She comes to find me and starts the conversation casually, pulling her hair back with one hand, letting it fall. The soft blonde strands, deepening now to brown, float out around her face, slide down along the edges of her cheeks. Her eyes are wells, stronger and more serious at times than her years. Her hands are mine, red and dry on the outside. I touch a red line running up from her wrist, and she pauses.
“My teacher says I have dry skin,” she says, and I nod. “Listen, Mom sometimes I’ll be saying something quickly, something from my head, and a word will come out that’s just…well, it’s not appropriate. And it surprises me, like, I didn’t mean to say that, but I’m not thinking, and it just comes out.”
I look up at her and smile, then train my eyes on the pepper I’m slicing, the shine of the blade in my hand. It feels like I’m always in the kitchen when we talk, always in my other office, preparing a meal I hope will satisfy.
“Okay, well, like what kind of words pop out?”
I have learned not to jump to conclusions. The things that make her different, beautiful, deep, fill me with joy.
“Well, like,” she sighs, searching my face briefly. She’s always afraid of my disappointment, my anger. And yet, somehow she still opens herself up to me, trusting me with her vulnerable heart. “I’ll be making a rhyme, just a silly song or something, and I’ll say something about underwear. Just that word. But I don’t know why I said it, and I don’t want to say it…because it’s inappropriate.”
Oh, Father, I think, may she always have such standards.
“Well. Remember, it’s the way we use words that make them bad. Some words are almost always used in ugly ways, and we just don’t want to say those at all.”
“…No,” she says, agreeing, “I don’t want to say those at all. I don’t. I don’t say those.”
“But with other words, it just depends on what we mean when we say them. You can say the word underwear and it not be inappropriate.”
“I know. But I’m talking about when I say it for no reason at all. And I just don’t…” She talks with her nose wrinkled, as though in response to some stench. “…I just don’t think it’s appropriate, Mom.”
I bring my eyes to hers, careful to match her seriousness about the topic. “Well, I’d say that if you feel that way, you shouldn’t say those things.”
“But I’m not sure why I say it. It just comes out. It’s like it’s in my thoughts or something. I don’t know how to get it out.”
I put down the knife, giving her my complete attention. “You need to pray. God will transform your thoughts. He’ll guard your tongue. You just have to ask.”
She considers this, standing there nothing but ageless soul, all bare. Then, just like that, she picks up the cloak of her eight-year-old self, wrapping up in it. She tilts her head, suddenly blithe. “Okay, thanks. I just wanted to mention it,” she says, turning on one toe, already dancing away from me.
But at supper, she puts down her fork, drilling me with those eyes, and says, “Mom? Sometimes in my mind, there are pictures I don’t want. I see things, think things that I don’t want to think.”
“Like what kinds of things?” I ask, feeling at the same time glad she talks to me and afraid to know she struggles well beyond my ability to influence.
Kevin looks up, new to the conversation. “Are these things you’ve seen somewhere?” I know what he’s thinking.
“No,” she says, turning her attention to him. It’s just, gross things. Yucky things. Things I don’t like to even talk about.”
“What things?” Riley asks, ready to test the admission against the rules by which she lives.
“Nothing. I don’t really even want to mention it,” Zoe says to her, and then, looking again to me, “But how do I not think about those things? How do I get rid of them?”
And I realize that she’s back, the ageless, redeemed, Spirit-indwelt soul, looking at me through eyes deep gray-blue and bottomless.
“You pray. Pray every time you think about something you don’t want to think about. Take it very seriously. Look for things you enjoy—books, movies, things on the computer—or people, friends—who might be suggesting these ideas to you.”
She nods, serious, absorbing.
I continue. “Honey, you should know that everyone struggles with their thoughts. Daddy and I have to ask God to work on our thoughts every day. But bad choices begin as bad thoughts, and we want even our thoughts to honor Christ so that our choices, our lives will also honor Him. I am really proud of you for talking to us about this, for wanting to think only the best things. Daddy and I will pray with you about it. This is what the Spirit does; it’s His power that transforms our thoughts.”
“Good,” she says, “because I really don’t want to think about inappropriate things. I.don’t.want.to.do.it.”
“There are scriptures we can pray together, memorize together, because this is something we all have to work on. There’s a passage about taking captive our thoughts and making them obedient to Christ…” And so I tell her about 2 Corinthians 10:5, a verse that falls across my lips to the Father nearly every day, an effort that matters to me too.
And she absorbs, open, seeking.
All week she has asked me if I’m still praying about her thoughts. “Because I’m still trying,” she says. And I promise her that every day, as I pray about my own thoughts, I am praying about hers too. And I tell her all week, in scattered conversations when I look up and the eight-year-old has disappeared, when we are just two souls trying to the love the same Lord, about Psalm 141:3, Psalm 51:10, Psalm 19:14, Isaiah 55:8,9, Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8.
At dinner, we talk of other things, and she says, “Wait,” putting up one hand, halting the conversation. She shuts her eyes, lips moving. Kevin looks at me, lifting his eyebrows, both of us stunned by this soul somehow entrusted to our care. When she opens her eyes, she says, “I’m sorry to interrupt. But I thought of this word…”
Again our eyes meet, two parents taught by a soul with the cloak of a child about what it means to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Times get stretched and weary, and I am not so diligent, so focused as she in the pursuit. I become Esau, ready to sell my birthright for a bowl of stew, thinking the gratification of a physical need could somehow satisfy the hunger I feel. Or I am Leah, starving for holy love, looking for a union to satiate my soul, the desperation for something eternal misunderstood and sought after in the details of a temporal existence. I make messes of relationships, misguided, hungry. So hungry. I allow thoughts, pregnant with selfishness, to birth glory-robbing choices. I become a thief, a liar, and I justify it on the basis of need, of hunger. I must have…or I will die (Genesis 25:32). I feel this, the misguided echo of sin, the deceiver’s lie that some circumstance, some thing, some substance could fill all my empty places.
Every need, every thought, must be brought into obedience to this truth. When Christ, who is your life (Colossians 3:4; Galatians 2:20)…He is my life. The air I breathe. Not this body, not this earth, not this life nor any of its details. If I hunger, I hunger for Him. If I starve, if I cannot be satiated, I have not enough of Him. To hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be consumed with desire for Him (for He is righteousness, and without Him my righteousness is but filthy rags–Isaiah 64:6)—so much so that I can think of nothing else; that it will interrupt conversations; that I will ask, “Are you still praying for me, that my thoughts would be His thoughts?—in this alone will I ever be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you (Psalm 63:1-5).