I know I am the beloved.

“Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says, ‘you are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.’ Jesus made it clear that the same voice that he heard in the Jordan River and on Mount Tabor can be heard by me. He makes it clear that there is a home with the Father. But if I decide to keep control, if I go out into the world, I will keep running around asking everything, ‘do you really love me, do you really love me?’ I give all the power to the voices of the world. It is the world that defines me then. The world’s love is full of ifs,  ‘yes I love you if you are good-looking, if you are intelligent, if you are well off, if you are educated, if you have connections, if you are productive’… But when I am home with the Father then I know I am the beloved, I can confront and console and admonish without any fear of rejection or need for affirmation, I can suffer persecution without the need for revenge or receive praise without using it as proof of my goodness.

- Henri Nouwen,

The Return of the Prodigal Son (emphasis mine)

 

I have spent my life begging the world to affirm me. I have spent my life being sweet and fun and hoping that in return you will say, “She is so sweet and fun!” A lot of times it has worked.

I have spent my life withholding my opinion for the sake of the happiness of the crowd. I have spent my life in love with your praise. I took praise from the teachers who called me “responsible” and “nice.” I took praise from the youth group leaders who called me “a leader” and “a servant.” I took praise from every friend who would give it to me. From the boys in college who took me aside to proclaim my “godliness.” (I was at a Christian school. “Godliness” was basically like saying “hotness” in Jesus code.) I’ve spent my adulthood begging you to affirm my gifts. I’ve spent motherhood longing for someone to crown me The Dream Mom. Every Boy’s Ideal Mother.

And when that hasn’t come, when the coworkers’s personality was not into “sweet and fun,” when the teacher wasn’t impressed with “niceness,” when the guy I liked was not in love with “godliness,” or when my failure as a mother was lit brightly on display for the passerby (or family member) to experience, I have been crushed.

I have been broken into a helpless mess.

It’s not just that it’s hard if you don’t like me. It’s everything if you don’t like me. You’re opinion of me is My Everything.

They call that a “People Pleaser,” you know. They say I have a problem.

*

We have the upstairs flat of a typical San Francisco house. We moved in November 1st and are still deep in the process of settling into our home, a home where our lives are lived directly above our neighbors. Our neighbors have been in the flat below our place for around eight years. They’ve been lucky in terms of city-living: always they’ve had a quiet couple living above them. For eight years they tell us they never heard their neighbors.

Until now. Our hallway is long and open and it flows the distance of the apartment, all the way from the living room at the front of the house, straight into the boys’ bedroom. It’s a dream hallway for little boys. Can they do anything but run? Do four- year-olds and almost-two-year-olds ever get anywhere without running? And how does one go about helping a toddler learn not to throw their cup out of the crib onto the unforgiving floor at 5 in the morning, the crash making the sort of sound that wakes my sleeping neighbors?

Our sleep patterns don’t match. My neighbors are artists: up working late, sleeping into the morning. My boys, of course, are screaming from their rooms at  6 am. I’m snagging them and rushing to the other side of the house and keeping them contained until 8. What else can I do?

We’ve had ongoing discussions with our neighbors about the noise made in this house. We’ve bought them flowers, said, “We’re taking this very seriously.  We want to be respectful of you.” We’ve kept our tempers. We’ve prayed. I’ve instituted the, “do not run rule in the hallway” rule. (Which is the worst rule ever because I feel like I’m saying ‘no’ all day long and nothing’s ever changing.) We’ve spent more money on carpeting. And my husband says, That’s all we can do, Micha. 

And it’s true. I can’t unmake my children’s childishness. I can’t stop the tantrums that erupt in the unforeseen hours. I can’t curb the loud playing. And I don’t want to. This is my children’s home. This is their childhood.

So, instead, I’m living my days tightly wrung. Clenching my jaw at every sound, tightening my throat in fear of every doorbell. What if it’s them here to say I’ve done it again? Here to say that if I were a good mom, I’d have some control over my kids?

I had a realization a couple of weeks ago. I found myself more concerned with what the strangers downstairs think of me (my character, my success as a mom) than the comfort of my kids in their home. And I realized, I have a problem.

