It started over desperately desiring a flashlight hidden under blankets, staving away sleepy eyes and drowsy yawns with hopes of play into the dark night. I said no. I said it wasn’t time to play. I said it was time to sleep. What started as a seemingly innocent request turned on a dime into rage, anger, fire-spitting words which were not unknown to my ears.

“I hate you!” “You’re stupid, mom!” “I hate my family!” Face twisted by anger, mouth looking like he swallowed a lemon, eyes narrow slits, he threw knife hot words my direction hoping to wound and hurt and maybe, just maybe, gain relief to his confusing emotions. Emotions placed within his heart from being born to one mother and being raised by another. Emotions that he doesn’t understand which cause a spider-like maze in his soul. Emotions I wish I could consume, eat, take and heal and wash and hold for him.

These familiar words spat at me many times before felt different this time. They felt more real. Like he was starting to believe what he was saying and my gut twisted, knotted, felt punched, breath sucked from me. And with my son on my lap those words worked. He took my very self and sliced me in two with those words. My 5-year-old boy. Who could have known a 5-year-old held such power?

Holding this cherub faced, delight-of-my-life son of mine, his words cut through me and broken open and bare I wept. I wept, hurting from such pain, from feeling like a failure as a mom, from wishing with all my might that I had given birth to my son. I wept as I laid him in his bed once again. I wept as I kissed his sweet forehead, still twisted in anger. I wept walking down the hall, falling to my knees in despair from not knowing what to do. And as I lay there weeping, my eldest son, whom I wish with all my might I gave birth to, put his arms around me.

“Why are you crying, mom?”, he said.

“It’s hard. It’s so hard continually laying down my life. It’s really hard being a mom, son”, I said.

With tears welling up in his eyes, arms around my shoulders, his quivering lips choked out, “It’s hard being a kid too, mom.”

Hugging each other tightly I whisper, “You’re right. I know, son. It is very hard being a kid too.”

After tucking him into bed and kissing his sweet forehead, I sat in the dark reflecting on what took place. I knew in the morning, my youngest’s heart would open, seeking forgiveness and love and would receive grace again and again. I knew God’s mercies are new every morning and God’s faithfulness would continue to sustain me. But as I reflected on my eldest saying that being a kid is hard too, I was reminded, once again, the deep and weighty love which self-sacrifice brings. Because it’s not about me. Rooted within the privilege of being a mom comes the reality that my children’s emotional needs are different than mine. I am not losing my sense of self or allowing myself to be walked over but I am reminded that being a kid really is hard. Empathy can heal the deepest of wounds.

Being a parent is entirely self-sacrificial. It comes with days of dissatisfaction, frustration, and unrealistic expectations. Parenting days are peppered with self-doubt mixed with shame wondering if our love is actually shaping our children for good. I’m finding parenting is daily laying down my life for the sake of my children, because it’s not about me. It is the daily practice of death and resurrection, of dying to the dream that everything will be perfect and being reborn into the messy reality of empathy and love.

Dying to the dream of perfection takes practice. It doesn’t come naturally. We fight it at every turn and corner. We live in fear of how messy life really is. And loving others fully in the midst of our own struggles is how we conquer fear. Dying takes practice.

Maybe you’re experiencing great loss, overwhelming hurt, or crippling illness. Don’t try to muscle through your pain or ignore your pain, but use it to empathize with others and love them into health. Breathe deeply of God’s mercies and faithfulness. Know that, through death to perfection and resurrection to acceptance, God is with you in your suffering and offers new life when you are ready to receive. May our eyes be open to the pain and suffering of others in the midst of our own, so we can listen and love better.