~ Christine Gough
“I try to believe,” she said, “that God doesn’t give you more than one little piece of the story at once. You know, the story of your life. Otherwise your heart would crack wider than you could handle. He only cracks it enough so you can still walk, like someone wearing a cast. But you’ve still got a crack running up your side, big enough for a sapling to grow out of. Only no one sees it. Nobody sees it. Everybody thinks you’re one whole piece, and so they treat you maybe not so gentle as they could see that crack.”
Something began to crack. Not sure WHEN, but the tipping point was knowing that our boys had been yelling about underwear while waving it in the air. Outside. For all the neighborhood to hear. Or playing practical jokes on babysitters. Name calling was the norm. Hitting seemed to have become the knee-jerk reaction to frustration and anger. And the solution? Turning our backs the other way, too emotionally exhausted to do more than bandaid it all with Netflix and PBS Kids, after appealing to other experts, friends and books.
The “crack” led to a reset. We “cleared the decks” and went back to square one, leaving only the basics (which by majority world standards are still quite extravagant). Games, puzzles, art supplies and books were left alone. Everything else was carefully packed away. Screens were blackened. It was time for the crack to “run up our side.” Maybe this change wouldn’t be seen by many others, but no doubt our boys’ REACTION to the change could be heard by our neighbors! Seen or not by the outside, it became necessary for the health of our family.
It was a wide, painful crack. But as Rebecca Wells’ quote so wisely says, it was “big enough for a sapling to grow out of.” Sometimes it feels as if our story is cracked wider than we can handle. That the narrative doesn’t seem to be going the way we planned. The plot is flawed and headed off in a direction that isn’t linear. All we feel is the pain. The taking away. The “not yet.” And yet nobody sees it, or us.
We have just entered the season of Lent on the church calendar. These forty days preceding Easter give us time to strip things bare. To pare down to the basics. To let go of the things that keep our focus off of what truly matters. Lent is a time of reflection. A time to repent and turn from the patterns that are binding us and holding us. This whole season of Lent “kicks off” with a service centered around dust. Ashes. Remnants of the fire.
It all sounds kind of morbid at first glance. Who wants to give up the comforts we love? Chocolate? TV? Coffee? Or in our boys’ case….LEGOS. Ipad time. Or using mean words when the rage boils underneath. Lent and parenting are actually more alike than we often imagine. Our best attempts to raise these little humans to lead from a place of love, can often feel impossible. Parenting can sometimes feel like a lot of taking away. Losing. Fire-filled moments. But as ashes return to the earth, something new can spring up. Fire, according to the National Park Service, “reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth and improves habitats for wildlife.” I remember story, after amazing story, rising from the ashes of Mt. St. Helens’ volcanic explosion back in 1980. New growth kept miraculously finding its way to the same places that had once been filled with devastation. And oddly enough, there were many situations that seemed BETTER than before. The narrative changed, but also improved.
As we walk through this Lenten season, individually or in our role as parent, we must remember these wise words of Gertrud Mueller Nelson in her book To Dance with God. She writes, “We cannot hope for change in the other until we have changed ourselves. We cannot change without dying.” We must face these painful places in ourselves, modeling for our kids what it means to repair our mistakes, apologizing when our angry words get the best of us. Asking for a do-over when we avoid what will hurt and maybe feels most difficult.
As Valentine’s Day rolls around this Sunday with the Lenten season already begun, we seek that God will “take away our hearts of stone.” That God would give us “hearts of flesh.” In the midst of the cracks and the pain, the hard parenting moves we need to make, we can seek a God that meets us. A God that desires to grow a sapling and bring new life to places that have felt broken or hard as stone. Maybe we will even find places, surprising spots, where we can take on something new in a place that once felt barren. Ashes giving way to new life.
Some questions for Reflection:
Where has your life felt “cracked” this season?
What painful interactions have you allowed to grow and become habits within yourself or your family?
What new life or “sapling” are you longing to have become real in your life?
What new commitments could you “take ON” during this Lenten season, rather than give up?