My children are constantly surprising me. Sometimes it is with some bit of cleverness they have come up with, or a particularly funny joke. Other times they do something I didn’t realize they knew how to do, or they will make a connection between two things that I didn’t think they really understood. Recently I was surprised by a conversation with one of my daughters that made me see that our children are struggling with ideas and worries that are much more advanced than the things I bothered with at their age.
My elementary-aged daughter asked to speak to me privately, which happens a lot in this family of six. There is precious little alone time to be had, so private conversations often have to be arranged – they rarely happen spontaneously since there is almost always someone else around. This particular conversation had to do with purpose, or more specifically, what her purpose was and what made her special.
She asked me if I thought my life would be any different if she had never been born. She wanted to know what her place was in this family, and if I thought that the things she does are things that only she can do. Essentially, she wanted to know why, or even if, she was needed.
She wanted to know why, or even if, she was needed.
My parents may have different memories of that time in my life, but when I was in elementary school I don’t remember worrying about whether or not I had a purpose. I don’t remember wondering what people would be doing if I had never been born. I was more concerned with playing with my sister, riding my bike and going next door to see if the neighbor kids were able to come outside.
I’m not sure why my daughter has started thinking about these things at such a young age. Maybe she’s mature for her age (or maybe I was shallow when I was that age!) or maybe she heard something or saw something that made her think of it. There are probably countless experts that could give me countless reasons and statistics for why my daughter is contemplating her purpose so young. All I know is that when she asked me, I had to answer her right then. I couldn’t tell her to wait a few minutes while I did some research on what to say and what it means that she asked.
She was created for this family
Instead I told her that I believe she was created to be in this family. When God made me he gave me a heart with a section reserved just for her. No matter who else is in it, or who will eventually join this family, that part of my heart with her name on it belongs only to her. No one can ever take that spot. Even if she had never been born, there would still be a piece of me that God designed just for her.
I told her that she had been made uniquely for us, and we had been made uniquely for her, so that we could all be a unit working together and building each other up.
What she does is infinitely less important than who she is
I told her that I care much more about who she is than about what she does. I don’t want her to base her identity and purpose on what she can do to help out, on how she behaves or on what her skills and talents are. I don’t want her to compare what she can produce with what her siblings can produce. I don’t want her to think that the love we have for her and the joy we take in her is conditional, based on what she does. No, the love we have and the joy she brings us is unconditional, based solely on her presence.
It’s not necessary to know everything you are supposed to do all the time
I told her that sometimes we don’t need to know what our job is supposed to be. That sometimes our job is simply to be. I told her that sometimes we have things to do, roles to fill and tasks to perform, but sometimes the thing that is most needed is for us to be available. To be an ear that hears, or an arm that hugs. Sometimes the best job we can do for those we love doesn’t involve any skill other than a compassionate heart.
And on those days when you’re struggling to figure out where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do, I told her something that a friend of mine once shared with me. Do the next good thing. Don’t worry that you can’t see the big picture, don’t worry that you don’t know what will happen next. Just do the next good thing.
So what’s the point? What’s the take away from this?
That conversation made me realize that our children grow up a lot faster than I had realized. They struggle with things at very young ages that would make adults pause and worry. They need someone in their life who they can trust to listen to their concerns and give them some sort of answer. They need space to have that private conversation, to talk about those fears, and to be heard. I certainly don’t think I have all of the answers, in fact I would love for people to share what they would say to those questions, but I do think we need to have some kind of answer. Because the questions are there. If we don’t answer them, someone or something else will.