to let go of the guilt that follows impatience and frustration with my children. I have to let go of the guilt that follows comparison and negativity. These feelings will creep up. I will find myself hiding under the table with a handful of contraband sprinkles shifting my eyes around hoping not to get caught. But then I will say I’m sorry and I will try to be better. And I will forgive.
I like the idea of a Lenten practice during the 40 days before Easter that adds an element of spiritual intention to your life. With my word of the year “Light” as my guide, I want to find a way to focus more on the light in my life and less on the dark. Prayer is far too often a reactionary practice than a preventative one for me. So to bring more thoughtfulness to the “Light” throughout my day, I am going to start every single morning with a prayer of thanks for the brightness from the day before and a prayer of hope for the brightness to come in the day ahead.
And as I remind my children over and over and over again that I love them forever and always, I will whisper a prayer of thanks that God does too.