I ran the mile and two-mile events for my indoor track team in high school. At the start, all the competitors stood shoulder to shoulder, leaning forward, waiting for the signal to go forward. The beginnings of these races, especially the mile, tended to be chaotic. Elbows bumped and pace had to quickly adjust to get into the inner lane as soon as possible. Occasionally, feet would tangle and one or more runners would go down. Falls happen fast and there’s not any time to sit and check for scrapes or analyze why it happened. All there is time to do is scramble up and hope you’ve got enough guts and speed to catch up to the pack.
Figurative falls in everyday life happen at a different pace. More often, a fall is preceded by a series of missteps. I fell today as a mother. I lost my patience with my toddler and she was a front-row witness to her mommy’s lapse in self-control. No one was hurt, no one yelled, nothing was thrown…but I was clearly cross and I know she knew I was cross with her. Every time I think about incidents like this as a parent, my heart breaks. How many times have we as parents tried to teach patience, a calm spirit, a low voice, kind words? All the instruction seems lost when a child sees her mommy become tense, louder, not as gentle or kind. Of course there is room for sternness and conviction in discipline, but today it was just my own weakness and failure to be the mommy she needed me to be.
In these moments, as in the mile race, there is no time to sit and examine what led up to the incident (though I did have time later and knew that if I’d gotten better sleep the night before, had a better lunch, stuck to my commitment to staying calm and in control, remembered that my female hormones were more apparent than usual this week, and most importantly, begun my day with more prayer and time reading God’s words in the Bible, my heart would have been in a better place). Being a mommy allows little time for independent thoughts; one must keep going to “the next thing”. In this case, and admitting this makes me feel even worse, our next thing was nap. How was I to go from feeling toxic and all stirred up on the inside to creating an atmosphere of peace, comfort, and rest? Whatever I did, I had to act. Sitting and feeling guilty or hopeless was not an option.
I did what I would have done in the race if I’d fallen: I got up and got going. I took a moment, though, to hold my little girl close and make sure she was looking at me. When I had her attention, I said in a low, steady voice that I was sorry. “I’m sorry I raised my voice. I’m sorry I was upset. Do you forgive me?” As a toddler, her understanding of forgiveness is of course limited. I am confident, though, that she could understand the change in my tone from harsh to contrite. I held her close, gave her a kiss, and I knew she was starting to relax as she felt and saw the calmness in my demeanor.
She ended up falling asleep on my lap, something that doesn’t happen very often anymore. Holding my sleeping child was just what I needed (and wanted) at that time. I was reminded of the best parts of being a mommy, I felt her warmth, her trust, her peace as she dozed. I had time to present my failings to my Father in heaven, to confess, to ask forgiveness, to pray. I had time to close my own eyes and get some refreshing sleep. By the time we both awoke, she showed no indications that she remembered what had happened or that she might be holding a grudge. My children have taught me much about forgiveness, both giving and receiving. True to form, she woke up ready to launch into five different things at once–the race went on.