“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”– Matthew 19:14 (MSG)
By: Jana Greene
In her book “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” Anne Lamott wrote a chapter entitled “A Man who was Mean to His Dog.” She wrote about witnessing a guy being mean to his Golden Retriever at her local beach, and her incredulousness that anyone could be unkind to a dog of that breed. Goldens are the most people-pleasing dogs in the world, just so full of goofy and abundant love. They just want to win your approval.
I witnessed something this morning at the grocery store that may have been the human equivalent, which is even worse.
I live in a coastal town, and here’s one of the Rules of Living at the Beach on any 4th of July weekend: DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. And if you must leave the house, do it at 7 a.m. in the morning before the tourist craziness reaches fever pitch, usually around 9:30 a.m on a holiday.
But I had to leave the house, because I needed some things from the grocery store, so I trekked out early and thankfully there were few people out and about yet. Unfortunately, one of those people was a really upsetting presence. A harried-looking mom (or grandmother? Could have been either) with a darling little tow-headed 3 or 4 year-old girl.
The first time she opened a tirade on the wee one was in Bakery.
“Put that down!” the mom shouted, when the girl reached for a free cookie. “Can’t you just ever do anything right?”
To which the tiny, blonde adorable human being who has the inalienable right to enjoy a free grocery store cookie (it’s in the Constitution) responded with a muted “Sorry.”
I blew it off as a frustrated albeit really cranky mom, and made a note to try to avoid her for the rest of my shopping, which of course resulted in her passing me in almost EVERY AISLE.
In Bread, the girl skipped around the cart while her mother scanned the shelves.
“STOP IT!” the mom commanded.
“I’m just being silly….”
“Well, knock it off. You’re always silly. Its getting really old.”
Ok, now I’m getting angry. Who the hell reprimands a child for silliness? I catch the mother’s eye and give her a mid-grade stink-eye in return. She looks mean. MEAN, I tell you. But I thought she might think twice about berating her daughter if someone gave her the stink-eye.
In Pasta / Rice / Soup, I met them again. This time, the girl was trying to put a tiny stuffed animal she had brought into her mom’s purse.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped loudly. “Carry it! If you didn’t want to hold on to it, you shouldn’t of brought it. If you put it in my bag, I’m throwing it away.”
Let me stop right here and assure you that my mothering skills are completely imperfect and always have been. I try really hard and always have, but I make mistakes. I snapped at my daughters plenty as they were growing up, I know I did. We all have bad mommy days. Snapping at your child occasionally isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to judge this woman harshly, but as she systematically tore down her child in such a nasty way, I started judging aplenty. Every word she directed at her daughter was full of scorn. I can only describe it as venomous. (The sad thing is that if this is mom at 7 a.m., I cannot imagine how she might treat the kid at 5 p.m. when exhaustion really kicks in, or at 8 p.m. when putting her child to bed.)
I started praying for the girl, who wasn’t even misbehaving in the least – just being a kid. Even on the aisles we didn’t mutually cross, I could hear the mom yelling at her.
When we met up in Frozen Foods, the little girl told her mom “You look pretty.” Anyone could see that this child was trying to win approval, and it was freaking heartbreaking, because her mother responded with “Yeah, whatever.”
Finally, at the checkout, who should queue up behind me but this woman and her daughter. The girl touched a candy bar and her mother loudly said in a seething tone: “You got a hundred dollars? No, you got nothing. Don’t even touch that.”
She didn’t get physical with the girl, but I wanted to scoop the child up and get her away for a while. I wanted to offer to babysit, and invite the girl to come skip around my dining room table and eat candy. I would take her to feed the ducks at the pond near our house, and I would put flowers in her hair and assure her that she IS doing everything RIGHT, and that silliness is a character attribute of the very highest order.
Instead, I smiled and winked at her. She was just precious beyond all description and she smiled back at me – as sweet and happy as a Golden Retriever whose owner had mistreated it. What I’d witnessed wasn’t cruel enough to be reported to the authorities, but it was definitely cruel enough to chip away at the spirit of a beautiful little girl.
Four year-olds are full of glee and “why?” and skipping around. Quite frankly, that age is often the most lovable of the childhood years, the most people-pleasing age, just so full of goofy and abundant love. I continued praying for the girl as I checked out my groceries and put them in the cart. By this point, I’m beyond angry. I am rolling away to my car, imploring God to protect and comfort that child’s wounded little spirit.
And then I had a thought invade my pleadings: Pray for the mother.
Hurumph! I shut that thought down quick, dismissing it on the grounds of righteous anger.
I’m loading my groceries, and again – like an annoying internet pop-up ad, it comes again: Pray for the mother.
What do you want me to pray, God? Forgive her, for she knows not what she does? She knows damn well what she’s doing! But still, as I started the car, God really just wouldn’t get off my back about it, so I prayed an honest prayer:
God, I’m just so mad. I’m mad but I’m asking you to somehow work in the heart and mind of that mother. I don’t know what she is going through, but you do. That meanie is your little girl. Forgive me for praying for her very last, and with trepidation. You were pretty clear about praying for our enemies, and I ask for you to pour your supernatural, unconditional love on her. Show her grace, Lord. And show me grace and mercy too, please. I need it just as much.
Praying for thine enemies is very, very difficult. That’s why Jesus was the only person ever to do it perfectly. It’s especially hard when the aggressor is mean to a child or a dog. I’m working on learning to petition God on the behalf of the jerks in the world, because I’ve been a jerk before too in other ways, so maybe someone was praying for me.
God bless us, every one. Please, God. We need it so.