I want to talk about two specific wishes that I have. You may not think me even a half decent person after the first, and that stance would be fair. But I have to show you one, so you can see the other.
I have two young children and another on the way. I’m really tired right now. The wish? It is like a groan. I wish my kids would just obey. I wish they would listen and be kind to each other. I wish they would let me do a chore without being interrupted every 30 seconds. I wish they would just go play on their own without any input from me. I wish they were easier. I wish I didn’t have to intervene, instruct, comfort, discipline, clean, fix, do ALL THE TIME. Shall I be more honest? I wish they would leave me alone. I wish they wouldn’t ask so much of me. I wish they didn’t need so much from me. I wish I could lay down and rest when I want. I wish I could lose my temper, shout at the top of my lungs, and then not have to deal with the fact that I have just shown my children to behave exactly how I do not want them to behave. I just want to do what I want to do. I want this to be easy, and I want to be left to my own devices. I want to be selfish and unencumbered.
Do you want to know what my other wish is?
It is one I have harbored in my heart since I was a very little girl, instructing all my friends that they were fancy princesses, and I was the ill-used servant girl who would rescue them from the bad guys. Ever since, a few years after that, I had dream after dream of fighting, saving, rescuing, sacrificing blood and life in battle and disaster.
I wish I was a hero. Not metaphorically, literally. Specifically a certain kind of hero. The one who is mistreated and looked down on, who takes many physical beatings, who—bleeding from the teeth, stab wounds in the leg—gets up and keeps fighting. Fights till they almost collapse, then gets back up. Again and again.
My heart does something strange that I don’t even know how to describe when I see a heroic character—superhero, vigilante, fantasy hero, whatever—who can take a horrible beating and just keep trying. They can barely stand, but they clutch the wall and keep going. They can suffer every frustration and every loss. They can be hated, oppressed, shut out, neglected, lying on a heap in the ground. And they get up. And they try to do what is right. They get confused sometimes, but then they try again. They’re shivering in the cold, and they keep going. They’re covered in sweat and blood, and they keep going.
I wish I was strong and tough and enduring while literally being punched in the face and beat to the ground. I want to be so heroic, it makes your heart ache.
Back to that first wish.
Do you see the problem?
Why is it that I do not take the person of the second wish and, with her, answer the struggles presented in the first wish? Why do these two wishes seem so disconnected when, in fact, the second one is the solution to the first? Why do all my ideals live only in my head, not on the cold hard ground of reality?
We want to be great. We want to be important. We want to be heroes. We want to be called tough. We want our character to be the kind that stirs souls.
But if we are not strong and perseverant in that which is given to us, however mundane it feels, then what on earth makes us think we will be strong in the moments of seemingly more heroic, dangerous trials?
If I cannot answer my son’s persistent questions with patience when I am weary in body, how could I ever persist in anything myself? If I cannot put my creativity into the time I spend with my children, will not my creative problem-solving be weak, and atrophied? If I cannot set aside my own pain and exhaustion to give my utmost to my children, to show them attention when all I want to do is hide somewhere and do nothing, how do I imagine I will set aside pain and exhaustion in any other context?
Until I can apply my heroic ideals to this thing that does not feel heroic at all, there is no chance of my ever being any kind of hero, and certainly not the sort that makes my heart ache when I encounter them in all the stories I most love.
This is true of motherhood.
Of every broken relationship.
Of everything you ever felt justified in giving up on.
Of every time you felt like giving your least, because you were just too hurt and tired.
Of every time you felt it was better to hold on to your festering wound, than expose it to the painful good of salt and light.
I am not writing this from a place of achievement. This is a heartbroken acknowledgement that I have looked at my character and found it lacking. I have looked at what I have always most longed to be and found that the school God offered me for training has reduced me to a pile of complaints and a knot of exposed selfishness. I am so much weaker than I thought.
I am sorely disappointed in the disparity between what I love and how I actually act.
But I am not without hope. This is the work that has been given to me. And, by God’s grace, I’m going to get up and try again.