We stand outside the schoolroom door. The other kids are inside settling at their desks; their parents walking back down the path. My son sits on a little wooden bench just outside swinging his feet back and forth over the pile of flip flops deposited there. “I won’t go in,” he declares defiantly a continuation of the battle we’d been having ever since he woke up. I feel frustration building inside me. I want to respond back in anger. Why does he have to be so stubborn? A deep breath, a whispered prayer for patience and wisdom. I kneel down beside him so I can look in his face. He turns away and says again, “I won’t go in. I can’t go in. I HATE IT! WHY DID WE HAVE TO COME HERE?” And I somehow hear him this time, hear his heart. It’s not defiance or anger. It’s fear and loneliness and helplessness. Tears well up in his eyes and leave tracks down his little boy cheeks. He struggles to hold them back, trying to act tough. Finally he turns, “Please…please don’t make me go in there.” Desperate, broken, begging. And my mama heart hurts so much, but even though I want to, I can’t rescue him in this moment. He has to go to school. I have to go to school. So his dad and I kneel down and hold him close. We pray over him, asking our Father who cares so much to take care of our son, to help him face his fears, to speak to his heart, to send him a friend, to help his teacher understand him, to show him where he fits in this new place. And after we pray, the tears stop and he picks up his backpack and heads inside…just like that.
His dad and I don’t talk about it. We simply join hands and head down the path to our classroom. My heart is still heavy, and I have so many questions…mainly this, “Did we do the right thing?” We told the kids over and over before we came that this journey we are on is for all of us, but right now I’m wondering if it’s true? Is this what’s best for them? They are struggling so much with everything – the heat, the food, the long school days, language barriers, cultural differences, lack of space, the constant noise of community. I so want this adventure to be good for them. I want to remove every hard thing and make all things fun and easy. I want them to love this experience, love us, love God. What if they don’t? I go through the day, but I’m distracted thinking about a little blond boy bent over his books, listening to his teacher, at recess, at lunch. I’m praying for him, and I’m praying for me. What will I say if it isn’t a better day? What will I say if his resentment of this place settles into his heart and turns into resentment against us? Against God?
At the end of the day, I walk into his classroom and I notice on the wall their school motto for this quarter. “It starts in the heart.” I can’t look away. The truth of that simple sentence washes over me, and I think of what I REALLY want for my kids. More than their short-term pleasure and life free from difficulty, more than a great time, I want my kids to discover for themselves what it means to follow God, to hear His voice, to know Him, and to follow Him. I want them to know the Truth that to find your life, you first have to lay it down, that there is nothing that brings more joy than full surrender to their Savior, that the God who created them has amazing plans for them. And in that instant, I hear that still small voice say, “That’s what I want too, but you never let me get to their heart.” I am undone. It’s true. In the normal life I lived just a few short weeks ago, I could protect and guard and coddle. I could make their favorite foods and run to the store on a whim, change our schedule to accommodate their wants and desires. I could and I did rescue them from so many things. I thought I was protecting them and guarding them from the cruel things of life, but suddenly, standing in this classroom, I see that I have been guarding and protecting them from too much. I’ve been blocking the very tools that God wanted to use to teach them and train them to hear Him and follow Him. I no longer have that option here, and I’ve been struggling as I watch them struggle. But suddenly I see the opportunity. Instead of rescuing my sons from trouble, I get the chance to walk through it with them. They get to see firsthand that when we don’t know what to do, we ask God. If we are lonely, we can call on Him. If we need something that we don’t have, we can ask him. If we are struggling in a friendship, we can ask Him to soften hearts. We can learn to love when we don’t feel like it; persevere when we want to give up; wait when we want it now. Before, we talked about these things in theory, sang songs about God being all we need, but in reality, we were the ones meeting their needs, meeting our needs. If we had a problem, a difficulty, we solved it and had the resources to do so. Now, in this life, not so much. And it’s hard and it’s good.
As I stand staring at the sign, my sweet boy comes. “It was better today , Mom.” And I let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding and whisper a prayer of thanks to the One who holds both of our hearts in His hand. He is faithful.