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With the Wisdom of Others

August 1, 2012

Every week, if our schedules align, four to six women get together.  I think there’s seven of us on the group list in my address book, but on a good evening, four of us show up.  It’s a diverse group.  While I have always respected all of these women, there are some I didn’t feel like I had that much in common with.  We share a similar experience though—a retreat—which we all went on at different times, but it was the same spiritual formation retreat.  We meet once a week to hold each other accountable, to talk about how we have responded to God’s call for discipleship, how our discipleship has been denied, when we’ve been closest to Christ in the past week, and what prayer/action/study has nourished us.

When we started meeting a little over a year ago, it was a bit awkward.  The answers were predictable….we yelled at our kids, we yelled at our husbands, and our plan for the following week was just to do better.

It’s amazing what a group of people who gather in the name of Christ can do.  I am not referring necessarily to what we leave the group and do for the greater church (although the others’ leadership in our church is incredible).  The amazing part is from how different conversation sounds when it’s framed our weekly questions…our liturgy, if I may.

Madeleine has been a bit of challenge this summer.  Things progress in a predictable manner with her, and almost always they end with her crying her precious seven year old heart out.  In the worst instances, she ends by saying “I hate myself.  I wish I wasn’t alive.”  It breaks me to hear her say that.  I worry and go to bed playing back the days wondering what could have brought those ugly words on.

Last night, another of my dear women talked about her 6 year old daughter doing the exact. same. thing.   I listened a little closer.  In normal settings, the story of the painful words would have been shared without much reflection following them.  In normal settings, the point of the story would be to garner sympathy about how rough our lives are, how bad our kids are, how hard things are.  With my dear women though, the story didn’t end at this point.  My dear friend talked about the conversation that followed with her daughter and I heard what she was saying.  I understood.  As she talked about how her daughter felt she was always criticizing her and she didn’t like herself because she was too mean, too messy, and couldn’t do the right thing, I saw Madeleine and I.  The situation was illuminated.

On the way home, I begged for forgiveness from God.  I realized that it was my reactions to her that was creating this child who didn’t feel loved at home and who felt like she was singled out for being “bad.”  During the school year, Madeleine gets so much positive reinforcement because she is a smart, well-behaved child.  Over the summer, she doesn’t even have that to fall back on.  She only hears me telling her all day that she is disrespectful and a bully to her brothers.  No wonder she doesn’t like herself.

As I drove him in the dark, over the lake glittering in the just hatched night, past downtown with its tall buildings lit up in a rainbow of colors, I scribbled this question down.  How can I help Madeleine experience that she is a beloved child of God today?  Every word in that matters, especially the today that hangs out right next to the question mark.

Who knows how long it would have taken me to see this if I hadn’t met with my dear women.  Now my “plan” for the coming week is to fill Madeleine’s love bucket (another reference that a woman with a grown daughter made) and find ways to correct her with gentleness (isn’t there a proverb about that?).   Again, I realize regularly how little of this parenting thing I have figured out.  I am thankful for those who can help me as a blindly grope my way through the challenges that each age bring.

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