It was easy to see there was something different about the child. The little girl’s eyes moved rapidly from place to place, her head turning and jerking at odd intervals. Even her hands curved and twisted around each other as the girl moved forward and backwards in her seat never seeming to come to a rest. She would look up her head rocking in an unfinished nod, down and to the side in a similar jerky rocking. Her eyes never seemed to quite focus on any one thing or person.
I turned to look at her mother standing, twisting her hands together, tucked as deeply toward a corner as she could be and still be available to go and settle her daughter when she would get out of her seat. This was Sunday School music time. The children were expected to sit and sing the songs or stand and do the motions when asked.
Her daughter did not seem to be able to follow the directions and I could see the wide-eyed wariness in her mother’s face as she glanced at the other adults in the room. Her stooped shoulders told more of the story. She had been criticized in the past for her daughter’s lack of proper manners. She held herself in the brittle defensive stance of one who was ready to be reprimanded once more about her daughter’s behaviors.
When the children left for Sunday School classes, she did not go upstairs. Using my own toddler’s busy-ness as an excuse, I stayed behind as well, engaging her in conversation. It was nice having her come and visit us. Where was she from. Did she have any other children? Did she have a church in her town?
She quietly answered all the questions but did not ask any of her own for quite a while. Then she asked a strange question. Did I ever consider having another child?
It was at this place I chose to step out of my pastor’s wife’s friendly script and answer with the honesty of the mother with my experiences. “I don’t know. I went into post partum depression after my second child and I am not sure I can handle going through that again.”
Her head jerked up and she stared at me with wide shocked eyes. “You mean Christians actually have problems?” she queried.
I took the risk and told her how discouraged I was and how incompetent I felt as a parent after having felt like the best parent in the world after the birth of my first. I told her of the times I set my baby in her crib while she cried, closed the door and curled up in the hall shaking because I felt so helpless and didn’t know what to do to help her. I told her how I would pull myself together and go back to her. I told her how I feared my own inadequacy, of the reality of my own mother’s style of discipline and my fear that I would make similar mistakes if I couldn’t find my way through this. I felt having another child might be too much of a risk.
In the following convresation she opened up to me about the differences she saw in her daughter and the responses she had from others in her church when she would try to talk about what was going on , She talked about her own fears of failing to meaure up. She would get lectured about not praying enough, about not trusting God enough, about “kids grow out of” it, about needing to be more positive, about not having enough faith. “I quit going to church,” she admitted. “I just coudn’t take anymore.” She had only come to church today because her husband asked her to come along. Since it was a place they had never been, she took the risk.
I never made it up to the service that day — one more criticism for those judging my wantingness in being the pastor’s wife I was supposed to be. But that was one that brushed right off my back. “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” My place of worship that day was with a young desparately hurting mother. And the worship only came because I let go of being a “positive” role model and chose to speak as a real struggling person who also had a faith to hang on through what was not an easy time in life.
We hugged when she left. And she thanked me for helping her find faith again. As always, it was in the weaknesses of my life that Christ shown brightest.