Night after night I throw myself headlong into this epic losing battle that is bedtime. Night after night I beat my head against the wall of my own inadequacy and Ben’s obstinance. Night after night I am confronted by the abyss of failure as all of us descend into tears, tears and more tears.
Anthony sits in my sister’s arms and throws me reproachful glances as he wails: Why aren’t you holding me, Mama? Sophie and Ben and Bella vie for my attention, for the coveted place in my lap, in my arms. Mama, read me this book. Mama, sing me this song. Mama, hold me. Only me. Mama, love me. Only me.
And there is no way I can tend all their needs. No way I can satisfy all their desires. I am finite and their needs are more than I can bear. I am weak and broken and I fail. I fail in love even when I am trying my hardest to succeed.
Sooner or later we always hit the point where Ben reaches ultimate frustration. As amazingly articulate as he is, as great as his vocabulary and as clear as his enunciation, still he is only two and he cannot always make himself understood. If he even understands himself what it is he wants and needs. He wants me and he doesn’t want me. Sooner or later we hit the point where everything becomes NO!
Ben, do you want me to sit in the chair?
Do you want me to sit on the floor?
Do you want me to cuddle you?
Do you want me to go?
Do you want me to stay?
Finally I am out of options. Nothing I can do will satisfy him. Neither my speech nor my silence. Neither my presence nor my absence. We are at an impasse and I begin to cry quietly in the dark and he finally settles down and tosses and turns until at long last sleep takes him.
In the silence as I listen to him frantically seeking sleep or seeking to avoid sleep or whatever it is he is doing I rage in my heart. I rant and rave. Why? What is the purpose of this? Where are you, God in all of this pain and misery? How can my children’s pain be answered? Why am I so inadequate, so broken? Why is this so bloody hard? When will this end? Why, God, why? I want to serve you as I serve my children but I cannot help them. Even when I am not messing things up, even when I’m entirely focused on them and doing my best, I still fail to give them what they want and need. Still they cry and cry and I cannot soothe their tears.
I long so to be able to understand this little boy who so wants to be understood. I understand this much at least: I understand his pain and frustration because it is the mirror of my own. We stand on either side of a gulf and confront each other longingly across the deep chasm of thorns and both of us rage at our impotence. I understand your frustration, Ben, because I am just as frustrated. You want to communicate your need and I want to communicate my love and somehow the messages have gone astray. Neither of us can make contact.
And then there is a small voice in the darkness, in the midst of the pain. As I try to pierce the gloom and to see Christ in my suffering son. I too once longed to soothe hurts which refused to be healed. I longed to feed those who would not eat. I thirsted to give drink to those who closed their mouths. I ached to comfort those who would not be consoled. I yearned to gather my chicks under my wings and they would not be gathered. I spoke and they did not understand. I loved and they did not feel my love. I suffered and they did not know my pain. I felt their pain and they did not feel my compassion. Every pain and sorrow that you feel I have felt it. Every longing that pierces your heart has pierced mine.
I too was helpless when there was no help. I too was hungry when there was no food. Thirsty when there was no drink. Tired when there was no rest. Full of pain when there was no comfort. I longed for companionship and felt abandoned when those I loved most failed to understand. I suffered loneliness and grieved when their human frailty and the weakness of the flesh overcame their love and they could not give what they longed to give.
Oh blessed peace. At last sleep overcomes the tired boy and he slumbers. At last understanding for the weary mother and balm for her broken heart. Tomorrow we may fight the battle again but for now there is sleep to knit up the ravelled sleeve of care.