Psalm 66:16-20 Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out to him for help, praising him as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.
I grew up feeling that when I did something wrong, my parents’ love was withdrawn from me. It was painful. It taught me two things: 1) I must try to be perfect. 2) When I’m not, I must hide it. I became a skilled wearer of masks. People in general, but especially my family, seldom knew what was going on inside me. I was too afraid of their judgment and abandonment.
One time, for example, I went on a bike ride with my older brother. We had two bikes for our family of eight children, one regular-size and one small. I don’t remember how old I was, but young enough to use the small bike. My brother chose the road climbing steeply, around hairpin turns, up the mountain leading out of our village in Guatemala. “It’ll be worth it,” he promised me.
Climbing was exhausting. Flying back down was terrifying! I wiped out on one of those hairpin turns, soaring over my bike to land in a heap on the dirt road. My whole body, it seemed, was scraped and bleeding. “We can’t let Mom and Dad know,” my brother cautioned. “We’ll get in such big trouble.”
I didn’t need the caution. As I walked my bike down the hill and back home, my mind was busy calculating how I could keep my injuries covered and secret. We were able to sneak into our house without attracting notice. I scrubbed the blood from my dress (yes—in those days we girls wore dresses), hung it to dry in the kids’ shared closet, and wore a dress of my older sister’s, with long sleeves and long enough to cover my knees. I had a pair of knee socks, so they became part of my outfit. I came up with a story to explain the scrapes and bruises on my face, in case anyone noticed and asked (no one did).
My whole body ached, but my parents never knew about my mountain mishap. For some reason, years later in Brazil, I told this story to a friend. She laughed and recounted her own story. As a child, she climbed onto her barn roof, certain she could fly. She suffered a broken rib and toe. Like me, afraid of the consequences, she kept her pain secret from her parents. She discovered the breaks when as an adult a doctor asked, looking at x-rays, when she had broken a rib and a toe. She could only account for it with the barn roof-flying incident.
Our Father/Mother God is different, radically so. He cares about what’s going on with us, not to punish, but to forgive and restore us if that is needed. Even when we have done wrong, he does not withdraw his love from us. Instead, he helps us deal with the pain we suffer from our choices. We can trust his unfailing love.
This is a great thing to remember as we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem this Lent and share intimate conversations along the way. We don’t need to pretend with him. He sees through our masks anyway, so why bother. He cleanses, comforts, counsels, binds up our soul-wounds, and even laughs with us when we’re ready to see humor in what we do. [The Lord says] I will comfort you as a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13).