The other day I was bringing my son to preschool. As we were getting out of the car he asked me to carry him. He’s my youngest and I am willing to carry him anywhere because I can. And he’s my baby. He’s a big baby, mind you, but I’m one of those snuggly-huggy-kissy moms and, even though my kids drive me crazy just like anyone else, I’ll take all the hugs and snuggles I can get. But something new is happening with him. It happened with both my other boys so I already know where we’re headed.
It’s been a slow unfolding but this particular day he managed to communicate a bit of what was happening inside his little mind. He said, “Mom will you carry me?” Of course, I said. Then he said, “But only to the door and then put me down before we go in.” As often as is appropriate I want to support my kids’ independence and honor their requests, even if they hurt me a little. But still, I asked him about it. Why didn’t he want me to carry him inside? Why did he want me to hold him, snuggle him, even kiss him fifteen times because I am THAT mom outside the door, but not inside. He didn’t have a lot of answers and I didn’t press, I just happily took my snuggles and kisses in my designated area.
It was our secret. Our secret that we were still close. That he still loved me and needed me and wanted me near him, but that he’s figuring out what others think is important too. That what others think sometimes holds a power over what he thinks. What he truly wants in his heart. At this point in motherhood I can honestly say it didn’t make me sad, even though I might wish it did, because I understand it. I realize how often appearances dictate my decisions too. I’m comfortable enough to say that I’ve been in that place probably a million times and probably will be a million more.
But it did remind me of other times in my life where relationships were secret. Have you ever been in a secret relationship? I remember a boy in high school who was only into me when we were alone. When groups or friends were around he pretended he didn’t know me, which, in a class of only 70 kids was ridiculous. It just goes to show how foolish we can become for the sake of our pride. I saw it so clearly, yet if he could secret me away he would tell me how amazing I was. Thinking back on it, I actually think he whispered. He was super cute and extremely popular and I wanted to believe him, but I couldn’t. As much as I wanted it to be true, I didn’t buy it for long.
I’ve had friendships the operated like that too. When I was in middle school I took my turn in the game where no one would talk to me for a week. I had two friends who continued to be my friend…but only outside of school. It was risky to be my friend in front of the group. There were opinions about me and who knew? Hanging out with me might mean they would be next. We were young, and the story is old, but I learned something important about friendship. If you’re not friends out in the open, you’re not actually friends.
But the truth is that those middle school stories didn’t end on the playground, did they? One of my dearest friends recently told me I’m a controversial friend. She meant it as a compliment and, after a few minutes digesting, I realized it was actually a good thing. It means I’m not afraid to stand for something or fight for what I believe in and sometimes, lets face it, that’s just not popular. If we’re honest I think we’ve all felt ourselves in friendships and relationships that were secret or not quite right. Whether we were sneaking around to be with someone we shouldn’t, or afraid to stand up for someone we should, the deeper question is always one of integrity. Because if we’re sneaking around to be with someone we shouldn’t be with, then we’re hiding. And if we’re afraid to stand up for someone in public that we profess to care about in private, then we’re either a liar or we’re afraid.
And if we’re afraid then lets deal with it. Lets be honest with ourselves and speak truth over our fear. And if we’re lying, lets just confess it so we can move on and be free! And if we’re hiding, then I think we should question ourselves why. And how it’s serving us. Because everything we do gives us something. If it didn’t, we’d stop doing it. Sometimes playing the victim makes us actually feel powerful. Often we get compassion, affirmation, encouragement and, ultimately, what we’re looking for: attention. Now I would venture it’s probably not the kind we desire, but it’ll do in a pinch. Sometimes we play the middle because we’re afraid to stand up for what’s right. It’s scary to take a position and hold it, and playing the middle makes us feel important. There’s no risk.
And here’s the deal. I’ll give my kids a pass every single day of their lives because they’re mine. They’re figuring out this thing called life. The power of independence and personhood and I applaud that! I am blessed that I get to help them navigate the confusion and complexity of human relationship. But you can be sure we will talk about integrity and honor and that the things that matter most are the things happening in our heart. And if we don’t feel free to live in line with our hearts and speak from our hearts – in public AND private – then that just means we’ve got work to do.
Have you ever felt someone was your secret friend? Or perhaps you’ve been afraid to treat someone publicly how you feel about them privately because it wasn’t popular? Maybe today you decide to live in the open, true to yourself and in line with your whole heart.