I want to ask you something.
The other day a friend of mine was telling me about a tantrum that her little boy recently had. He shouted and stamped and cried and cried until he was completely out of energy and tears and he finally let her hold him in her arms. She cuddled him and rocked him and prayed for him and he hugged her back until he slept.
My friend told me with wonder that those minutes in each other's arms as she held him and prayed and rocked him to sleep were special moments indeed. She said she felt privileged to be his Mummy and it was almost worth the shouting and the anger and the tears in order to be able to be part of the healing.
I wonder if all Mums have this experience from time to time. I know that with my girls, Katy in particular, I have done it too. Katy is the tantrum queen in our house. She's getting better as she gets older (she's five tomorrow, you know) but over the past couple of years here the windows have vibrated with the sound of Katy's screaming. She would stamp, throw things, kick, hit out with little fists and shout until she was hoarse. She would expend every last bit of energy. Over time I came to know when I should approach her and when to leave her alone, because trying to pick her up before she was ready would only result in a renewed fury and the possibility of bruises.
There'd be a sort of tipping point. There was (and still is, though the tantrums are less violent now) a point at which Katy would lose control and had fought herself into a place where she realised that she needed help. If I watch her these days, she might look at me through her tears and sort of raise her arms a little; not going so far as to reach out or signal for a hug, but we know, my little girl and me, what she means. She wants me to come and hold her. When I do, she might still be stiff and unyielding, and almost certainly she'll carry on wailing for a while, but we know that we're at the beginning of the end.
What happens is that she clings onto me and I gather her up and wrap my arms around her. I hold her to me and she pushes her face into my neck. She sobs and heaves and her little body shakes as the tension slowly subsides. I whisper to her and rock her and I stroke her hair and I inhale the wonderful fragrance of her and I push her fringe away from her hot, teary little face. After a while her body melts into mine and she usually snuggles into me and holds tight. It's all gone. She doesn't have anything left.
Just like my friend's little boy needed her to be there, my Katy needs me sometimes just to be there when she's run out of herself. Run out of fury, fear, energy and tears. And although the tantrum is frustrating and uncomfortable, those moments when I get to help her come back are precious indeed. I know she'll grow out of tantrums, but I hope that I can still hold her and rock her now and again for a while longer, because I love it. I love that she turns to me when she's at the end of herself and I love that I can help. I love that we fit together and feed from each other and the result, after the tumult and rage, is peace and renewal.
If I try to intervene too soon, Katy hasn't yet come round to needing me. She's still too full of whatever disturbing emotions are driving her for me to get close. I have to wait until the arms go up. Wait until she sobs 'Mummy'. Then, that's my cue. I can pull her to me and we can let our love even out our feelings. I would never, ever, turn her away at that point. I couldn't do it. I love her far, far too much.
My friend is very wise. She told me about her little boy and the blessing of holding and praying for him as he found his equilibrium again and softened into sleep and then she said, 'Is God like that with me?'
Oh, Lord, is that it? Are you like that with me (and her)? Do you wait, patiently, watching the tantrum progress in all it's impotent fury until I reach the end of my tether, and then do you open your arms for me? I know that you don't intervene too early - you don't stop me from raging or from wallowing in my self pity, but when I do, finally, eventually, run out of options and run out of energy and strength - there you are.
When I have nothing left, you hold me.
Only then, when I've exhausted all alternatives, that's when I lift my arms to you. That's when I lie in bed and let my tears dampen the pillow and I cry out to you. It's usually the point when I have no more words than my four year old daughter who can only say, 'Mummy'.
Abba. My Daddy.
Does it give you the same pleasure that it gives me as a Mummy? The same feeling of intensity and something even approaching joy that I get when I hold Katy so close that she melts into me? I don't mean a joy that she has been so distressed, or that she's cried until she's spent, but a joy that she has at last let me help her. A joy that I had something to give that helped?
Do you feel like that? Do you ache to hold me but I won't let you near? Do you love me so much that your arms long to fold around me and bring healing?
It's an amazing thought. I don't quite know what to do with it.
I wonder why I have to be so far away before I turn around to come back. I wonder why I can't run into your arms sooner and spare myself the trying and failing to run things under my own strength. You think I'd learn. I'm just like Kate in that I can only accept your embrace when I've tried everything else. Got it all out of my system.
I'm just a child. And a little one at that.
Thankyou, Father God. For all the times that you wait for me with your arms open. For all the times that you hold me when I cry even though it's a hurt of my own making. All the times that you love me enough to bring me back into you even though I've stamped and thrown things and shouted at you and held you away until I have nothing left.
Thankyou for a glimpse of your love, Lord God.
Abba. My Daddy.
I'm needing a hug.