It’s been a rough month for a lot of people around the United States.
As I type, there are children in Florida and Montana and Texas whose lives have been precisely, heart-rendingly divided into before and after.
In all these dark days, there is a sliver of light. God has given our kids wisdom in all sorts of ways to help their friends; to be people of refuge. In fact, in some ways, kids will be better equipped to help their friends than adults will be. There’s automatic rapport and connection. They automatically know ways to say things in an understandable way.
So I’m wondering. How can we help our kids be emotionally safe places when their friends are hurting?
The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.
Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.
Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.
I must have been seventeen. I still remember the room and where I was sitting in it. Sadly, I don’t remember the exact nature of the trauma that had come upon one of the youth group members, which was explained as we listened in relative silence that Sunday morning. I do know someone had died. But I remember the youth leader giving us advice about how to help those around them, and I specifically remember this: Here’s what not to say. Don’t tell them this was God’s will.
It was after lunch. We stood on the curb before we walked out to our respective cars. She’d divulged some hard stuff, stuff that could easily be embarrassing outside of the little table we’d shared inside. I was about to step off the sidewalk—and then I thought what it might feel like to be her.
I think I said something really astounding, like, Hey. Thanks. For just, y’know, sharing hard stuff. That is always a gift to me. (My husband taught me that part. He says it’s always a holy gift when someone shares their heart with you.) I know you could be tempted to feel kind of naked after all this. But thanks for just trusting me to keep stuff like that safe. I’m going to be praying with you.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I hope I’m that place for you when you need it.”
The power of shame continues to make my mind fizz. (Yours might, too: This post on shame in parenting has drawn more readers than any other post on this site, bar none.)
But now all those thoughts are bubbling over what shame might look like in a marriage; in our most intimate concentric circle of community. See, I know shame—this idea that I’m not worthy of connecting with someone—immediately leads me to cover up.
Take the typical fight with a spouse. First reaction is not typically, You’re so right. I’m snippy, and I have a profound case of PMS. It’s more along the lines of blame-shifting (Well, if you’d stop overreacting like some kind of hypersensitive Pomeranian). Denying (I didn’t say you were arrogant! I said you were cocky). Hiding (If I don’t say anything, it will look a lot like peace and taking the higher road).
Joking aside—this predilection to hiding means the manifestations of shame are endless. For me, it led to a profound insecurity (you can read how that affected our relationship); to people-pleasing ad nauseam, to the extent of a near eating disorder.
Why am I distracted? Am I having basic needs met, like sleep, food, exercise, and white space in my day to think? (Consider grabbing a snack or some yummy lotion to spread on your feet to make this time feel more like “you time” rather than checking a “should-do” box. Moms with young kids welded to thy knees–more ideas on that here. If you’re in need of a few minutes to settle your mind, set a timer on your phone and let your thoughts wander aimlessly. It’s…actually healthy.) What’s appealing about the rabbit of my brain’s bunny trails? Is it a fantasy? Is it feeding a need that I wish I had met right now-like comfort, security, approval, or power? Is there anything in my circumstances making me hunger for this…or is it just my natural security blanket? Commit the “holes” you’re feeling to God, and meditate on verses that direct you toward His complete comfort, security, acceptance, and power.
Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.
The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.
One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).
One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.