Where does it stop? How do I let the anxiety out of my jaw, content to live with kindness, but not controlled by the thoughts of every one else? How do I untwist the fear of failing (in this case: failing as a neighbor) that is making my days jumpy and angst-ridden?

So, of course, yesterday on the second Sunday of Epiphany, when my pastor spoke about Christ’s baptism, he spoke directly to me. He spoke to those of us who are never Enough. 

He said, “John the Baptist is saying, ‘Repent. See that this great king is coming – and he’s good. He is coming with grace in his hand.’”

With grace in his hand. My pastor said that when the heavens opened over Jesus in his baptism, the scripture describes the skies as literally “torn.” They cannot be put back together again the same way. Nothing will ever be the same between earth and heaven.

And God announces his son as his beloved. “Of course Jesus will remember that he is the beloved,” my pastor said. Over and over, throughout his humanity, in every moment of uncertainty, in every moment of pain, Jesus will have to remember that God split open the heavens and said those words: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.

Learning that I am enough, no matter what judgment any one else makes of me: This is the process of becoming whole, of becoming wholehearted. I cannot remove the anxiety I feel when my kids run down the hall and I picture the neighbor’s frustration or disapproval. But I can stand in the mirror and say: I am enough because I am God’s beloved. My kids are enough because they are God’s beloved.

And I believe that might just change everything.

 

 Photo Credit: Indulgy.com via Anna Burns on Pinterest

 

 

  • http://chicagomama-brenna.blogspot.com/ Brenna D (@chicagomama)

    These words you wrote? They match the words in my heart. Every bit, down to the clenched and painful jaw.

    We live on the third floor above a teacher who does not much like kids and his partner who spends his days and nights playing video games, loudly, right below our sleeping room. The days of fear from text messages and emails was making me physically ill. And I came to the same realization, all my energy was spent trying to change my girls’ temperament and I couldn’t even recognize myself.

    We spent over a year seriously praying, our friends prayed as well, and something seems to have broken – miraculously – and he hasn’t complained in over a year. (we are still trying to move, but for now I am grateful to be living under this umbrella of grace)

    I will be praying for you and your neighbors, as I pray for mine. I will pray that their hearts will be softened, their ears will be dulled, and that you will be able to see your home as a place of joy and comfort!

    • michaboyett

      Thank you for this, Brenna. I know you said you’ve been agonizing over whether to keep living in the city with your kids and I know it’s situations like this one that makes us go: “What were we thinking?” For all the gifts of city living, the anxiety of this kind of situation in the home is so overpowering. I know that if I don’t move past it, it will wreck me. I’m in my home too often, it’s too much a part of my life for me to live fearfully inside it.

      I’m so grateful to hear that your neighbor hasn’t complained in over a year. Yes to the miracle of that. Thank you for praying for me, Brenna. Your compassion and understanding is a huge deal.

  • Denise

    Nineteen years ago we lived in a similar situation in Chicago – third floor flat and its’ long, wonderful hallway. My kids considered it another room, I thnk. I vividly remember the tense jaw, a sense of dread, trying to control the normal behavior of my then 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. Our downstairs neighbors were friends and sadly their intolerance for my childrens’ normal behavior forever changed our relationship. My children now, however have only lovely memories of our home there and remember it fondly. Your husband is right, you can only do so much. It is not required that you do more. Your children need to play and behave as children. I’m sure they will remember this time in a positive way. I am praying that your anxiety will lessen and your neighbors will experience a change of heart!

    • michaboyett

      Oh, Denise! Thank you for the encouragement that your kids only have fond memories of that apartment, not memories of you screaming, “Stop running!” all day long. That’s grace, right?

      I hate that your situation changed your friendship with the neighbors. I keep asking myself, What does it mean to be a peacemaker and my children’s advocate at the same time in this situation. I’m not sure so I’ll keep praying. : ) So grateful for your prayers.

  • http://ordinarywomanordinarytime.wordpress.com Melani

    I think the baptism of Christ Sunday is one of my favorites of the liturgical years. Sometimes, we just need to hear a sermon reminding us again that we are God’s beloved. In our pastor’s words: “You are God’s beloved and God is proud of you.” I didn’t realize I needed to hear that until I felt her words rush over me like a wave and lift a little weight from my soul.

