I am in one of those unique parenting places which can only be described as the Broken-Beautiful. My children range in age from teenagers to toddlers, and the emotional and educational and psychological needs of each one of those age groups bring me to my knees and have been the source of more than a few nights of insomnia. With toddlers and children, most of those needs can pretty easily be met with a hug, a snack, some attention, a book read and some time outside together. With teens, those needs seem to be deeper and wider and broader and there never seems to be a quick, easy fix like when they were little.
My oldest son is on the Autism Spectrum and I have kept his journey private for many personal reasons, but this past year we have allowed it to come out into the light and into community. At the age of sixteen, he has this desperate need to belong and the insecurities of being different can tempt him toward shame and frustration and questioning. The conversations are painful ones and don’t have easy answers. We stumble, we lash out, we accuse, and we make choices that hurt the ones that we are closest to.
My response as a mother to these turbulent times of a teen’s raw honesty, his anger at his portion in life and his seasons of making choices that feel like a rejection of all that I hold dear does not always reflect the idealistic mothering vision of kindness, patience and self-control. Instead the seeds of bitterness and judgment and self-protection and cynicism threaten to grow into weeds that will destroy this beautiful garden of relationship that I nurtured and tended throughout his childhood. My mothering heart gets tempted to allow the stranglehold of fear to choose the path of being controlling, meeting fire with the fire, harsh tones, unreasonable consequences, and rejection of heartfelt, humble relationship. This is a real battle.
During Holy Week I read and listened again to the story of Judas. One of the twelve who, in the end, would betray Jesus and not repent. Jesus had served Judas and loved him and trained him and spent years investing in this relationship. And because Jesus was God and also listening to His Father, He knew what Judas was going to choose in the end. But what did Jesus do at the Last Supper with Judas? What did he do in the face of the one He knew would sell their relationship for a purse full of coins? Jesus’ heart knew that He and His ways were to be rejected by this friend and yet what was His choice? Jesus washed his feet. The One who could have demanded that His feet be washed and could have controlled and dominated instead took a space of Servant Love. He invited Judas to His table and served Him the meal and offered him Bread and Wine…HIS VERY SELF.
I weep over that. Jesus is just so dang good.
So what does it mean then to choose that kind of unbroken connectedness over my cynicism with a child who is walking in difficulty? How can I follow in the way of Jesus and keep washing his feet and inviting him to my table even when it feels like he doesn’t deserve it?
For me, the first step has been to admit that I. AM. JUDAS. I am the betrayer and the one who has been graciously and lovingly washed and fed by Christ. It’s such a humbling place to be. When I recognize how much I don’t deserve this kind of love that is invitational and welcoming and kind, I realize that I am on the same spiritual ground as my children and everyone else: Broken and yet Beautiful to Jesus. My teenagers and I are walking the same path together. We are figuring out repentance and His acceptance and the new identity that Jesus offers us. No longer do I view myself as some sort of Spiritual Lord over them, but have recognized that we are fellow pilgrims on the path and I am just a few steps further and we are in this thing TOGETHER.
The next step has been to apologize when I am being controlling and rude to them and not treating them in the way that they deserve as my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. I am also seeking to learn how to listen well and offer them Hope for who they are and who God says they are more than jumping to correction and behavior modification. It’s relatively easy to tell people what to do and where they are screwing up, but harder to trust God’s long-term plan for growth in them and simply hold out courage and Real Hope to them.
Lastly, I am done with taking myself so seriously and trying so freaking hard to nail everything in mothering. I am choosing a lot more fun and frivolous with my teens and less regiment and restriction. Trusting God with them allows me to be open-handed and whimsical and light. I have really sought to learn to speak the teen language which translates to food, drink, entertainment, laughter, opening nights at the movies, Top 40 music, gas station runs for candy, riding roller coasters together, Starbucks or Sonic splurges, a willingness to make a fool of myself, scheduling flexibility, and saying Yes a lot. These acts are my floundering and earnest ways of washing their feet and inviting them to my table. Most of the time they don’t deserve these things and it is most definitely a sacrifice for me as far as my time, my plan, my money, and my ideals. Yet with wisdom, love, grace, and an infusion of the Holy Spirit, I seek to run to the ones that can feel hard to love and no longer try to escape them or protect myself from their challenging journeys. Strong boundaries coupled with high invitation can be a powerful combination. This is my spiritual act of worship and these relationships are my Broken-Beautiful.