My hands clenched the steering wheel. As my husband relayed the parts he knew, my heart raced, and the routine task of driving home became much harder to manage. I tried to just listen, but the clarifying and probing questions kept coming. And while he didn’t know everything, he knew enough to awaken the Mama Bear in me. I got angry. I mean, seething angry. It didn’t matter that the offender was a 13-year-old girl. It didn’t matter that I was a full-grown adult. Someone made a public spectacle of my baby. Someone intentionally set out to embarrass and ridicule my child. And that someone was now Enemy Number One!
I pulled into the garage much more crooked than usual, and every attempt to straighten out just resulted in more error, so I gave up and sat there for a moment all alone in the dark and cold.
“Why are you so angry, Marilyn?” I asked myself. I rooted through, trying to reveal subconsciousness. Images of mean girls swirled through my mind, and I found myself back there again in all the places where mean girls met me. The yelling and posturing for the crowd. The looks that dared the other to “just try it.” The nervousness about the next day at school. The giggles and whispers at my expense. It all came back, and then so did I, sitting there once more in the cold, black garage.
“You’re not angry. You’re hurt that your baby is hurt, and you couldn’t stop it.” With self-awareness came resolve. “This isn’t about you. This is about her. She needs her mama to help her navigate this well. She needs you to listen. She needs your guidance, not your negative energy and emotion.”
I stepped out of the car, closed the door, and set the alarm. It was time to be a different kind of parent. The kind of parent I hoped I never had to be. The kind of parent we all know we must be eventually. I was a rock and voice of reason for our family, who all felt the impact of this incident.
Then that Friday morning, after days of guiding and advocating, the floodgates opened, and I sat and sobbed uncontrollably in the arms of my Father on my couch at our usual meeting time.
At some point or another, we all will don a mask. It will be necessary. But equally necessary is the taking off of that mask. It’s like the high-heeled shoes and power suit we must wear for those certain occasions of life. When we get to the car, we throw those pumps into the passenger seat and deftly unhook the bra while never taking off that blazer and button down. We need the liberation of release. We need to be maskless and raw and real. And when we have Jesus, He shows us how to operate masklessly more and more in our daily lives.
This doesn’t mean that we throw tact to the wind or discard decorum. Instead, we learn by faith in Christ how to navigate the seasons of life with integrity and love, no matter how challenging things become. We learn the difference between self-control and pretending. We discover that restraint and constraint are not synonymous. We begin to master agency through faith, rather than resignation due to circumstance. And we adopt a biblical view of strength, which exists in opposition to that of the world.
Friend, the world tells us to be independent, but Jesus says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15: 4, NKJV). The world tells us hustle hard and grind on, but Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28, NKJV). The world tells us that we are powerful in our own right, but Jesus says, “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10: 19, NKJV). The world tell us to get them before they get us, but Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44, NKJV). This all seems unrealistic and impossible, except to those of us who truly know Him.
So often we spend too much time trying to project images of strength and self-sufficiency to the world. When the weight of pretense gets too heavy to bear, we drop the load, but instead of being free in the knowledge that Jesus saves and redeems and protects, we do all we can rushing around, trying to pick up those pieces again. We stack those burdens brick by heavy brick onto our backs again, and then we wonder why we are so unfulfilled and miserable all the time. God allows us comfort in Him, Friend. We find peace when we abandon pretense in the safety of His arms. He wants us to leave the dropped load with Him that He will be our strength. When we choose to seek Him instead of that which the world told us to value, when we allow ourselves to fall into submission to His will, we paradoxically stand by His power.
As I cried on my couch, I knew that God was telling me that I had done well as a mother. I had been controlling my emotions so that my child could learn how to process her own in a healthy, affirming, and strengthening way that simultaneously did not diminish the humanity and need for love and compassion for her tormentor. I knew that this was now the appropriate time to feel my own feelings with Him. I knew that He had woken me up that morning just to sit with Him and let it all out, and I was grateful for the opportunity to cry with Him, grateful for the chance to take off the mask and just be His vulnerable, hurting child. There was no need to stifle or pack in again. I was free and confident that I could handle the next trial, too, as long as I kept Him first.
“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34: 6, NKJV)