There are pictures of the Boston Marathon bombers everywhere today. And as hurt and angry as we are as a nation, as people, as individuals…I look at those pictures through a mother’s eyes and my heart breaks. Those boys are some woman’s sons. Sure, she may be a vile human. She may be a big part of the reason why these boys acted in such horrific ways. Maybe she even encouraged them in this endeavor. I don’t know. But she also could be seeing the faces of her little boys, her babies on some static-y TV screen in rural Russia (or wherever she may be) with tears streaming down her cheeks. “How did this happen? How did my boys do this? How did it get this far?”
A while back, I remember reading a post by Katie Granju about parenting. If you don’t know anything about Katie’s story, her teenage son Henry struggled with drug addiction until his death. A few years after Henry’s death, Katie wrote a post that stuck with me. She said:
“In those first years of this lifelong undertaking called parenthood, we look over at our own four year old daughter, happily drawing pictures of hearts and flowers at the dining room table, or we watch our six year old son carefully creating yet another brilliant Lego masterpiece on the floor, and we simply cannot conceive of any way in which that child – the one we’re looking at right in front of us- could become one of those teenagers – you know, the kind of adolescent who would become mixed up with drugs, or drop out of school, or run away.
Early on, we worry about other scary things that could happen to our children – things like cancer and car wrecks and kidnapping and lightning on the soccer field…the things that are essentially beyond our control. These are the terrifying things that give parents nightmares. But no parent I’ve ever met looks at her five year old daughter playing with her princess dollhouse and thinks to herself, “I pray she never becomes a 16 year old heroin addict willing to do anything to get drugs.” And we don’t generally watch our eight year old son play in his Little League game and wonder whether he might end up in prison at age 20.
It’s very simple, we tell ourselves when our children are little – at a time when our power as parents to direct and protect pretty much every aspect of their lives imbues us with a false bravado:
Good parents end up with good teenagers and successful adult children
Bad parents end up with bad teenagers, and unsuccessful adult children.
Right? Isn’t that how it goes? That’s what I thought, anyway.”
Even now those words can steal my air, causing my heart to skip a beat. I look at my children and I see the good, the smiles, the laughter. I also see the anger and angst and fear. And the scariest part of all is that those things I see? Are often reflections of my own self, my own doubts, my own insecurities. And that hurts. Like knife in the soul hurts.
You probably saw the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video this week. If you haven’t, take a few minutes to watch it here and then come back. I think a parallell can easily be drawn between how we describe ourselves and how we describe our children. We describe ourselves with harsh, hard words. But when we speak of our children, we often use softer, lighter words. Is it because we see hope in them that we’ve long lost? Is it because a momma’s eyes block the bad? Is it because they are fresh and untainted by the past? I don’t have the answers, but I know that I see something in my children that I wish I had. Maybe it’s naiveté, an innocence stolen by time. Maybe it’s the belief that good always trumps evil. Maybe it’s even simpler than that. Maybe it’s…I don’t know. Maybe it’s something more than words can encapsulate.
I wrote just this week about motherhood and how we are all just trying to do our best, and yet sometimes…sometimes no matter what we do (or maybe even in spite of what we do), things end with heartbreak. But it’s up to each of us to keep on trying, to keep praying, to keep doing our best to instill a moral compass that will always point to the good. You won’t get it right all the time. I screw it all up regularly. But I am thankful for parents who taught by example, who showed me that mess-ups happen and sometimes it’s not even the mistake that matters but how you handle the spill. I’m also thankful for children who look at me with big, welcoming eyes when I admit my wrongs, when I go to them and say, “Mommy messed up. Will you forgive me?” I pray that even in my failures they are learning from me – learning grace and forgiveness, love and acceptance, and how to say “I’m sorry.” God, please help me.
Today I’m also praying for those Boston bombers boys. I’m praying for the one who died and for the one still running. I’m praying for their family. I’m praying for the families they have hurt, both physically and mentally. I’m praying for the people who are still at work, trying to capture these tormented souls and trying to keep others safe. I’m praying for those who are scared, for those who are in danger, for those who are locked in their homes. I’m praying for our nation. I’m praying that this doesn’t become another situation where we point fingers at one group or another. And I’m praying what I pray when I don’t know what else to pray: Dear God, Love us, protect us, and let us be open to hear your voice. Amen and amen.