Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and we had worship at church last night. During one part of the worship service each of us had a small piece of paper. We were to write a sin that we are wanting to address on one side and on the other side we were to write a commitment we are willing to make regarding how we will address it.
After giving the instructions for this activity, while people were reflecting and writing, I moved down to a pew near my children. The four-year-old came over to me and asked what he was supposed to do. I explained that he was to write or draw a bad choice that he had recently been making and then on the other side to write or draw what the better choice would be (I figured this was the best way to quickly explain it).
Before I tell you what happened next, let me fill you in on something that's been happening at our house. The four-year-old has been making bad choices at school. This child, who is the apple of his teacher's eye, is stressing her out. Where he used to correct other children who made bad choices, this week he was caught encouraging other children to make bad choices. While his teacher used to just be able to look at him or call his name and have him correct his own behavior, lately he has just looked her in the eye and continued on with the wrong behavior. So, we've been having some conversations in our house about the importance of making good choices.
After I explained the task, the four-year-old did not want to participate. So, I told him I would write for him. When he didn't say what he wanted me to write, I said, "How about we put 'Not listening to my teacher' on the bad choice side and 'Listen to my teacher' on the other side." As I suggested this, I also wrote those words. When I was done, I went to hand the paper back to him but he wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, as we moved to the next thing in the service, which entailed people bringing their papers forward and nailing them to a cross, he lay quietly but passionately on the front pew kicking and pushing everything away.
And I knew he was ashamed.
This is my child who does not like to talk about his bad choices. He doesn't even make eye contact in those conversations. He just doesn't even want to acknowledge what he did and certainly doesn't want someone else to either.
My heart broke as I watched him. As a mother I want to create a safe place for my children - no matter what is going on, no matter what they have done, no matter what we need to talk about. Although I know some use it as a parenting tactic, my goal is never to shame my children into submission or correct behavior. As a parent who is a person of faith I understand that I do what I do because it is what I experience from God. I understand God to be one who offers us safe space, one to whom we can come with our ugliest stuff and be received in love.
This season of Lent that we have entered is not an easy season because it asks us to be honest about our stuff...especially that stuff we don't want to talk about. I know it's not easy, but I also believe this is so important.
Watching the four-year-old on the front pew made me aware again of how important it is that we create safe spaces in families, in churches, in all sorts of communities...and that we keep offering safe space even through the many occasions when it can't be accepted.
In the end, after everyone else was done, the four-year-old decided he wanted me to go with him and we did nail his paper to the cross. Maybe that's a step in finding his way to the space that is here for him.