As I pinned the race bibs to my children’s coats (Aletheia was 6, Haddie was 4, and Hudson was 1 ½), joy and delight flooded my heart. It was their first race. I had run my first race (5k) with my dad before I was ten, and to see the excitement on their faces completed my joy. When the gun fired, I did my best to disguise my emotions through loud cheering, lest I started weeping from happiness. Cheering for others has always conjured up within me deep, even violent emotions. And cheering for my children has been no exception. Cheering from the sidelines for my children has been one of the greatest gifts that motherhood has given me.
But what happens when you start to sense your child is running the wrong race – a race whose name is destruction – a race whose “break station” handouts are guilt and shame, and whose finish line is just a hallucination. There is nothing so conflicting, confusing, and heartbreaking as watching your child run the wrong race. A mother has a choice of what to do. She can remove herself from the pain by choosing not to be a spectator. She can choose this abondment in two ways: she can divorce herself physically and/or emotionally as she attempts to side-skirt pain, or she can continue to plod along after her daughter, from the sidelines, more often than not, unseen and unheard…or so it would appear.
But this post today is to encourage you mothers who are tasting such a hardship. You are seen and you are heard. This has been my experience, both in the case of my mother-in-law, and in the case of my own mother. They were there with me, on the sidelines. Never forsaking me, never giving up. They had faith when I did not. How often God preserved me through their faithfulness, I know not. You know the goodness and mercy that Psalm 23 talks about? Yes, that was them. God chose to show me His goodness and mercy through them.
I will forever remember going out to eat with my soon-to-be father and mother-in-law. I needed to go use the bathroom (this was a legit use), as did my mother-in-law. After using the restroom, I (still cringing at this!) proceeded to do fifty pushups on the bathroom floor, by the sinks, paper towels under my hands (for sanitary purpose) with my fiancée’s mother right there. I enjoyed the surge of happiness it produced, said something causally about how “Jeff and I enjoyed doing push ups,” and, after having completed my push ups, we then proceeded to join the others. I was now free to eat my salad with less anxiety, the anxiety of eating in front of people, the anxiety of eating something that someone had prepared for me, etc.
And while this pursuit is hell for those actually running this race, I still think back with grief over those who had to watch, especially the mothers. This was a race I was running in front of people (though I could not bring myself to acknowledge this at the time). But the race was not one where those on the sidelines were cheering, but weeping. Penny (my now mother-in-law) did not say anything to me as I completed my push-ups. She waited for me. She waited. And so it was the case for all who were spectators of a race they had not wanted to watch, and a race whose end was uncertain and unseen.
We often deceive ourselves into thinking we are running our own races, that our lives are somehow lived behind closed doors. This is less painful than the reality of what is true. I saw my mother-in-law. I felt her presence there in the bathroom waiting for me. I sensed her kindness in waiting for me. I felt her grace as she did not mention it to me later, or to the others back at our table. I could not handle the truth that she did truly know what was going on by making my “cute” excuses and reasons for doing pushups on the bathroom floor. But I knew she knew. And that memory has been etched in my memory. I felt her support from the sidelines. I knew that if and when I would ever be able to stop the race I was running that she would be there waiting for me, waiting for me to tear off my barf-ridden bib, waiting for me to turn around, waiting for me with the same wide-opened arms she had held out to me all along, ready and waiting.
For the very hope that is the hope and stay of the mothers is the very hope they know is also for their bulimic daughters. The believing bulimic and her mother have the same hope. Their “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Their race has already been run. Their race has already been won. And while we cannot always choose the races our children choose to run, we can always choose to be the goodness and mercy that tracks them down, a goodness and mercy that proclaims that though their past is filled with races of gloom and death, their race of righteousness has already been won. It has been secured in blood, in a race that included death on a cross, but a race that did not end at death, but whose race defeated death as he rose victoriously from the grave.
This as mothers is the source of our deepest grief and deepest joy. The mothers of bulimics do not extend themselves out as their daughters’ hope nor offer trite moralistic advice. They know that they theselves, to continue with the aforementioned hymn, even being of the “sweetest frame,” cannot be their daughters’ source or hope of rescue. They themselves wholly lean on Jesus’ name. And it is this name they speak to their daughters. It is this name that holds them. And it is in the robes of this name, that we stand faultess before the throne. It is before this throne that both the bulimics and their mothers will stand, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultlessly standing … because they have hoped in this name. Jesus.