This morning as I drove the kids to school, a blade of light cut through a hole in the clouds in that divine way, you know, the way that feels like God is descending through the clouds to rest his glory on your shoulders, and you feel blessed, and particular, the center of the universe.
Then, the world tilted. I saw the solar system in all its blackness, the sun at the center, our blip of a planet lolly-gagging its way around on its invisible gravitational beltway, pirouetting until one patch of cloud over one city in one county in one country on one continent shifted just enough that the light that was already on its way to us was blocked by some accumulated water droplets and ice crystals hanging in the firmament, except for one spot, where it was free to shine directly into our atmosphere, and lo, the light arrived, and I got to witness it.
Look at the sky! I tell my kids every single time we’re in the car or walking somewhere or making breakfast.
Yeah, yeah, it’s beautiful, they say, and go on with their blessed, particular lives.
I remember being their age, the center of my own universe. I remember seeing my immediate wants and needs right before me, seeing only myself, my desires, my planet of purpose and every other molecule sent to serve my unfolding story. I lolly-gagged about, pirouetting my way through the day, blathering on about all my troubles, all my stresses, my worries, my fears. Admittedly, I still do this; we all do. As a parent, however, I think we’re given the gift of perspective, the ability to see our children as their own selves, separate and distinct and not the center of the universe. Hopefully this gives us our own perspective shift more regularly, from center of the universe to blip on a lolly-gagging planet, right alongside them.
So much of my mothering these days feels like taking hold of my teenagers’ shoulders to help them see beyond this moment. Look, this is not so big. Look, this is where this road might head. Look, you only see right now, but I have decades of life in the rear-view mirror, and I can give you a glimpse, at least, of what is yet to come, how much larger the world is, how your life is much smaller and simultaneously more beloved than you can grasp.
Mothering teens feels like dropping seeds in front of their path and dousing the ground they walk on, hoping something might take root, and then watching what happens next. I’m forever watching what happens next in a way I didn’t when they were younger, when I felt some sense of power and control over whether they live or die. I was just trying to keep them from killing themselves in one hundred small ways everyday—don’t run into the street. Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t ride your bike without a helmet. Eat your vegetables. After every single one of those phrases you could tack on “or you might die.” So much of parenting little ones was keeping them from physical harm while trying to help them grow up with as few injuries, mental and physical and emotional, as possible.
With teenagers, though, I’ve traded my leash and collar for casting visions of what once was, what could be. Here is what I learned in a similar situation. If you choose A, here are some potential scenarios. Here’s how it could play out. You might want to guard your heart. You might want to turn this way instead of that. I don’t know but I’m guessing that if you choose B, this is what might happen. You can choose that, but it might hurt on the other side. It might not turn out the way you hoped.
But in most things it’s their choice now. My teens are adults-in-training. For years they’ve been the center of the universe. But now, every once in a while, the light must streak through the atmosphere and right-size their pirouetting planet. Now is the time to begin awakening to the expansiveness of their world. They will always be, in some ways, the center of their personal universes. We’re all the main character of our lives, but in order to operate with any kind of grace and love, sometimes we have to surrender the first person POV and see. Look.
Now is the time to practice adulting. Now is the time to try out some of their own paths. Now is that time because I still have two or four or eight years with them, depending on which kid we are talking about, and there is space and close distance to catch them when they make mistakes, to guide them, to pour as much love and reassurance about their bearing the image of God. But mostly I get to watch, and love, and watch.
There’s a word I was reminded of this weekend by David Brooks, NYT columnist, that captures this kind of watching: beholding. I have the distinct pleasure as their mother to behold their beloved-ness, behold the image of God in them. No one could have cued me into this privilege, to witness the becoming of my children, to behold. I like “behold.” The past tense of it could be “beheld,” to be beholden by someone is to be held.
These days my teens need to be held, loosely. Sometimes what I want to do is cling tighter. What I want to do is direct their paths and protect them from all harm, like their lives are on rails and I’m the railroad engineer. What they really need are guardrails and GPS. (How many metaphors can I toss into this post?) Instead, God whispers, Hold on loosely. They need clear guidance, yes, but I need the heartbreaking understanding that they might choose to turn left when I thought they should turn right. They need grace to make the decisions, and grace when they turn around. Isn’t that what the Generous Father does for the Prodigal Son? He lets him go and he welcomes him back.
“I think I made a mistake,” one of these image bearers said to me the other night.
“If this is the biggest mistake of your teen years,” I said, “then I think you’re going to be okay.”
Oh, there are so many mistakes to be made. I made so many mistakes. I keep making mistakes. The blessing we have as their parents is the ability to give them grace and mercy and forgiveness now, with these first mistakes, so when they inevitably make bigger mistakes later, they remember their God, who kneels down and does not condemn them either, who will pull them up, whisper in their ear, This is not the end of the world, and give them hope for tomorrow, who will run to them on the road and meet them before they’ve even reached the doormat of their Father’s home.
He will behold them, and he will call them “my beloved.” They will be held. This is what I want to instill in them, now, that the light shining through the clouds is meant for them, and it’s also meant for all. They are beloved, and they are one of many other beloveds. Behold, dear one. You and you and you and you are loved.
Photo by Onur Kurtic