When I was discharged from the hospital after having a baby, I remember thinking that it was with far too little oversight. The hospital staff didn’t pat me down or give me a lie detector test. They didn’t x-ray scan any of my bags or prohibit me from owning any sharp, liquid, or potentially hazardous materials. Apparently it takes more work to board an airplane than it does to bring an infant home from the hospital.
Two weeks ago, I had to board an airplane for work. Leading up to the trip, I stayed awake at night wondering if it was a good idea to leave Molly for three days. Would my absence create a lifetime of abandonment issues for her? Would she doubt my love forever? Would she reject the bottle or get sick or, worst of all, learn to crawl while I was away!? I wrote and rewrote instructions for our babysitters. I cuddled Molly with such a ferocious codependency that she pushed me away by slapping me in the face. I talked to other moms, to my husband, to friendly looking strangers, continually looking for someone to give me definitive permission to leave.
I wanted a TSA checkpoint for my parenting choices, a group of people that would look at me with skepticism and disdain and mandate I walk barefoot and beltless through a narrow tube of accountability. I felt the need to prove my good intentions.
Instead, my friends kept telling me that it would be fine and that I should probably put my shoes back on.
The travel days came and went. Molly slept through the night and drank her bottles and delayed her first crawling steps. I went to my meeting across the country. I performed like a business professional and no one interrupted my presentation by saying, “Stop! Aren’t you the mother of a baby? Heaven help us! Shouldn’t you be at home with her?”
No, instead they listened to my presentation and shook my hand and let me leave without ever questioning the complexity of being a mother to a baby across the country. No one confirmed the decision as the right one or normalized the experience for me. The whole thing happened as a non-event, a decision that didn’t require permission, just execution.
Most of my life I have sought permission to do things. I needed permission to watch PG13 movies or go to a friend’s house or pierce my ears. I needed permission to take out college loans or sign a lease or pursue the unpaid vocation of writing. I became very good at informal public polling, at outsourcing litmus tests of right and wrong. I shared guardianship over myself with my parents and my husband and my friends, reallocating authority based on whose approval I was seeking most.
And to be clear, I think mutual submission, consideration, and accountability are all good, essential things in relationships and families and marriages, but somehow I cultivated the habit of pursuing group consensus for all decisions. I began assuming that my instincts and popular opinion were inextricably linked.
Shortly after we brought Molly home from the hospital, some friends visited and we discussed parenting with uncertainty, making decisions and wondering if they were the right ones, reading online advice and hearing it in conversations and thinking that sometimes outside counsel just makes every decision more confusing. In the thick of the conversation our friend Logan looked at me and said “Do you believe the Holy Spirit is at work within you, Bekah? Then trust your instincts.”
I have returned to that moment over and over again, wondering how often I drown the strategic whisper of the Holy Spirit in the noise of popular opinion, realizing that a life in pursuit of public approval is one spent perpetually auditioning or apologizing.
I’m writing these words while sitting at the kitchen table I purchased without permission. It’s exactly small enough to fit in our city apartment and accommodate four compact stools, maybe five or six if we all agree to bump elbows and eat our food without turning side to side. We can have small dinner parties and small craft projects and small piles of folded (or let’s be real—unfolded) laundry, but our table is limited. It strategically narrows the scope and focus of our hospitality.
I wonder if we were created for community that occurs more often around a small kitchen table and less often from the expanse of a public auditorium. I wonder if the noise from so many opinions and so many friends and so many likes on social media makes us think that we are perpetually auditioning instead of already home.
God offers to be our shelter and fortress, but in order to rest in His presence we must be willing to exist in a place with walls, a space with infrastructure that’s built for our protection. Home is a safe place only when you close the front door.
Maybe becoming a mature adult is learning to be a good gate keeper, not letting everything in but setting the table for the right people, those who speak wisdom and encouragement into a life that is still in progress. And that is the most essential pre-requisite for an invitation to this table: you must have grace for the process.
Because everyone around here is still in process. We are parenting with uncertainty and making purchases without permission and sitting elbow-to-elbow around a meal that was partially cooked in a microwave. This is not a performance; it is a family dinner. We keep our shoes on as long as we feel like it, because that’s what you do when you come home, when you walk into the house without permission and close the door behind you.