I saw him sitting in a stripe of summer sun in our friends’ backyard. Head drooping, hair falling forward in golden swatches tinged dark with sweat.
I watched his cleat-footed friend walk over and hover close, tossing a football hand-to-hand, saying gentle words I couldn’t hear but feel: “It’s ok, J, that you let the other team score. It’s ok. There’s always another game.”
But backyard football isn’t “just” a game for my eight-year-old boy.
So I left my adult conversation on the deck, walked across browning grass, and slouched down beside him.
“What’s up buddy? Why are you sad?”
I waited, then waited some more because I’ve learned the hard way—listening well means sitting in silence, and drawing out the heart is always worth the time
He breathed a harsh sigh, saying: “I just hate the feeling! I hate the feeling of losing. Because if I lose in football then what about when I run track races in the spring? I’ll lose then too.”
The belief behind the words—I feel bad, therefore, I must be bad—pressed him low.
How does a mama do it? Acknowledge the reality of the feeling, but counter the feeling with what’s true? This is the hard part, the fumbling around and praying for grace part. So, I prayed and said slow,
“I know buddy, it sure does feel bad to lose. It’s not fun. But just because you lose doesn’t make you a loser. Our feelings don’t always tell the truth about us. You need to talk back to your feelings. What is the truth about who you are?”
“I don’t know . . . .”
“Think for a bit . . . .”
Self-pity pressed his soul low this time, so I said,
“I’ll help you. You are God’s beloved son and mistakes are part of the way he shows you your heart.”
He nodded as his fingers reached out and crushed a stumbling brown leaf into the grass.
“When you make a mistake you can say to your feelings, ‘I’m God’s beloved son and I have a lot to learn, and then keep on playing with your friends, OR you can say, I should’ve done better (which is really your sinful pride talking!) and then sit by yourself feeling bad.”
He sat still, thinking.
“You have to talk to your feelings—tell them the truth, and ask the God who loves you to help you believe what’s true.”
He sighed, softening, and reached for my hand.
“Would you like to go find your friends with me?” I asked.
“Yeah, ” he whispered, lifting his head to look me in the eye.
Squeezing his hand, I whispered back, “We can talk more later, when you’re ready.”
We have a long way to go, J and I, in learning to embrace our mistakes and sins as God’s invitation to learn more about our hearts and turn to Him.
God grant us mothers and fathers the grace to listen to the stories of our sons and daughters, and point them to the Redeemer-of-Stories, so they can truly live.
Project Pursued Questions
- Feelings are powerful and often overwhelm us. Because we can’t control them, we often try to suppress them or just throw bible verses at them like a superficial band-aide fix (which never works!). How do you tend to approach feelings, particularly difficult feelings, in yourself and your kids?
- How can you grow as a parent in empathizing with your kids feelings while helping them see that feelings are not truth? How can you help your kids see that feelings are a gift that reveal what our hearts really want and fear and give us the opportunity to turn to Jesus?