My son came stomping into the house from the garden a month ago, demanding I punish his sister,
who had apparently thrown dirt in his hair. Figuring there was more to the story, I sent for my daughter, and she arrived promptly in the front doorway sobbing and screeching. Apparently my son had said she was “in first grade.” I managed not to laugh at the grave insult because she was so sincerely angry. She alternatively yelled and cried that “yes,” indeed, she had thrown “dirt on his head” because he knows perfectly well she has “finished second grade.” I calmed her down, still trying to keep a straight face–though that became suddenly easier when my daughter stopped screaming long enough to verbalize: to her, being told she is “in first grade,” means she is “stupid.” He was calling her “stupid,” something we just don’t do.
Every once in a while I have a good mothering moment. It usually happens when I put aside my natural reaction to snap or scoff or blurt out my uninformed, unsympathetic opinions (such as, “Well, that’s silly. You’re in second grade. Go back out to the garden”). This time I hesitated and felt words form around an idea.
I told my daughter to shut her eyes, to keep herself calm, and to listen in her mind and feel in her heart. I told her I was going to say something and that she would be able to tell if it was true – if she was calm and peaceful and listening to what her heart knows and what the Spirit tells her. She shut her eyes, and I whispered (just work with me for a moment), “Sweetie. You are stupid.”
She sat quietly for perhaps 10 or 15 seconds, then her eyes flew open, clear and wide, and she announced without a hint of uncertainty, “No. No. I am not.”
I told her to shut her eyes again, that we would try it again. I whispered, “You could be working a little harder in the garden.” She paused, then opened her eyes and looked straight at me. She ducked her head in apology and said, “Mom, that is true. I am sorry.” And – without pouting or back talking – she went promptly back to weed her bean row in the garden.
I have wondered for years about the Spirit testifying of truth. I know that Spirit testifies of the truth of the gospel, but I never thought to pray in college about the veracity of the Pythagorean Theorem, about whether the best place for a thesis statement really is the last sentence of the first paragraph, or if the Federalist Papers are inspired (and maybe that is just because I was too busy praying that I could remember things for the test). Nor did I ever consciously think, “I should pray about what so-and-so said about me”—because “they” did (and do) say things every so often about who I am, commenting on whether I am smart, lazy, pessimistic, happy, kind, snarky, mean, loyal, or etc., limiting me or enabling me with labels that may or may not be true.
But, as I watched my daughter, I realized I have occasionally and intuitively followed the same process for years, not understanding nor putting words to the process; I instinctively “check in” on the Truth of what others tell me and accept or reject it accordingly. I am left feeling sad that I did not think to understand nor teach this lesson nineteen years ago when my first child was born—because some truths are critical, and perhaps they can only be known thoroughly through the Spirit. I may tell my daughter all day long that she is beautiful and smart, only to have her question and doubt that fact, especially when she gets around mean girls in middle school or around teasing brothers. Yet I saw the effect, the certainty and clarity that came with knowing her truth in her own heart and mind. Turning inward and “checking” with God about the (lack of) truth in those nasty, name-calling “sticks and stones” that others fling at us may be a girl’s (or a boy’s or a woman’s or a man’s) salvation. It seems to me that knowing the deep Truths of who we really are will serve us far better than the empty praise and hollow criticisms of others.
Plus . . . she went back out to weed the garden! Happily! Truly a modern-day miracle.