As a rule, I am not much of a cry-er. There have been times I wished I could squeeze out a few drops, even just for effect, but it doesn’t typically happen. Then, a few weeks ago, my emotions and tear ducts conspired to make an unwanted exception.
You know that mama standing outside the kindergarten room on the first day of school with mascara rings spreading under her eyes? The mom frantically trying to wipe the soggy off her face before the wide-eyed preschooler beside her looks up? Yup, that was me at the end of August when I brought my daughter to her preschool open house. Fifteen minutes in, I had to leave her with her dad and step outside to try to control the sobs rising from that embarrassing cavern of my mama heart. I really didn’t expect to be the woman explaining, in a strangled voice, what was the matter to a gathering crowd of kind, Kleenex-bearing strangers. But there I was, red-faced, mortified and unable to stop.
I seriously could not stop. The tears bubbled up from some deep place, partly from that profound, bring-you-to-your-knees core of love you have for your children and partly – maybe just a touch less virtuously – a need to control every single breath my daughter takes. For two and half years I have mediated each interaction this little girl has had with the world. I’ve heard virtually every word she’s said, answered every question she’s asked (who knew there could be so many?) and planned pretty much each experience of her life. The idea of walking into that school, helping her hang her coat in the cubby marked “Clare,” letting go of her hand and turning away from the little body in the new blue dress felt like more than I could bear. That Friday on the steps of the school, I seriously contemplated pulling the plug, quitting my job and keeping her home for another year. Or 20.
‘Do it afraid’
As I look at it closely, I realize that underneath all this mommy love and protection is something else, something that has been lurking since the day I gave birth. It’s fear – slimy, choking, bald-faced fear, willing me not to move forward, willing me to hunker down and build a fortress around myself and those I love to keep out all the ugly. Fear coerces me into scrambling for control as I spend energy and make choices to manage things. The problem with having a child is that you are eventually forced to let your embodied heart out into the wild, unprotected. There’s love in that dilemma, but also terror. And if I choose to be motivated by the terror, it might keep my heart out of harm’s way, but it will also keep me from knowing and experiencing the radical, game-changing love of Jesus. It will keep me from any real relationship at all, even with my daughter.
For we are told there is no fear in love. In fact, perfect love drives out fear. It drives it out. The more real love there is in me, the less fear can be present. The areas where fear lives show me how much I don’t really love at all.
As much as I want to protect my daughter, I want her to live in love and freedom more. Reminding myself this on the first day of school, I marched up those school steps, hugged my little girl tight against my heart and then let her go, knowing I might be forced to cry all the way to work. Every day of parenting, in a million ways, I make myself “do it afraid” and then pray that perfect love will fill me up right to the brim, giving me the strength to do it all over again tomorrow. Love and fear can’t co-exist, so if this is what it comes down to, I choose love.