make me like a child
Saturday, we pile in the van to take Zoe to a friend’s house for the afternoon, and I switch on navigation on my phone. All the times Zoe’s been there to play, for birthday parties, and Kevin has always driven her. Before we pull out of the driveway, the digital female voice has repeated the same instructions three times, and this while Adam asks from the back, “Music, please,” and Riley asks me what we will do when we get home and what we will eat for supper, and Zoe chatters on about how she will manage her diabetes while swimming and sharing dinner with her friend.
I nod, and drive, and ask Adam, “But what do you really want,” because the music already plays. I have been humming it.
“I want music louder, please,” he clarifies from behind me, and I feel Riley’s hand on my knee. She waits for her turn, for me to acknowledge her words. And you need to know: Never does she speak, not ever, when I don’t remember that she once couldn’t speak at all.
I flip the dial on the volume, which makes it harder to hear Zoe, but I can’t help but smile when I feel Adam dancing in his seat. “Yes, Riley?”
“But Mom, what are we having for supper?”
“I was thinking about making sandwiches for you and Adam, so you could eat at the pool.”
“Yea!” She says, lifting two victorious fists, her grin a beam of light.
The digital voice of the navigation system still repeats, a turn we know, and Zoe blurts, “Oh, just be quiet!”
She gasps. “Mom? I was talking to the directions lady, not you.”
“I know. But thank you for being concerned for my feelings.”
We travel on maybe a mile or so, and I am singing with The Afters and reaching over to pat Riley’s leg, and winding my way past a beautiful pond, watching the trees sway and reach in the breeze. The pond reflects the sky, a gorgeous blue, clouds floating.
“Mom?” Zoe calls over the music, our singing, Adam’s dancing.
“Is it okay that I said that to the lady on the thing? Well, she isn’t really a lady. Well, she is, but she isn’t. Was that okay that I said that to her?”
Her body may be young, but the Spirit indwells. And how I love the evidence of His presence in her heart.
“Of course. It’s just an electronic voice, not a person with feelings.”
“Okay…because I’d never say that to an actual person.”
“I know. You wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.”
For another half mile, she’s quiet, and I think about how she takes captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5), how she confesses, how she challenges me to have the heart of a child (Matthew 18:3), a child redeemed.
“You would tell me if I shouldn’t have said something like that, right? I mean, if I say something I shouldn’t say?”
“Of course, because I know you want to be pleasing to God. And you would do the same for me, right? Because you know I want that too.”
“Yes. And Mom? I want to think the right things too.”
“Things ‘true, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8),’ right?” I say this smiling because we have been working on that verse as a family for a while. We have discussed many times what this must mean, how it should change even what we say, because words begin as thoughts.
“Right. And I want to laugh at jokes that are really funny. Not gross jokes.”
“My daughter is also my sister. Thank you,” I pray, reaching for Him, my heart open wide, driving, answering Riley’s questions about our plans for the day, reminding Adam to say what he means every time I turn the music down to hear Zoe and he complains, “Music, please,” from the seat behind. And the green grass blows softly by the road side.
“Sometimes, I hear a joke that’s not really appropriate, and I laugh. I mean, I laugh at first, and then I realize it’s not really funny, and I stop. I don’t know why I laugh in the beginning, but I do.”
“Well, sometimes we laugh because everyone else is laughing, and everyone’s having fun, and it just takes a minute for us to realize that maybe it wasn’t so funny after all.”
Zoe says nothing, but I know she ponders, her eyes on the blowing grass, her heart wide open like mine. And I know she wishes, prays, that it wouldn’t even take a minute for her to recognize something impure. Her heart longs to be holy. And that is the evidence of the Spirit, the echo of God’s voice shattering time, repeating, “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15,16).” I know no one who feels this call more deeply than my daughter. And when I pray for her, I ask God to protect that in her. I ask Him not to let the enemy cover her in shadows. “Please, God, let her always know what she knows now.”
