When Faith Fails

I’ve been vacillating between a couple different topics over the last week or so. Things that have been on my mind but, for the most part, things I haven’t been able to put a positive or constructive spin on…

Basically I’ve just been bitching about things and stuffing them into my Word files.

Then I went to work on Friday.

As many/most of you know, I’ve re-entered the jungles of retail customer service. And, one of the first customer’s I encountered this day was a harried mother and her two girls (I’d guess the younger one at 7-ish and her sister, maybe 10 or 11).

Actually, I wasn’t the one who helped them. I only heard her (the mother) from across the store. Yelling. At her daughter(s). Something about sunscreen, I think.

As they came up to the counter, where another employee began ringing them up, the one thing that struck me wasn’t so much the attitude of the mother, although I don’t think I heard a kind or positive thing come out of her mouth, it was the look on the face of the oldest daughter: an embroiled mixture of sadness, fear, anger, and vulnerability. Her lips were drawn. Her eyes were narrowed, just a bit. And her nostrils flared with each breath. If I had to, I would guess she was probably about a year away from having the backbone to snap back with some well-learned, long-taught, deeply ingrained retort.

And my heart broke.

I had no idea what to do. What I could do.

I felt powerless. As helpless as the daughter being berated for all the world to see.

Oh, I know what I should have done. I know what I would have liked to do.

But in even entertaining those thoughts, I understood what the Southern expression “losing my religion” means.

“Woman, you ‘bout ready to make me lose mah religion…”

 So how should I have reacted?

 

One thing I try to do in situations where someone begins to get under my skin is to try putting myself in their shoes.

What could have made them feel this way?

What may have taken place earlier that set them off on this course?

…that type of thing.

But this?

If you’d have seen the look on that young girl’s face, you would have known that this was not merely an isolated incident; not just an “oh, mom’s in one of those moods again.”

No, this seemed more like an habitual occurrence.

Thus the breaking heart. And the helplessness.

        ~~~

 

But another thing that breaks my heart in seeing something like this is that my faith seems to fail me in those instances.

There’s nothing within what little I know of scripture, what I’ve gleaned from personal experience, what I’ve bantered back-and-forth with friends, that seems…I don’t know…helpful.

For me? Maybe. But for them? The ones embattled in this scenario? The ones stuck under the weight of those berating words? Not so much.

Sure, I could pray. But praying seems so inadequate, so small, so trivial given the heavy load riding on that small child’s shoulders.

I could step in. Even doing my best to defuse the situation “in love”. But the woman would have never seen my faith. Would have never seen “love”. Would have never seen “help”. She would only have seen some meddling middle-aged man in a Walgreen’s T-shirt telling her how to raise her kids.

Besides, looking back on it now, I’m not entirely sure who I would have spoken to anyway.

What I really wanted to do (and still want), is to tell that girl, and her sister, that the world really doesn’t work like this. Not all adults act like this. Not all parents act like this. Yes, you apparently got the short end of the stick, but that doesn’t mean you have to pass that stick on to the next generation. To your kids.

Do better.

Be better.

Better is out there.

Better is within you.

Seek it out.

Learn the difference.

Those words of condemnation. Those words of anger. Those words of belittlement and ridicule.
Do. Not. Let. Them. Define. You.

 

You are already so much bigger than the voice self-cursed with raising you.

Don’t shrink!

Grow!

Grow in spite of.

Grow because of.

Because of the low bar being set.

Because of the worth, your worth, that the world around you sees, even if those closest to you—including you—can’t see it.

But mostly, grow because of that little doe-eyed sister looking to you right now. Willing her own strength into you. Even as you cow and fume at the vitriol being spewed your way.

Don’t. Give. Up.

Don’t. Give. In.

You are loved child.

You’re loved by your little sister.

And, if nothing else, you are loved by the helpless coward in the Walgreen’s T-shirt with the set jaw, the sad eyes and the balled fists.

Sadly, I will probably never see you again.

But I love you.

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3 thoughts on “When Faith Fails”

  1. One time I had a similar experience in Barnes & Noble (not quite as dramatic as the one you described) and I spoke kindly and encouragingly to the child. I can’t remember the exact criticism of the mom to the child, but I said something to the child like, “Sometimes it’s really hard to….(whatever it was the mom was griping about), isn’t it?” I tried to show compassion and focused on the child. I did not get the sense that the Mom was mad. I just wanted to comfort the child. I really hear where you’re coming from, Kent, and appreciate your sensitivity to the feelings of others. Maybe if we keep our voices light and non-judgemental, we can help the parents see a different perspective.

  2. Nice job, Brother. I wish it weren’t so, but my circumstances have enabled me to handle things like this relatively well. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” I would begin. “Can I offer you a suggestion?” I would ask. She would invariably say, “sure.” My reply…”I don’t know what your beautiful girls did to deserve the scolding you’re giving them, but you might want to go easy on them. You see, my little girl passed away three years ago, and I’ll never get the chance to be supportive, or loving, or caring, or kind to her. At least, not in this life. You’re not guaranteed your next second on this earth, so you might want to make the most of the time you’re given.” Usually leaves ’em dumbfounded. 🙂

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