It happened at the outset of Lent that I already found myself in a desert, one I had not consciously chosen. The Holy Spirit had led me – this is a place I would not venture on my own with my teenage daughter on board. I’m just not that brave. Just as Jesus had been led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, there I was.
We went for coffee and croissants, and I was more than happy for our time to be one of soaking up the sensual beauty of a French bakery and lulling music all while dispensing latte-friendly mother-daughter advice. It was supposed to all be sweet – the croissants and the conversation. I knew better. In the back of my mind I knew that there was more going on. She had hinted at it for weeks, but I had decided she was being demanding. Or was her God-shaped soul demanding some wisdom? I had been content with viable distractions of the daily family rhythms. She’d tried several times to bravely bear her soul, attempting to invite me in – to hear her weak, sinful, fragile heart. Why had I resisted? This time she laid it all out without mincing any words. I could not escape as we sat one-on-one. Why had I wanted to escape?
Her words fell bluntly on my ears and I was unnerved. A gravitational field immediately and intensely pulled me. Fluid words disappeared. I sat paralyzed for a moment. Before I could think clearly about why or how she found herself in this place, I felt myself stiffen. I sat erect as the parent who knows all the answers. My words were messy as I constructed barriers to try in vain to keep out the suffering, lunging out for a way of power to smartly control the bloody details. I lashed out with exacting words meant to puncture the pain. But whose pain? Her open confession had hurt. I wanted to escape her pain and any blinding pain it was causing me.
In those hot moments, I was fighting slippery temptations. I faced the old familiar fear – the fear that there wasn’t enough of God’s goodness to cover mortal messes. I also acquiesced to the illusion of pride that I could be the judge, the ultimate authority that could sum up the situation. Loud correction, self-protection, and a strong defense seemed to be the obvious path. But the more I ranted, the further our two hearts drifted, wrung numb, limp and lifeless from the exhaustion of anger. How was it that the way of ego, control, and critique that appeared to be the rightful, parenting solution turned out to be a faulty advertisement as we both sat desperately in need of a touch of loving communion and resurrection?
In truth, my daughter had bestowed upon me an offering of fierce honesty with the desire to connect to me, ask forgiveness, and find love in spite of her brokenness. This was grace. Although gritty and agonizing, it was grace.
The temptations to possess control and gain ground turned out to be a masking disguise for my fears and personal pain wrapped up in the complexity of this mother-daughter relationship. In the depths of my heart I wanted to yield to a love much greater than I could muster, and to woo her by love like Jesus does for all of us again and again. In the desert of temptation, Jesus did not give in and assert his all-powerful divine strength, but instead he remained human, choosing to be altogether vulnerable. He felt the pain of our sins out of a tender heart and was fully mortal as he continued to pursue us on that path toward the passion – all that he might share divine grace with us from a place of pure love.
As a mother, the call of Christ is not that he will save me from my state of mortality. He asks me to step into this holy place of my vulnerable, personal crosses and save me through my state of mortality. In this desert the fundamental choice becomes clear: will I take up this painful cross in tenderness and experience the outpouring of his divine grace, or will I succumb to fear and pride by asserting my own control and power? I can only commence the next season of guiding my daughter and training in love if I submit to the testing of the fundamentals in the desert and follow the way of Christ. True conversion, of her heart and mine, can only come out of experiencing the pure love of Jesus.