Last week one of my daughters wasn’t doing too well. She was uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. Just down in the dumps. I could tell there was something deeper going on so I gave her a piece of paper entitled, “What do you like about yourself?” and asked her to fill it out. Several hours later the paper was returned to me with only one word written on it: “nothing.” I wasn’t surprised, in fact I suspected that she felt this way, but it still struck fear in my heart to see that ugly word “nothing” glaring up at me. How could my beautiful, talented, wide-eyed daughter not like herself? Imagine the things she must say to herself to keep that not-so-loving feeling alive. It’s every mother’s nightmare to find out that her child is her own worst enemy.
And now that I knew this ugly truth, what was I to do? How would I help her? How would I show her how likable she really was?
I spent the next thirty minutes filling out my own paper entitled “All the things I like about you.” I wrote about her character, her strengths, and her beauty. I filled the whole page. Certain that this would help her turn the corner on the way she saw herself, I proudly presented her the list. She glanced at it, threw it on her bed and said “thanks” with a weak smile. It seemed that my truth would not have the power to override her truth. I was starting to feel a bit desperate until I talked with God.
Dale: God, what I should do?
God: Why did you ask her what she liked about herself?
Dale: Because I knew that the truth would set her free.
God: Then let her share more truth.
Dale: (thinking that I was in that courtroom scene with Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men) I don’t know if I can handle more truth.
God: Don’t worry. I can.
That conversation with God reminded me that I don’t ask hard questions as a mom because I know the answers. I ask hard questions because I know the freedom that comes through speaking truth. (John 8:32) There is something magical that happens when the issues in our lives become illuminated. The light of exposure makes them definable and more manageable. The light of acceptance makes them less powerful. And the light of a parent’s love makes them lighter as we help them carry their burdens.
In order to help my daughter share more truth, I invited her to take a drive with me because sometimes it’s easier to speak authentically when you are not looking directly at the other person. It’s also easier to hear truth in this position when you aren’t sure what’s coming.
It took a little time but she did open up and describe all the things that she didn’t like about herself. The list was longer than I had hoped. She described an irresistible urge to compare herself with others and the negative self-talk that filled her head. I wanted to scream “NO! These are lies!”, and then read her my list (the one still sitting on her bed) of all her likeable, unique qualities. But instead I simply listened and empathized with her feelings as a former teenager and modern woman familiar with my own insecurities. I know what its like to be my own worst enemy too. Most women do.
The more I listened, the more truth she shared. And without any advice from me, that exposure alone seemed to set her spirit free as she became more talkative and optimistic. She had been heard. That job wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. She let herself be known. She courageously revealed the enemy lurking within her heart and soul. And she was loved. The best ending I could hope for.
Jesus calls us to “love our enemies” in Matthew 5:44. As parents we have an amazing opportunity to hear and love the enemies lurking inside our children because it’s impossible for them to do this on their own. First, we must make a safe place for them to share about the enemy within. Then, we listen and accept them because we understand what it is to dislike parts of ourselves. Finally, we stand back and watch as the love they receive from us they can now offer to themselves. John 3:27 says, “A person can receive only what God gives.” When we love the enemy within our children and they are able to receive it, we are doing the work of heaven in their lives.
What if the worst enemy will we ever have to face is our imperfect self?