Confessions of a Sometimes-Peaceful Mom

There are certain people I cannot say hard things to: wives of certifiable jerks, single moms, lonely unmarried or childless women, widows, amputees, to name only a few.  I am not single, my husband isn’t a jerk, and all my limbs are intact. I can be lonely sometimes, but when I say that to most people it’s not very believable. A challenge to let God have it all (good idea) and be fulfilled in him alone (actually quite possible) is a slap in the face of their pain when spoken by someone like me who can’t understand that pain.

But I can say tough things to a hurting, worrying Mom. Hurting and worrying, oh yes, I’ve been that. So I have the right to say: Stop fretting and read Philippians 4:6.

Have you read it lately?  

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (NLT)

It’s that word—anything—I have taken issue with so many times. There’s no wiggle room in it. No sympathy. Just do it. (Which, come to think of it, is an interesting thought. We’ll beat our bodies into submission at a fitness boot camp, but we won’t break a sweat in order to do one of the most straightforward directives in the New Testament.)

I have had my share of anythings that merit a fret fest. I think parenting is booby-trapped with this stuff from day one. We come home from the hospital with a diaper bag full of anythings. And it only gets worse. I’ll bet you’ve heard a new mom agonize about pacifiers or potty training and you’ve positively sneered behind her back. Just wait, you think, you’ll find out there are more important things to worry about soon enough. But the word anything levels the playing field. We’re not supposed to worry about any of it. At all.

{Let me add that most of our husbands seem to get this. I’m not sure I would call it peace, but men seem genetically engineered to utter, “He’ll be alright” or “She’s fine” every single time our children’s lives are imperiled. I’m not suggesting we become like our husbands, or that that’s even possible, but I do suggest we respect their particular brand of fearlessness even when, to us, it looks like recklessness.}

The way I see it, Philippians 4:6 is an invitation to a practical miracle. What it offers—peace—is better than any specific answer to any of the anythings we pray for. Here’s how Eugene Peterson defines peace in his version of verse 7, the causality verse: Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. 

He’s right; it is wonderful when that happens. Sadly, my stories that end with “peace that passes understanding” are about as frequent as Halley’s Comet.

There was the time I knelt at Matt’s bed at home when he was in another bed in a hospital because of a drug overdose and let my Bible just fall open. It fluttered to Philippians 4 and I read those words as if for the first time. They assaulted me. Don’t worry about anything, Lord? Do you know what’s going on here? This is my son, Lord. Are you kidding me?

Silence.

What could I do but exactly what Philippians 4:6 told me to do? No wiggle room, remember? For about an hour or so I lived in a peace that defied description smack in the middle of a situation that more shockingly defied description. It was intoxicating. I’m convinced peace like that only exists on the other side of trust. I’d like to report that I entered a perpetual state of trust that I have sustained until today. But, no. Even so, that moment burned an image in my soul. It created a glowing reference point, a flare, to which I’ve returned many times since.

Like the time five years ago when I was standing in church with our newly-home-prodigal, Matt (above, with his beautiful wife, Clarissa). We were singing worship songs and, wouldn’t you know it, every other phrase on the big screen was something he needed to hear. So I’d glance over at him to see if the words registered on his face or at least if he was singing them. Do you see how sick this is? Not only was I not at peace, I was not worshipping. How could I, when I was so bent on doing a Matt-inventory every few minutes? When I—functionally at least—didn’t believe the words I was singing about a God who is big and mighty and can do anything, including shepherd the heart of a young man who has just come back to him? Then I heard God speak, more clearly than he normally does to me:

“Let me show you what you would look like if you trusted me.”

I let him, and I got this little glimpse of a peaceful me, a very different me, and I liked what I saw. I wanted to be that me.

The downstream effect of peace is that it not only feels good, it cures us of other habits, like the subtle ways we exert control over others. Like the dishonesty that can’t admit that a sideways glance is an attempt at control (an illusory one, but still). So for the rest of the service I looked straight ahead and my worship was transformed into something intimate between God and me alone.  

If there’s a downstream of peace, there is an upstream, too. God’s goodness and faithfulness aren’t just these handy truths that pop up when we need them. Often I wrongly see peace as something remote and rare, a commodity that dots the timeline of my life on those occasions when I trusted God enough to grab it. But life isn’t occasional at all. Something as big as the Shalom of God must be pre-existent to our experiences of it, don’t you think? If trusting God is something we were created to do, then could it be we know a little more about it than we think we do? Could it be threaded into the fabric of our lives before we are ever able to recognize it for what it is? The truth is we rely upon Jehovah Shalom for every breath, from our first to our last, whether we ever do it intentionally or not. The Psalmist said:

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth.  ~ Psalm 71:5-6

I think the peace that comes from trust must be like grace. It is there—offered freely and lavishly—and we can choose to partake of it… or not. It is always there. You can be a Peaceful Mom because the way of peace is present, at your very fingertips. There isn’t a single “anything” in your life or in the life of your child that can change that fact.

An Olympic-Sized Dose of Hope

We were eating dinner with the TV on.

It was on mute. But still. We never eat with the TV on, except for three weeks every four years when the Olympics beckon us to throw our morals to the wind and turn our home into a sports bar.

We were talking about the 1996 Olympics. If you lived in Atlanta then, you have your own personal Olympics stories. We went to watch badminton, not because we were all that interested in badminton, but because the tickets were cheap enough to buy for a family of six. We rode MARTA downtown together and, later that night, we found out a bomb had exploded just steps away from where we had been. If you lived in Atlanta then, you might even have a bomb story.

Matt spoke up, “I didn’t go with you.”

“Yes, you did,” I said, with that omniscience we moms think we have.

“Mom,” patronizingly, “I was a rebellious kid. I didn’t go anywhere with the family then.”

And then it all comes rushing back. Matt was fifteen and indeed rebellious. Of course he didn’t go. Opting out was an art with him in those days. It makes me sad to remember all that estrangement now. I think in the past few years I’ve photo-shopped him back into our memories, placed him retrospectively where he belongs. Maybe that’s mercy and grace. Even our memories get healed. But I really haven’t forgotten, and I’m not sure I want to. The new photo looks sharper and dearer because of the unedited old one.

Matt’s move back to Atlanta just so happened to coincide, roughly, with his move back to Jesus. He was a redeemed, renewed, restored work in progress. One of the first things he did was to actively reconnect with his now-grown brothers. At his initiative, they all four formed a men’s adult soccer team with some buddies.  Without realizing it, Matt was creating new, photographic memories as surely as the old, painful ones began to fade.  

All four of our sons on the same playing field every week. We met their wives at the park, took our camp chairs, and tried not to embarrass them by cheering. We hid our faces in our hands and groaned when they fouled other players. We went out for pizza afterwards. They aren’t close enough in age for this phenomenon to have happened when they were kids nor has it happened since.

But as I think about the Olympics, the drama and the pageantry of it all, I am in awe of that short soccer season. It meant something. If it had been on TV, we would have watched it during dinner.