I should have prayed right then, right out loud, right in the car. I’m learning that.
Mom, middle school is hard, she says, just as I’m scanning the road for anything I might have missed, just as I punch the gas and we dart across. Navigating traffic always feels to me like being stuck in a crazy-mad game of Frogger. And of course there’s that parent thing, which means that without wanting to do so I instantly–as I turn the wheel and we straighten in our lane—precalculate possible unimagined risks and their consequences two steps out. If my old car chooses this moment to die, say—we’d sputter to a stop with three cars careening toward our passenger side and that seat where she sits, talking about warfare as easily as the book she’s reading during her free time at school.
“I know it is,” I say, catching the shadow of her in the rearview mirror amidst all those blinking headlights behind us, “but you’re doing great.”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” she says. “It’s the bad language. I hear it all the time—when I’m at my locker, when I’m walking down the hallway, and I can’t get away from it. I find myself thinking it when I get angry, and not because I want to but because it settles in when I haven’t even chosen it.”
You need to pray, I tell her, slowing behind an old farm truck that has been retrofitted with PVC pipe and thereby accessorized with various yard tools, dangling. But what I should have said first is let’s pray, and now, because the Spirit floods my mind as she speaks, and He’s saying things like the mouth speaks what the heart is full of and put on the full armor of God and we do not wage war as the world does, but on the contrary, our weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds…and we take captive every thought. The Word comes rushing, forceful.
“Yea,” she says. “That’s why sometimes I wish I could go back to elementary school, where the worse words anyone knew to say were shut up.”
I change lanes to get around the farm truck, and just that quickly my thoughts slide to wondering if maybe I should call the principal and ask why they allow that to go on in the hallways, why if there’s a dress code enforced there’s not also a rule or three against profanity. And it’s not that those aren’t great questions to ask, but suddenly I see this for what it is first. For our battle is not against flesh and blood… If not at school, she’ll face this conflict somewhere else. She’ll face it again and again, because life isn’t lived in fields of flowers, it happens in crowded hallways and flying across traffic-clogged roadways, in emergency rooms and pressing through I-don’t-know-how. Christ-followers are only rarely called to isolation. This moment is my chance to put a battle plan in my daughter’s hands, something that will carry her across any theatre, through any campaign against her. Because lately I’ve noticed how masterfully the enemy manuevers us with later–Pray later. Teach later. Talk later. Spend time with God? Sure, that’s a good idea, just do it later.
“Listen. You have to fight,” I tell her, searching for the lines of her face in the mirror, jerking my heart back to face the onslaught head-on. “This is a spiritual battle, and you fight it first through intentional, strategic prayer. You’ve got to pray—in the Spirit and on all occasions–every single time you end up seeing and hearing things that you know are spiritually threatening. And you pray before you’re in the middle of it and after you leave and every time you feel tempted to use that language yourself.”
“Yea, I know,” she says, deliberately, carefully, as though she’s testing the weight of the weapon, shifting her grip. “Mom? I don’t want that stuff in my head.”
And then I wind my way into a snarl, some dozen cars creeping along the interstate, and a grumble rises as to why we are crawling a long, and before I even know what’s happening, I am distracted from the very thing I wanted to do next, from engaging my child in a bit of mutual target practice.
It’s only later, when I am at home, and I am praying my way back through the conversation that this gentle whisper rolls through: