The change was dramatic and startling. Just moments before he had been angry, defiant, rebellious, and then suddenly, he looked like a scared little boy.
All I had done was ask a question. I don’t even know where it came from. I was just looking at his red angry face, with the veins popping out on his neck, and I said the words in a rush. “Son, what are you afraid of?”
And with those words something released. It was like a wave washed over him, the mask was torn off. He looked up at me with wide, scared eyes. His words came broken, hushed.
“I’m afraid I will wake up one morning and not have a family.”
Oh, Father-in-Heaven, of course. Everything made sense now. The issue at hand wasn’t really the issue at all.
We cried together because his fears are real. My little boy, who came to our home at eight-years-old, really did wake up one morning and not have a family anymore. So every day, when the fears start building, he struggles with hiding them behind a mask of anger and defiance.
Mothering hurting children is hard. And it’s not just adopted kids that struggle in this area. There are so many fears that materialize in the hearts of our little ones. Home-grown children may not fear losing their family one morning, but they have their own swirls of fear that build and crest over them.
This question, this “Dear one, what are you afraid of?” it is my go-to in mothering the hurting.
In naming the fears, we keep them from growing. Identifying the true problem frees us from the confusion that grows from internalizing the “what ifs” in our minds.
Of course, the hardest part about mothering hurting children is finding the true source of the fear. It is often so well hidden, it takes time and patience to draw it out. A child who is afraid he will lose his family, will push that family away with everything he has—and I get it. Oh, do I get it.
When I was wallowing through the worst of infertility, I did the very same thing. Instead of crawling to the feet of Jesus and whispering how scared I was, petrified that I would forever be left bleeding and in pain, I tried to pretend like I never wanted children anyway. I tried to be strong, to be brave, to be good-enough. Because then, if I didn’t receive the children my heart was crying for, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.
It isn’t truth, of course. And when God gently, softly, asked me, “Child, what are you afraid of?” and I finally named the fear, I found that I was set free to hear what was true.
The truth is that I am safe in the circle of my Father’s arms. The truth is that God is trustworthy, even if this world is broken. The truth is that Jesus loves me, gave everything for me, and He’s never leaving—no matter what.
And because I know this truth? I whisper it again. I pull my son into the circle of my arms and softly, quietly, I tell the story again. The story of the God who loves us so much, he’ll do everything to make us family.
The truth is that my son is safe in our family, but more than that, He is safe in Jesus.
This is the beauty of mothering the hurting. This is the glory. We get to tell them The Story again.
I pray that every hurting child hears the good news. I pray that we will be faithful to tell them.
Natasha Metzler is a writer, farmer’s wife, and adoptive mama from Upstate New York. She is the author of Pain Redeemed and Counting Grains of Sand. Infertility, hope, adoption, and loss all collide in these gentle stories of how God built a family from splintered pieces and taught one woman how to hold onto faith and learn to delight in the God-Who-Speaks-Promises even while journeying through the wilderness of sorrow. She blogs at natashametzler.com and can be found on Facebook.