In my daughter’s fifth year she has seen a lot of mile stones. Turning 5 was just the first of those. Starting kindergarten was a big change, but as most young children she dealt with the transition well. We added a once a week half an hour dance class for her this year, and she LOVES it! She wants to dance all the time. Everywhere she is, everywhere she goes she wants to be dancing. In the crowded living room, she’s dancing. At Church, she is dancing. In the grocery aisle, she is dancing. And far too often she is being scolded for doing something she loves.
It’s not that we want to stifle her joy, anything but…however, she still has difficulty considering the consequences of spinning in small spaces, or how spinning will cause falling, or how jumping will cause other things to fall, etc, etc. As a parent, I find myself struggling with how to help her find an outlet for her joy and how to do it safely. Half an hour a week is not proving to be enough. The other things that bring her joy are dramatic play with dolls, or imaginary friends; and learning and then doing the things she has learned on her own. She is eager to try new things. She wants to do more grown up things. Once again I find myself as a parent trying to help her balance between what she is able to do, and letting her fail just enough to make her want to do more, and then there is the level of appropriateness of her actions and choices.
Like her mamma and her grandpa before her, my daughter is a perfectionist. She is eager to learn and to do, but she has little patience for things she cannot accomplish. And what is worse, is that she internalizes her frustration, like her mamma and her grandpa before her. Watching her deal with her frustration both amazes me and concerns me. It amazes me because when she wants to, she is able to calm down and verbalize her frustration and why she feels what she feels. She holds her emotion in check and tells me how she feels about being told “no,” or “stop.”(She is very self-aware.) She becomes the non-anxious presence in the room. (If only I could do that better, I would definitely be a better pastor.) This is a WONDERFUL trait. Still it concerns me because she internalizes her frustration. And I worry about what that is teaching her. As a parent, I didn’t think I would be building a shame bank quite so early in her life.
As a Christian I rely on the images and lessons of scripture to teach me how to live, particularly through the things that are hard. And honestly, there are times when scripture doesn’t help. Still there are times when the wrong scripture will speak in the midst of a situation, and that is all the more difficult. One lesson that jumps out at me is the concept of fearing the Lord. As a teen and a young adult I thought that this lesson was about being afraid of God’s punishment. As I have matured, I understand that 1) consequences for our actions are not punishment from God, and 2) fear of the Lord is about wanting what God wants, not fearing what God will do.
The shame we feel as children and into adulthood is often related to our actions and their consequences in relationship to what we have been taught about what is acceptable and what is not. Another layer to feeling shame is related to control and/or lack of control and our perception of that control. Still shame has a lasting effect, because it doesn’t just hurt the first time it is felt, it hurts over and over again, no matter how many times we try to heal it. So the only way to truly heal shame is to admit our sin/mistakes, and to understand our limits to control the world around us, and finally to accept God’s grace and when appropriate, the grace of others.
What I hope to teach my sweet daughter is built into her beautiful name: Joy, Enough, and Grace. Abagail is her father’s (and my) deepest joy. She is the seed of joy that is planted deep in our hearts, and when she is her truest self that joy grows into bushels of fruit for us to share and feed the world. Her middle names are Dayenu (a Hebrew word meaning: enough/God did more) and Grace. I hope that I can teach A to find joy in enough: enough that looks like fewer toys and clothes and more sharing; enough that leaves room to grow rather than trying to fill the empty spaces with excess; enough that appreciates and is grateful for how very much she already has and how much more God does every day simply because God is God and we are God’s people; enough that appreciates the small moments of God’s presence in our lives in our journeys and in our growing. I hope that I can teach her grace: grace in mistakes and in intentional choices of sin; grace in learning something new and not shaming herself for what she didn’t know; grace in knowing that true love can only grow, it cannot die, and it cannot fade. While God is the only one who loves perfectly, love comes from God and when we give it back and give it away, it grows.
This year I look forward to sharing more moments like this one. Together she and I built her Christmas present, a wooden doll house.
She insisted on sharing in the labor, because she is not deterred from things she can conceive of doing in her mind, and because she wanted to be a part of the creation. Being a girl didn’t figure into the equation of building a doll house. This year I want to avoid teaching her to change her body (because I’m not happy with my own) and instead teach her to love exercise (dancing and walking and running and jumping) and to love vegetables and fruits and to choose sugar only sometimes. This year, I want to teach her about the joy in working a little harder for a few minutes to avoid working really hard for a long time later (cleaning and organizing her room). And I hope in teaching I can learn to model these same behaviors.