Nearly every day when I pick Zoe up from school, she comes to my window to confess. I feel the sunshine on my legs, the thickness of the air, as she stands there telling me, the breeze blowing her hair. Before hello, she’ll walk up and smile, throwing a hand in the air (Can you believe me? the gesture says), and greet me with something like, “Talking. Again.”
I am immediately lost. “Did you get into trouble for talking when you weren’t supposed to?” It’s the “again” that throws me.
“No, I didn’t get in trouble. But we were supposed to be quiet in the hall, and someone asked me a question, and I talked. Then I thought, ‘Zoe! You shouldn’t talk in the hall.'”
“Hmmm…well, I know it’s hard when someone asks you a question like that.”
“Yes, but we weren’t supposed to talk, and I did, and I don’t know why I have such a hard time with that, but I do.”
“Well, you probably don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings who asked the question. But you shouldn’t talk when you’re not supposed to.”
“I know.” Again, the hand, thrown in the air. She waits, I can tell, for me to present the key to this mystery, why she struggles so with talking in the hallway.
“…Could you just maybe shrug, or point at your closed lips and smile, or do something so they know you’re not being unkind but you just can’t say anything at that moment?”
She blinks, considering, then nods. “Yes, I think maybe I could do that. I should do that. And umm, there were some other things I meant to tell you, you know, stuff I did, but I can’t remember right now, so I think I’ll just go play.”
“Okay, sounds good.” I say this realizing Zoe will confess through the afternoon, often starting mid-story, making me wish I had just a tiny bit of God’s omniscience. I will be leaning over the edge of the bath tub, reminding Adam to wash some body part, and she will stand behind me, telling me something about how she thinks she got upset because she thought she’d done a bad job, but maybe it was also because of someone’s tone of voice. And I know I will lean back, my hands wet and soapy, and say something like, “Huh? You got upset today? About what?”
I never told Zoe she had to confess to me. I’ve never asked her to list the struggles of the day, have never insisted on full disclosure. I have never suggested that it would somehow be dishonest not to admit all of her errors (and I do mean every.single.one she thinks about), her vulnerabilities, her failures at being the person she’d like to be. But not long after she gave her life to Christ, not long after the Spirit became the seal of God’s ownership of her (2 Corinthians 1:22), she started taking captive her thoughts, this longing for holiness, and the confession born naturally of the two. And I often plead with God, that she might never close off her heart, that she might always talk to me this way.
Never have I seen a soul more free. Zoe despises the things she sees in herself that do not reflect Christ, yet she owns them as one fully redeemed. She believes in the Transforming Power, trusts Him openly. She confesses her faults, already expecting the change in herself, already considering what she must do to choose a different course. And she seems aware of her own need for accountability, desperate even for my guidance. And this perhaps is the beauty of her spirit as a child. She doesn’t yet possess the arrogance, the pretense, or the pride that force our hearts and our lips shut, that move us to stop openly owning our vulnerability, barring the door to confession. She wouldn’t dream of believing her walk a solitary one, would never question (blessedly at least not now) that God would use me, somehow, to help her through.
And the more I love her, the more I find myself going to God with the minutiae of my day, my thoughts, the dark, dusty corners of my heart. Before hello, I find myself asking Him to divide joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12), to show me the why and the if and all that’s still hidden in my motivations.
“I think this is why I felt that way, but Father, is that why? And…Father? Was it okay to say that? You’ll guard my lips (Psalm 141:3), won’t you, and not let me say something I shouldn’t?”
I ask Him to make me like a child, a child redeemed, a child unafraid to confess.
Because while I find it easy to confess to God, I still find it difficult to trust other people—my spiritual family, these ones I need—with my vulnerability, my failure, the mystery and frustration of repetitive struggle. I share that kind of accountability with a rare and cherished few. Confession is a lost art in the community of faith.
But Zoe teaches me how it begins, where it resides. She shows me, every day, that confession flows freely from the heart that longs to be holy.
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. ~Proverbs 28:13
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~1 John 1:8,9
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. ~James 5:16