She sags sloppy over the table like room temperature butter.
Her energy, which moments ago galloped her about on her black stick horse, has somehow suddenly dissolved to the point of involuntary partial eyelid closure. Her mouth muscles don't seem to be working either, as what's left of her childlike chubby cheeks droops low, puddling onto her supporting hand.
I hear her silent protest loud and clear.
I stifle a sigh and plead a prayer and scrape the neighboring chair back to sit in this place where she has retreated. I do a baby and toddler check over my shoulder and heart-tell the Lord we've probably got about two minutes to sort whatever seven-year-old-life-crushing-problem this is before crisis erupts and it would be so nice if we could get through 3 subjects before lunchtime.
But Lord not my will, but Yours be done.
"Selah?" I call gently into wherever she's gone in her mind. "What's going on?"
Her lips purse and her jaw clenches and eyes narrow cool and flat. She barely mumbles "nothing."
I keep eye contact and smile an invitation out of her sourness, she refuses it and looks down. Because she is so like me, and her pushing away is actually a pleading for help, a cry of help me out of this place where I'm trapped, I lean forward into all her mess and whisper. "I can see that. Want to tell me what this 'nothing' is about?"
She hesitates. "No".
I wait. I pray to the One Who pries open our self-made prisons.
She half looks up, shoves the school paper in front of her, slips a cryptic message through the lip-walls that confine. "I don't like spelling."
She loved spelling two days ago. Those words came easily to her. The lesson today has more rule breakers, more difficult combinations, it requires more focus. More effort. There's more to this. I wait.
She shifts. "It's just... I don't enjoy it. I don't understand why I have to do this day after day." Her frustration is building, rushing right into my face now "You want to know what I really think?..." I brace myself, she hisses disgust in the strongest language she knows I will allow "It's. My. Least. Favorite. Subject."
She sits back, struggling against her chains. "And I think a lot of other things, too, but I'm not going to say them." Arms crossed, she closes down again.
I smile loving empathy at this woman-child so advanced, and so childish. I try to begin where I can relate.
"It's okay that spelling is your least favorite subject. I never enjoyed it when I was in school either, and even now it's not a strength of mine. And while it is important to know how to spell for many practical, everyday life situations... there will be some subjects you study in school that you won't use beyond the classroom. Why do you think it is important to have a good attitude and faithful effort in studying these things?"
She shrugs, sulks. She sinks further into that silent place leading to solitary confinement. I remember how often my Dad reached me with questions as steps leading up and out to the Light.
I try again. "Selah, remember when you told me that you wanted to be treated like a big girl, a young woman, instead of child?"
She nods. I wait for a verbal response, eyebrows raised. She complies. "Yes."
One step up.
"What was something I told you was a difference between a child and a more mature person?"
She stops descending in sourness and thinks about the question. Step two. She answers "you told me that when children are done eating they leave food on their faces but adults remember to wipe their faces clean." Step three.
I smile. She is clearly irritated, but now thinking in a different direction. There is more light on her face. I affirm it. "That's right! And you've been very good about remembering to wipe your face after eating ever since. What if you were still like Alexa, and walked around with a cream cheese mustache?"
She flashes a momentary half-smile with a I really don't get your point, Mom kind of expression.
"What I'm trying to tell you is this: today you have the opportunity to learn a huge, inside secret to a core part of what it means to be a mature woman. What I am about to tell you is one of the most major differences between someone who is mature, and someone who still acts like a child. Do you want to know what it is?"
I have her attention. "Yes." Another step up, she's at the door.
I hand her what she will always need for unlocking her self-made cell. "The key to maturity is this: a mature person will choose to do what they know is right, or good, or necessary, regardless of their feelings. Maturity is a choice. "
Now she doesn't know if she wants out. Sometimes I don't know if I do either.
"I completely understand that you don't like or enjoy spelling. There are many, many things I do every single day that would be my absolute least favorite thing to do right then. Do you think I ever want to change a diaper filled with poop?"
She can't help but smile at the word "poop". She shakes her head with a restrained giggle "no".
"That's right, I don't! But I do it every day because I love your baby sister. We will always, only, choose to be mature because of love. Love is the strongest motivator... even stronger than our strongest dislike for doing something.
Which is why real, complete maturity is inseparable from our relationship with God. He is Love. If we don't live our lives out of motivation to glorify Him because of how much He loves us... we will choose to not do something that is good, or right, or necessary because we won't want to. We won't feel like it.
And even if we do something good, but have a terrible attitude, we have to remember that God looks at our hearts.
That's why no matter what we do, or say, or give... if we don't do it out of love... it profits us nothing. We gain nothing."
Her face is clear now, out in the Light of the doorway. She sees both options, and stands thinking.
I offer one last thought. "It's okay that you don't feel like doing spelling... there will be many things you don't feel like doing that you will be required to do. School is one of them. You don't have to deny that you feel a certain way. But your attitude, your maturity, will always be your choice. And the good news is that often, very often, your feelings will follow your choices.
"You have to choose... you will every day have to choose... which way to go."
She picks up a pencil, regains a posture of study, and chooses The Way.
Has it been your experience that your choices are key in your ability to focus on Christ? Is there a scripture that reminds you to not follow your feelings, but His way?
*This is a 31 Day Series on Things That Help Me Focus. You can find all the other posts here.*