    • michaboyett

      Yes, God is proud of you! I love that. And I hear you and your (my) deep need for that. And I agree about the Baptism Sunday thing. There is something about that story that always resonates deeply with me. That God would so understand his son’s humanity that God would choose to affirm that Jesus was doing the right thing. I love that Jesus needed affirmation, you know?

  • Julie

    Micha….this strikes a chord in me! I just took my daughter out of our city’s “finest” private school and send her back to her old Christian school mid year. People looked at me like I was crazy, the school administrators did not know what to do with me (their insecurity was so obvious). It was so clear to me what she needed after I had tried to give her what I thought was best. These are two very different things. I don’t look for affirmation in strangers and friends as much as I do in my parents who thus have not been able to give me those things. I have died to please them and nothing has worked. I was born again on 1/8 at 10:07 am this year in a single moment and realized how much God has loved me all my life. I felt the peace of Christ. If I don’t have anything but Him I will be ok…and beloved. I just have to carry that belief with me over and over in each new day.

    • michaboyett

      1/8 at 10:07 am! I love that you know the moment this year. And that you are experiencing the peace of Christ in your life, Julie. It is so difficult to be confident in God’s love and not crushed under the disapproval of others. Way to be brave and do what you knew was best for your daughter, despite the frowns and questions of others.

      You’re right, it’s just carrying that belovedness over into each new day…

  • Angela Guilloud

    Micha, I so appreciate your candidness and vulnerability. Truly a refreshment. I feel so blessed from afar through your blog, and I thank you, once again.

  • http://prinsenhouse.blogspot.ca/ Jeannie

    I so feel this! Our son is 10 and he has special needs including autism spectrum. He yells in church, in the library, in the dentist’s waiting room, on the street, etc . And, as I’ve discovered, I can’t actually stop him. All these experiences can become “jumpy and angst-ridden,” as you put it. So grace is so sweet when it comes, when someone taps me on the shoulder in church and says, “Don’t take him out, nobody minds,” or the dental assistant is totally charmed by him or the supply Educational Assistant at school goes home & tells his family what an awesome day he had with his student (my son). Gives me strength to withstand the looks and opinions of others. No solutions or suggestions here, just to say yes, you’re so right: we’re loved, our kids are loved, and it’s okay.

    • michaboyett

      I just wanted to click a big thumbs up on your comment, Jeannie. Thank you so much for passing along the wisdom…

  • http://www.longdaysandshortyears.wordpress.com Jen

    Micha, thank you so much for this post, and for being so honest about your current struggle. It makes me think about my own people-pleasing, jaw-clenching tendencies but also about how I can help my eldest daughter (now 5) to grow up with a secure-er sense of her own belovedness. She is currently obsessed about being ‘ready for kindergarten’ which, as far as I can tell, means becoming perfect by September. Sure, I want her to grow, to work hard, and to listen to authority figures, BUT this is not the foundation of her identity. Too unstable.

    For me, the transformational books with this were Brennen Manning’s ‘Abba’s Child’ and Max Lucado’s ‘Punchinello and the Wemmicks’ story (titled… hmm… ‘You are Special’??). I especially commend the latter to anyone trying to get this message across to kids.

  • http://diana Diana Trautwein

    Holey moley, Micha. I SO recognize this syndrome – and perhaps (just perhaps) one reason you’re having to endure this right now is so that you can rid yourself of this incessant need for the approval of others. It’s a spirit killer and can quite literally be a physical killer if it’s voracious hunger is not cut off at the root. (How’s that for a very badly mixed metaphor??) Your boys are BOYS and they’re little. This is their home, this is your home. Yes, there will be adjustments necessary, but good grief! Chill, neighbors. Just chill. Buy them earplugs for sleeping. :>) (I also posted about Baptism Sunday – and the wonderful liturgical piece we do each year. It’s one of my favorite Sundays of all: http://www.dianatrautwein.com/2013/01/come-to-the-water/ )

  • Rachel

    Micha
    Thank you, simply, for sharing those words
    enough
    and
    beloved.

  • Fred Harrell

    Rachel… Enough and Beloved. The sermon could have been so much shorter! Just those two words.


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