We were sitting at the counter doing homework, Robyn and I, and she was frustrated, and I wanted to fix it. Fix the “new math” that makes us both feel stupid, fix her frustration, fix her belief that she is the problem. The irony stared me in the face. The problems scare her because she feels she isn’t good enough. And I scare her because she can feel that I want to fix her, confirming her fear that something must be wrong — with her.
But there is nothing wrong with her, nothing at all. She is curious and insightful, wise and eight. She has never needed fixing, only loving. And some days homework goes better than others.
There is, however, something up with my thinking. I am always looking for something to be wrong so I can fix it. Do you remember those pictures in activity books for children, where an ordinary scene has 10 strange “mistakes”? Find and circle the bird growing out of the side of a person’s head, the nail on the sidewalk, the water overflowing out of the sink. There is something strangely satisfying about drawing circles around the things that do not belong. As though pointing them out could eradicate the discomfort of things being other than they “should” be.
Most of the lessons we teach children have to be unlearned or relearned at a later stage of life. “Do not touch the stove” gradually transforms into “Put the pot handles in and keep your body away from the steam.” “Bedtime is at 8” becomes “What time do you need to go to bed to get enough sleep before your alarm goes off?” While purple circles in activity books was a lot of fun when I was four, the practice has outgrown its usefulness.
I think I am unlearning what to do with the “mistakes,” disorder, and discomfort that show up in the pictures that are my life. Clutter on my counter does not mean something is wrong; it means our family is living in our home. A fit in the middle of church does not mean we are bad parents or that we have bad kids; it means our toddler is not getting what she wants. An argument in our marriage does not mean my husband and I need to be fixed; it means we need a chance to choose again, to start over, to reconnect. Rarely has drawing circles around all the things I wish were other than they are accomplished anything other than to hurt someone.
And even though this practice of drawing circles is no longer working, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me either. I have never needed fixing, though I have often attempted to do it anyway. I learned how to notice those things that were strange, and now I am learning to ask questions about them, to get curious, to learn why they might be that way, to delight in how I have found them, to appreciate what is before what could be. I am learning to love beyond the purple crayon boundaries.
The fixing lies are loud because I’ve been speaking them so long: I need to be more patient. Stop yelling. Work harder. Finish the job you started. Figure it out. The loving whispers have been drowned out by the noise, but I can hear them after the fixer goes hoarse: It’s going to be OK. Stop. Let it be. Rest. Hug. Go easy. Speak slowly. Breathe. Look again. See another way.
Fixing flows from judgement. It separates what is from what should be. It tries to impose what should be from outside of what is. Love is not the opposite of fixing but is rather its antidote. Love holds what is long enough to allow it to become what God wants, no matter how many mistakes were made, regardless of its disorder, no matter how uncomfortable. Love shows up and waits longer.
I have begun to see that God’s greatest work is growth, transforming one thing into another: summer into fall, seed into a carrot, selfish individual into servant of a family. Mistakes do not need to be corrected so much as learned from. Disorder does not need to be put away so much as lived into. Discomfort does not need to be rejected so much as handled with care.
I only need to fix it if (I think) something is wrong. What if, instead, something is not finished yet? What if God is still at work? If the appearance of a mistake, the chaos of disorder, or the pain of discomfort is a sign of incompletion instead of error, then I am free to watch the miracle God is working, even when that miracle is me.
Perrault is a wife and mom, a grateful employee of Emmanuel Care, and a speaker, writer and consultant at www.leahperrault.com