Over the past year, one of the most significant ways I have changed (grown?) is my increased awareness that we experience life through our physical bodies. Through yoga and other spiritual practices, I’ve begun to learn that the best way to bring myself back to the present moment and away from the worries of the future or the regrets of the past is to just notice my breath. Not to try to think my way out of it, but to get in touch with my very basic physical self. To tune in to my body and my breath in that very moment. I’ve been learning that the body is where we act out everything. Happiness, sadness, pain, stress, loss–the body feels it all. This body is what we were given–all we were given, really–as the vehicle to go through life. I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding my body and trying to ignore it, hoping, I guess that it’ll shut up or go away. But it won’t–not as long as I’m living. Might as well start to take care of it.
As I’ve shifted in my perspective, the way I talk to my kids has also changed. I’ve started referring to their bodies for all sorts of things. “Are you hungry in your body?” “Do you feel sad in your body?” You get the picture. This became more real for them after we all went to the theater to see the animated movie Inside Out this summer. We talked about how God lives in our bodies, especially the week of vacation bible school. It’s fun to see them get more tuned in.
So it was no surprise, really, when my 4-year-old pulled out the body language on me when he didn’t feel like doing what I said. Here’s the scene:
It’s bedtime. Maybe 8 or 8:30. It’s been a hard day. My husband and I had both had difficult stuff at our jobs followed by kid pick-up, homework time, dinner, baths. And we were all spent. The 4-year-old has recently done this little switch-a-roo from the olden days (like a month ago) when I’d ask him to do something and he’d do it…to this thing where I tell him what to do and he says no. Or he asks why. Or he laughs in my face and walks away. Pretty much anything but compliance. So I’ve been teaching him, gently, that when mom or dad or any grown-up who loves him tells him to do something that the only OK response is “OK” followed by doing it. We’ve been practicing. “Brush your teeth!” “OK, mom!”…”Get out of the street!” “OK, dad!” You get the picture. So on this particular night, I asked him to do something–I forget what. Something customary that I ask him to do EVERY SINGLE NIGHT because that’s how bedtime is. The children need prompts to do the same three things every single night. Pajamas. Teeth. Bed. So I tell him to do one of these things and he laughs in my face and starts dancing around. It’s cute, but not that cute. So I remind him: “J, the right thing to say is ‘OK mom’.” And he says to me in his classic deep, monotone Incredible Hulk voice: “that word is not in my body.”
4 year old declares victory! He used my own stuff on me! Not fair!
“That word is not in my body.” Translated into modern english as “I was not really wired to comply, mom. We know this. That’s your older son. Me? I am wired to go my own way. That OK word…it’s not in my body.” Or maybe just translated as “Nope. Not doing it. Take that, you old hag!”
I don’t remember what I did. I was struck by the moment. I’m sure he eventually went to bed, because life went on.
At age 4, in this 20-second encounter, he reminded me about something really big: The words in our bodies are strong. What are the words in me? What are the narratives that run through me throughout the day? Pay attention, you’ll hear them. For me, many of them are powerful stories about love and acceptance. “You shouldn’t try that–what if you fail?” “You’re too young to be the boss.” “You don’t really want to tell him how you feel–he’ll be totally freaked out.” “Everyone is watching so you better not mess this up.” “Look at her. She looks disappointed. You must have done something wrong.” “Nope. Not letting you off the hook for that error–if we let up who knows what kind of mess you’ll make next.” “You know while you’re out having fun, your kids could be getting into trouble right now. You better stop and go check.” “How can you be doing something for yourself when there are starving children……”
Do any of these sound familiar? The words in my body feed my deepest fear: that I can’t be loved just as I am. That I’m not quite enough. That I’m deeply flawed and in need of major fixing. (And probably so is everyone else, too.) These stories are powerful because they become our scripts. And our scripts become our beliefs. And our beliefs become our actions. And our actions become our patterns. And our patterns become our life. I don’t want a life built on stories of never good enough.
Tonight after homework while I was eating my dinner, my oldest son wanted to read. So I asked him to read to me while I ate. He picked up a new devotional book that I bought him recently. He turned to today’s date, September 29th. He began to read: “God made you wonderful. He made you thoughtfully and lovingly. God made you unique. God made you wonderful.” The story continued about how what the world says about us is not what God says. The world says we have to look, behave certain ways to be loved. And I sat there as my precious kid told me what I’ve forgotten so many times: That the only story that belongs in my body is the one that says I was made wonderful. I can know it’s true when I see him. I can confirm that God made him wonderful. And because I know that for him, I believe it is possible to know it for me.
I said a tiny, quiet prayer: Help me remember that God made me wonderful. Thank you for this kid who is so obviously wonderful.
What would happen in my days if I really remembered that story–if I replaced the old stories of fear and never enough and shame and doubt with stories of unconditional confidence that God made me wonderful? I suspect I’d be nicer, kinder, gentler to myself. And if I remembered that that’s everyone else’s story too? I suspect I’d be nicer, kinder, gentler to them too.
One of my most favorite, most loved, beautiful family members has gotten a bad diagnosis lately. And of course, as people find out, they tell her their most horrible stories about how that same diagnosis ended up for others they knew. And this beautiful person has done the smartest, most gracious thing she could do: She said thanks but no thanks and decided to collect better stories. She has been selective about who she tells and the stories she allows herself to hear and keep. The stories of being defined by a disease–she lets those go. The stories of health and healing and gracefully bearing with something hard while still being anchored to the really important stuff? Those are the stories she owns. And I believe that the stories that are in her body will help her heal.
May God grant me the same wisdom; may I give myself the same permission: To let the stories of never enough and the stories of fear pass like clouds overhead; and to invite the stories of wonder, healing, and love in to take up lifelong residence in this body of mine.