Do you realize how many hard things we ask kids to do throughout their childhoods? First we say, “Hey, I’m gonna need you to exit that cozy, warm water bath situation into a freezing hospital room where the lighting is harshly fluorescent and people will immediately poke and prod you. Ready? Let’s do this.” From that moment, it’s on.
“Sleep by yourself in a cage-like box, in the pitch dark. I’ll be right down the hall. Let me know if you need anything. Or don’t. I’d really like to get some sleep.”
“Eat this white mushy meal, and don’t be intimidated at all by this metal object that’s coming at your face. It’s only a spoon. You’ll get used to it.”
“I realize your hands and knees are quite the efficient mode of transportation, but I’m going to ask you to rise up on those chubby feet and kind of fall towards me. This is called walking. You’ll love it. You’re probably going to fall 6,743 times and one or three of those falls might involve a trip to the ER, thanks to that pesky coffee table, but let’s give it a try anyway. It’ll be fun.”
How about this one?
“You’ve been with me almost every hour of your life thus far. Today, you’re going to walk into a strange building full of people you don’t know, with a funny bag on your back that’s way too big for your frame, and I’m going to leave you there for six-ish hours. I’ll be back, though. I promise.”
We don’t give our kids enough credit for rising to the occasion over and over with all the new and hard things. We take for granted that they’ll just do it. And more often than not they do, with gusto.
I don’t take these milestones for granted with my little Lucy. Adopted children are some of the bravest kids on the planet, and Lucy proves this time and again, but the ride hasn’t been easy. As we’ve waltzed daily in the rhythm of safety, trust, and rest, I’ve asked hard things of her, and she’s answered. Sometimes she answers with a fight, sometimes she answers by withdrawing, but always, eventually, she takes that brave step. I tell her I believe in her. I remind her that she can do this hard thing, whatever it is.
My latest request of her was to start preschool. She’s had three years at home with me, and I was convinced that the best thing for her social and physical development was to have a few days with kids her age while being stretched and challenged sensory-wise.
I was prepared for the worst—”screaming, crying, perfect storm.” You thought TS was singing about love gone wrong, but she was actually describing the first day of preschool—or so I thought. Do you know what my girl did instead? She marched in confidently, hat-donned head held high. She unpacked her bag into her cubby. She placed her lunchbox in the basket. She walked out to the sand pit, took a new friend’s hand, and bid me farewell. No tears, only smiles. To my utter surprise, she was smiling even bigger when I picked her up. In her precious, four-year-old way, she was saying, “I can do hard things, mama. You’ve told me this for the last three years. I believe you now.”
Tears—not because I’m sad that my baby is growing up, but because I’m just so proud of her. I’m proud of her for trusting me enough to take those scary, hard steps. I’m overjoyed to see her thrive.
I wonder…what is it that causes us grown ups to stop believing we can do hard things? When did we stop trusting our Father? When did we cease subscribing to the premise that His opinion and care of us is enough? When did we start backing away from things that aren’t safe and secure and easy?
My kids are currently obsessed with Matilda the musical, so the soundtrack plays in our house 24/7. (Btw, if you want to get teary, you need to see my older daughter’s rendition of “Quiet.” Heart. Breaking.) In the song, “When I Grow Up,” the kids in the cast sing this:
“When I grow up
I will be strong enough to carry all
The heavy things you have to haul
Around with you when you’re a grown up.”
Kids hear this and say, “That’s right! I will!” Adults say, “I’m grown up now, and I know for a fact I’m not strong enough. The load is too heavy; the things Life asks of me are too much. My arms are weary, my back is stooped. Wishful thinking, children, but I’m not strong enough at all. The heavy things are just too heavy.”
We long for the youthful idealism that we know we can never get back. Where did that kid go, the one who ran onto the field even though he’d never played before? The girl who auditioned even though the odds were stacked against her? The one who spoke honestly and bravely and said with Matlida, “That’s not right”?
Life happened, and the voices got louder and the load got heavier and eventually we said, “Too hard.” So we stopped engaging. We stopped trying new things. We stopped pushing back, and we now say, “Please, can everyone just post pictures of cute puppies on Facebook so I can forget all of the icky stuff that’s going on in the world and in my life?”
Yes, the load is unbearable at times. Yes, life can be crushing. But we’re not asked to carry it alone. We can do hard things, and if you don’t believe me, just look at my daughter. The circumstances surrounding her first year of life may have stunted her development, but they aged her way beyond her years. Her lot was crushing. She did not have the privilege of the idyllic innocence of babyhood…and yet she thrives. She pushes through every obstacle, not without fear but through fear, with determination and a conscious choice to trust. She knows it’s the only way forward.
We can do hard things. We can. So have that difficult conversation that will expose your heart. Risk rejection. Pursue that friend who is running away. Knock on your teenager’s door, again. Engage with someone who believes differently than you, even if the issue at hand is emotionally charged. Interact with the tough, divisive world problems that aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many puppy gifs you watch. I’m talking to myself here, the one who would much rather make you laugh than make you uncomfortable.
The song goes on:
“When I grow up,
I will be brave enough to fight the creatures
That you have to fight beneath the bed each night
To be a grown up…”
Brave is not the absence of fear; brave usually means doing it scared. The creatures aren’t going away. Conflict. Brokenness. Sin…they’ll be with us ’til glory, on the battlefield, in the political scene, in our homes, and especially in our own hearts. Let’s be brave and face them together.
What hard thing have you been running from? What can you do to face that creature today? I can do hard things, and by the way, so can you.