Tonight Sofi is writing her book report for March. She does one every month. This is her final draft and somehow she wrote most of it on the wrong side of the paper. She had to re-do it--points are taken off for that sort of thing, even in fourth grade. Consequently she has spent the last twenty minutes bemoaning her fate loudly and vociferously. And I, because I am her mother, delivered a lecture on what we call, "suck it up and drive on" (thanks for that, Susi...)
My child. She is so much like me. Smart, opinionated, sassy and talkative... those outer qualities covering a gooshy inside all puddled up with empathy centers. She feels everything. The emotional sonar is almost visible. Oh how she FEELS. Oh how I know how she feels...
My mother used to give me the same pep talks. I remember them well. I wanted so badly for her to just cuddle me and sympathize and weep with me over the INJUSTICE, the REJECTIONS, the FAILURES, the EMBARRASSMENTS. I wanted her to baby me, coddle me; not make me. And she did, some. But mostly I remember her trying to prop up the limp reed. Trying to inject some spine into me, some endurance. "Wait till you have kids!" I remember her saying. And, "Come on now, pull yourself together." (I just said that to Sofi, too)
She was right.
And in her wisdom, her efforts had some measure of success. By the time she married me off I could face a room full of strangers with a modicum of composure. I could ask a delinquent student for overdue tuition without passing out. I could rip out all the seams of the half-made dress and start over again without throwing a tantrum, or giving up and throwing the whole thing in the trash.
Through the following years, the Lord continued that work. I have learned to separate myself somewhat from the FEELINGS. To stand beside and look in on them and decide whether they are important and helpful, or damaging and weakening. To use my gift of empathy to reach out to hurting people, or make friends, or give advice and counsel. I know now not to turn it inward-- not to have too much sympathy for myself.
As I look back on my life I can see (as always) that the times of greatest growth in this area came with the deepest hurts. The times when the emotions poured out in hot rivers till they simply burned away in inadequacy of expression. There is Grief and Regret (and Failures, too) that humanity cannot contain. In those times I have felt (and still feel) the Holy Spirit like hot lava poured into my spine-- hardening, strengthening, continuing the work that Mama started all those years ago.
So, tonight, and manymanymany times before and still to come, I will do the same for my girl. She'll come to me for comfort and sympathy, and I'll give it. But then I'll set aside that tender mother's heart, knowing that what she needs from me is something stronger, something tougher and something longer lasting.