Today, I had an opportunity to exercise compassion for myself. I decided after being mostly home sick for two days that I needed to get out. I loaded up almost-three-year-old R in the car, which was hot from sitting out in the afternoon sun. I gave him about three minutes of looking at gravel in the alley while the car doors were open to let the car cool off. Then I decided if we were ever going to go, I was going to have to force the issue. I put him in his seat and he wailed. I had checked the temperature of his seat so I knew it wasn’t too hot and I cranked the AC to cool things off quickly. He cried about the AC being on so I turned it off and rolled the windows down. Then he cried about the windows being down so I rolled them back up and put the AC on. Then he cried that he didn’t want any music on. By the time we got onto the freeway he had been toddler-screaming at me for about four minutes, which might as well be a lifetime. I lost it. I shouted back at him. Then I told him we both needed a time out. I asked Siri to set a timer for two minutes and I told R we were both in time out as we drove.
Pretty much immediately, a wave of emotion hit me. I let myself cry. R was still mad, and when he heard me cry, he shouted at me from the back seat, “You’re not sad! You’re not sad!”, over and over again. Through my tears, I asked him to stop yelling at me. I told him I WAS sad. I told him I was very sorry for yelling at him and that neither of us should yell. Then I asked him how he was feeling. “I’m mad!” he replied, and then he was silent. After about 15 minutes, we got off the freeway and I heard his now-quiet voice from the backseat, “Are you happy now?”
“No, I’m still a little sad. How are you feeling, R?”
There was a pause, then, “I’m happy…. Are you a little happy?”
How can that question not make you a little happy, right? “Yes, I’m a little happy now.”
“And you’re a little sad?”, he asked.
“Yes, I’m a little sad.” *Heart melting from toddler cuteness*. Thank goodness they have that going for them!
I spent a fair amount of time studying charity in the scriptures when I was in my early 20s. I find that interesting now—curious that I was drawn to THAT subject during such a self-centered time of life. You can’t study charity without reading 1 Corinthians 13—lots of adjectives describing charity in there. But I remember getting stuck on the end of the chapter. Verse 12 reads, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I was curious about this cryptic metaphor. And I think I get it now.
We all “see through a glass, darkly” to some degree. That’s the default. This is referring to how I see my self and how I see others. It is natural to see myself through the lens of shame. To wonder, as Marianne Williamson suggests, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” This self-doubt drives comparison. I begin to rank myself among my peers and the whole ranking system is based on fear and shame. “I might do this, but at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so,” or, “Thank goodness I was smart enough to avoid that problem.” This is so deeply programmed within us that it is mostly socially acceptable. This is where gossip begins. It can even be sanctioned under the guise of just being concerned about the other person or when covered in a “bless her heart” tablecloth and center piece.
Because I am seeing through a glass, darkly, I am so consumed with the inadequacies of others that I cannot bear to examine my own. I deal with my own inadequacies by becoming a perfectionist, which is only an attempt to hide my faults to avoid shame. And when that doesn’t work I turn to numbing. There are lots of ways to numb: chocolate, Diet Coke, social media, TV, books, overworking, affairs, alcohol, drugs. Numbing takes the edge off of the glaring discomfort of facing my own reflection in the mirror, symbolically and literally darkening the glass.
After spending nearly 30 years churning through this cycle, I have decided that I cannot afford to continue looking through a dark glass. So let me explain the second half of that scripture: “but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Love—true love—comes from seeing and being seen. It’s not something that can be won or hustled for. It happens when you take off the mask, put down the weapons and allow another person to see you in all of your weakness, and really, in all of your glory. Cheryl Strayed wrote,
“The whole deal about loving truly and for real and with all you’ve got has everything to do with letting those we love see us.”
But then shall I know even as also I am known. In order to know and be known (or to see and be seen), a couple of things have to happen. First, and most importantly, I have to be WILLING to be seen. That means I have to remove the armor, the facade of perfectionism or the sumo suit of numbing. To me, this doesn’t look like uncomfortable oversharing or a “messy hair don’t care” t-shirt. It comes from an ability to be honest with myself about who I am right now, where I’ve come from and who I am becoming. It’s understanding my weaknesses and my potential with great compassion.
That first is step is really the only step because once I am able to do this, the second step takes care of itself. Once I can see myself through a clear lens, I am able to see others though the same lens. When I have my clear lens working, I notice how, what previously would have felt like juicy gossip, has now lost its appeal. With a clear lens, I reflect on my own struggles and hope that whomever can find peace in theirs.
In that bleak moment today where I felt I had been bested by my toddler, I noticed that the should’s that normally echo the toddler-screaming in my head were quiet. Statements like, he shouldn’t be acting like this or I should have a handle on this. With a clear lens, really, it’s just him and me, two very human humans. One trying to figure out how to be a mom and the other trying to figure out how to be a boy. Both trying to figure out how to love each other though the discomforts of life. “…but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” What greater gift could I give my son than to let him truly see me?