“I hate you,” eight-year-old Kiersten said to me as she walked through the kitchen.
I realized, instantly, that this was a moment where “the rubber meets the road.” One of the things I had recently enjoyed doing with my kids was reassure them that I would always love them, no matter what. They had enjoyed playfully challenging me on this statement:
“Even if I was really, really naughty?” one of them would ask.
“Yes, even if you are really, really naughty,” I’d lovingly reply.
“Even if I never ever said I love you,” another one would banter back.
“Yes, even if you never said you love me,” I reassure them again.
“Even if I hit Brennan, stick my tongue out at you, and never shared my toys?” yet another would test me, with a smile on their face.
“Yes, even if you hit your brother, stick your tongue out at me, and never shared your toys,” I again reassure them of my love, even amidst such terrible behavior.
It was a fun challenge for the kids to come up with crazy, kid-terrible actions that maybe, just maybe, would be the one thing for which I might withhold my love. Of course, they knew I would always say, “Yes, I would still love you.”
It was easy, and all fun and games, to reassure them theoretically. But when a real-life situation came my way to truly show them I love them no matter what, well…that’s when I had to remind myself of the words I had so often and easily reassured them with.
Quite honestly, when Kiersten uttered those heart-wrenching words to me, my very human response was to want to fight back with, “Don’t you dare say that to me, young lady. That is no way to speak to your mother. Go to your room.”
But… I didn’t. The scenarios we had practiced instantly popped into my head. This was my chance. This was it. This was a real life situation in which I could truly show Kiersten that I loved her, no matter what.
I heard my voice respond gently to her with these words, “I love you, Kiersten.”
And I meant them. She had just lost a long battle. She had fought against practicing the piano. She had questioned why she had to even take piano. In the end, she had sat at the piano for nearly an hour before she realized Mommy wasn’t backing down and Kiersten wasn’t leaving the piano bench until she had put in her fifteen minutes of practice (real practicing). The “I hate you” was all she had left of her pride, and sense of control. It was her last ditch effort to win in a battle that she clearly had lost. Somehow, I knew all that as she passed through the kitchen and muttered her final fighting words.
It was a hard mothering place in which to find myself. This place of loving in midst of defiance and frustration. I was frustrated with all of her acts of piano-practicing resistance: The crying. The complaining. The mean words spoken towards me. It would have been easier to give in to her. To avoid the battle. But I knew in my heart I would be doing her no favor. I would be teaching her to give up when the going gets hard. I’d be teaching her that if she fought hard enough, cried hard enough, and complained enough, I’d give in. So I persisted. I remained strong. Tough love, I’ve heard it called. Which is very hard on a momma’s heart.
It was also hard because I feared a broken relationship. I feared that my firmness would be interpreted by her as a lack of love. My mind jumped ten years ahead to a vision of a cold, stand-offish teen, hiding away in her room, having no desire of a relationship with me, her mother. I feared the worst.
Oh, how I wanted her to know that I loved her! Even when I was firm in requiring her to practice the piano. Even when she told me she hated me.
A little bit later, I entered her room, where she had been in hideout. I took her into my lap. I quietly held her.
And then she said these words: “Everything points to loving you, but I want to be mad at you.”
Me: “Why do you want to be mad at me?”
Kiersten: “Because you’re mean to me.”
Me: “Am I mean, or just firm?”
Me: “Why does everything point at you loving me?”
Kiersten: “Because you love me.”
Warmth ran through my body. I hugged her harder and kissed the top of her head.
“I do love you,” I whispered into her ear.
Her body relaxed into mine.
Baby Jesus, lying in a manger, Word become flesh, is just the beginning of God’s whisper “I love you.” It’s just the beginning of a restored relationship.
To a world who has said, “I hate you,” Jesus has said “I love you,” by first coming to earth as a baby born humbly in a stable to ultimately dying on the cross.
And as much as I don’t quite understand His ways sometimes (like Kiersten didn’t understand mine) and in so many words ~ and ways ~ have conveyed to Him that “I hate You”, I really do love Him.
So many times I want to mad at Him…but everything points to loving Him.
Mostly His love. I love Him, because He first loved me. And He sent His Son. Baby Jesus. Born in a manger. Word made flesh. “I love you” wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Relationship restored.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” John 3:16