Friday, March 11, 2016

Worth It





Today I heard the strains of Kate Bush in my ear.  Those of my years know, This Woman’s Work well.  And if you don’t know it, lucky day, here it is so you can:




Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman's work,
This woman's world.
Ooh, it's hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking
Of all the things I should've said,
That I never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things I should've given,
But I didn't.
Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

It is rare for me to hear those words from her haunting voice and not be transported.  I heard them again when I saw my sons at twilight, chasing each other in our backyard, motioning to my husband to come out to see a new star they've spotted in a clear clear sky.  They've been looking for navigation
evening-ward like so many before them.  Seeing how stars and galaxies, planets, the sun, how it all fits. How they've managed to spin and stay for so very long.  It's humbling to watch them rediscover a practice older than time.  

I got an email today from my son’s teacher, informing me that he had been slapped by another student, and told that he needed to “learn to act like a man.”  

I know.  It’s impossible not to be angry.  He’s only 8.  When I asked Sam what had happened, I learned that it was unprovoked, but that he had been slapped twice, “Not too hard Mommy.”  Told just that and then the students kept walking when the child in question turned and slapped him one more time for good measure.

“But I’m fine Mommy, it’s not a big deal.  He doesn’t have a lot of friends.  He said he was sorry when we were packing up.”

“Isn’t this the boy you helped welcome when he was new?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you say?”

“I said it was okay.”


No.  Of course not.  Not in the least.  It is not okay.

It is not okay that you were hit.  Not even once. 

It’s not okay that a child your age felt he had to hit you, perhaps to renew some power he’s lost at home. 

It’s not okay that this child had located that language before a decade’s presence on earth.

It’s not okay.  No matter what his home life may or may not be that caused him to do this to someone who had been kind to him, whatever reflexive, protective, determined action to see if Sam was still going to be standing or there or kind or friendly, whatever the cloudy reason that he did this to my child, it is still not okay.

None of this is okay.

As sorry as I am for this child, I am angry for mine.  Because as I have taught Sam compassion, he has taught himself empathy and he is unable to distinguish that from his own value.  He has not been able to understand the incomparable weight of his own worth.

And so he is silent.  And so he takes it in the name of friendship.  And so he forgives because he knows what it feels like to be lonely and unliked.  And so it is “okay.”

No.  None of this is okay.



I cannot blame him though.  Sam, that is, because I can lay no claim to the other small soul in this scene.  What have I shown him about worth?

It has taken over 4 decades for me to finally understand that I am worth it.  And you know; I am so tired now.  Too tired to pretend that I don’t notice the games that we play, the endless dance of engagement that certain relationships require. 
There is no moment, no law, no Scripture that says that I have to take whatever it is you feel you need to deal out to be your friend.  No gauntlet that I have to pass.  I thought I did.  I did it for a long time.  Moved as necessary to make my father happy.  Pushed my own feelings aside not to lose favor with a friend.  Not stood up for myself lest I lose one.  Like Sam, I’ve withstood more than one slap.

As much as we crave human interaction, as much as we need friendship to help us be whole and happy, the minute their weight becomes a burden we are reluctant to release them.  Then more weight is added.  Subtle slights are offered, more overt ones are sometimes thrown, and still we stay mute.  Allowing the waves of another’s discontent to run over us all in the name…of friendship.

Sam, the times I withstood it, the moments when I have been talked to in ways that were ungenerous and lacked thought.  The moments I allowed someone who said she was my friend to be unkind to me in any way—when I felt the prick of unease and injustice and chose to ignore it.  Every time I did so, I chipped away at my own value.  My own worth.


I was too scared to be seen as arrogant, perhaps, or needy.  I wouldn’t stand up for myself among people I thought to be safe because I was too afraid of losing their favor and then their presence in my life.  Their friendship, I reasoned, was too dear.




I was wrong.




Sam, my friendship is the one that is too dear.  I was willing and showed my heart over and over again.  There was no falsity there.  I showed up, I kept showing up.  And because of that, I should have known, the kindness and empathy and compassion and care—I should have known that the sum total of these things showed my worth.

But if I never acknowledged its substantial weight, no one else would.

I keep seeing this over and over and over again.  Sometimes in stunning ways much more violent than Sam’s experience: 

When worth is established by what we can take rather than what we give

That by taking pain we show our resilience to it, rather than blocking the blow.

That we should understand the joke, even though we know it was never meant to be funny

My slaps have been emotional, and I have endured more than one, often at the hands of people I thought were friends.  And the more I found a hollow for the pain these interactions gave me, the further I fled from God.  A God who did not want me to hurt, whose service does not include risking my emotional health, a God whose love says I am wonderful as I amover, and over and over again.  I have written about this once, but its worth a second telling. The popular teaching of turning the other cheek.  My pastor before I married told me that when Jesus instructs his listeners to turn the other cheek," he is actually providing a conundrum:

“Suppose someone hits you on your right cheek.  Turn your other cheek to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)

Often we feel that this is an indication that Christ is saying, “just endure this, love them into reality.”  But it is not true, because Christ would never ask you to forfeit your dignity or worth.  To slap first in this time, would mean palm to the side of your face.  The way you envision a slap.  The way Sam was slapped; back then, it was a way a master would slap a slave.  To offer your other cheek however meant that the person in question had a problem.  S/he would have to slap you using the backside of their hand to your face.  Such a slap acknowledged you as an equal.  So in turning the other cheek, you offer the person in question an opportunity to do one of two things: acknowledge you as their equal or withdraw.

You are worth having.  You are worth knowing.  You are worth believing in and listening to.  Your presence is valuable. 


Know it.  Own it.  Know your worth.

It is a lesson that cannot be left too late. 



I do not have to apologize for my presence, and I don’t have to chase you for a friendship.  I have shown you my value.  You have seen it.  Just like you, I have challenges, and heartache, hard fought for triumphs and slow simmering stories.  I have reached out more than once to let you know I value you, and if I was ignored, I tried harder.  I wanted you to see me, to know that I was there.  But I am choosing now to withdraw from the chase.  I know my worth.... What is my presence in your life worth to you?  I know you have a little life in you yet.  I know you have a lot of strength left.  I know you have a little life in you yet.  I know you have a lot of strength left.”

In the end, the very end, our worth cannot be found in another’s field of vision.  Because if that is true, then we will be chasing it through another’s sight for all our lives.  Because that path has been broken by someone else, our own footing will not find a place.  We cannot follow someone else’s path without losing our own

“Sam,” I say, creaky boned-folded on the floor. “Sam.  You don’t need to chase anyone across the night sky anymore.  Your own star shines brightly—and those that want to be close to its glow are going to find you….  Okay?”
“Okay, Mommy.”

And that is okay.    

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