Her expression is flat, bored, distracted. Her seven year old frame slumps over the little wooden play table, which is used as her school desk, like mush slopped out and melting down. Her head-supporting hand pushes her cheek up so high her right eye is a mere slit of squished eyelashes.
Her mouth hangs open and barely mumbles out the words of these well-known verses we recite before beginning the school day, "...being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might..."
I can't keep from smiling the next words as I take a deep breath and preach to myself "... so that you may have great endurance and patience."
I pause. She stops droning the words but doesn't seem to notice, her eyes following the toddler-sister running about the room.
I break into her daze with a gentle "Selah?".
She looks my direction with her one-eye and I can't help but be flooded with love for her. I smile empathy at her pathetic exhaustion.
She's only been up about an hour, but truly just needs to go back to sleep. Nearly the entire hour has been full of gentle correction, discipline, love, and talks encouraging a good start to this rough Monday morning. Her attitude has been progressively negative and despairing. She's had a long weekend and some tiredness just takes a couple of days to recuperate from. I understand this.
"Selah, why don't you just take a little rest on your loft bed for about fifteen minutes, then we'll try again?"
She climbs each rung with heavy steps and heavier thoughts and she wails high despair at the top of the ladder, flopping herself down onto her pillow, "I just can't do anything right, I'm getting B's in everything, I even got all of my verses wrong!! Ohhhhh ohhh oooooohhhhhhhh....." She sobs exhaustion.
I reach out to her gently, gently, gently because her sensitivity is a gift, one the can be lost easily in this harsh world with this too-easily harsh Mama, and I soothe her with truth.
"Selah, this rest is not a punishment. I am not upset with you. But you need to be intentional about not speaking things that aren't true, because you are working yourself up by being dramatic. I know you feel like you aren't doing anything right, but you are. First, you haven't gotten B's on anything because we haven't even done a single subject yet, and second, answer me truthfully... did you really get all of your verses wrong?"
She looks at me through blurred vision, hair strewn wild across damp cheeks. I can see the struggle behind her eyes. Her feelings scream "YES! I am a failure!", but she knows she said many of them correctly. Her chin quivers and she blubbers out a willed "no."
"That's true." I affirm. "You did not get them all wrong... you did very well!! I know you are very tired, so I just wanted to give you a little break to rest your body, and pray again, and ask God to help you through this school day with a good attitude, and then we'll try again, okay?"
She bursts out with an edge of anger, which is really frustration coming from the desire to do right and well, " but I did pray already, and it didn't help! It didn't help at all!! Ohhhhh...."
Sometimes crying is the most cleansing thing, and she has a torrent that's rushing out, so before leaving her alone with Him I offer her this hope, encouraging her to not let herself drown, and to not drown herself. "Just because you're struggling this morning doesn't mean it didn't help to pray before, sometimes it takes many times of praying the same thing, turning to God again and again, to be able to do it. I have still have to do this, too. "
She hears my admission of imperfection, weakness even, and through her waterfall and manages a surprised "You do?"
I nod, smile into her sweet spirit, and encourage again through her tears "It's not an easy thing to have the right attitude or right perspective when you're exhausted. I still struggle with this, and pray through this, very often... Now I'll be back in just a few minutes... Remember not to let your thoughts run away with you!"
I softly close the door, and hear her sobbing escalate, though now with a different sound. Clearer, purer, more straightforward boo-hooing, somehow. This is good. Getting it all out.
When I come back into the room she's calm, and she watches as I carry armloads of pillows and blankets to our reading spot on the floor. She smiles as the fluff stacks layers deep and says "Ooooo Mom, that looks comfy!"
I smile and plop down, wave to her to come and open my arms wide. She rushes down the ladder and snuggles close, breathes deep. I kiss her curly mop and speak about what I am still learning and practicing every day. This not speaking feelings as absolute truth. This not giving up on prayer when it's not a first-time fix.
"When I am teaching you, do I tell you how to spell a word that's difficult for you only one time, and then expect you to repeat it perfectly? Like the word "influence", "i-n-f-l-u-e-n-c-e", can you spell that?"
She smiles timid into my face, hoping I'm not really asking her to spell it. "Um, noooo...."
"That's okay. It doesn't mean you aren't doing well. It doesn't mean you're not smart. It doesn't mean you can't learn it. It just takes practice to learn new things. And it takes lots of practice to learn difficult things."
She is hearing and I keep hugging and unpacking this truth the Spirit daily encourages me with " it's the same with difficult spiritual things, like being mature even when you're exhausted and still doing what you need to do with a good attitude even when you are so tired... developing your spiritual muscles is something we all grow into only with practice and repetition and prayer--God's help."
"And God is patient with us. He is understanding when we don't get it right the first time. But that doesn't mean our prayers are pointless. Some things we just need to persevere in prayer about... we need to keep praying the same thing because we need help with the same thing."
"When I was first teaching you to read, we had to start with "A" says "a". Then after you learned the basic sounds, you learned how to spell things like "cat", and now you are learning much more difficult words! But you had to grow into that. Do I expect Alexa to be able to do the same things as you?"
She grins at the idea of her tornado-toddler sister being required to do her 2nd grade lessons, shakes her head. "Of course not, she's only two. But she will get older and learn the things you are learning now if she wants to. It is the same with spiritual development, we don't learn by simply getting older. It isn't age that matures us. It is a willingness to try again, and repeat truth until we know it in our hearts and minds, and to persevere through prayer."
"When we pray to God for help with our struggles, and then we flail and fail, that isn't a reflection of His weakness or inability, but of ours. And while we may be tempted to give up and not pray because we feel like it doesn't 'help'... the exact opposite it true.
He is THE source of Strength that we need.
He is the only One who can save us from ourselves.
That's why our enemy wants to keep us from turning back to Him as Teacher. That's why we must not give in to discouragement.
God hears us. He will patiently and humbly and kindly teach us. He is compassionate towards us in our exhaustion."
She is relaxed in my arms, listening and so eager to do well.
And this last thing, could she learn this as a child and keep it close as an adult? "And remember that rest is a loving gift from God. Sometimes we just need to rest. God even goes so far as to command us to rest. Rest is a gift of love from God."
And she nods peaceful, resting in arms of love.