When I Embraced My Separation Anxiety
This is my story. The one that changed my life. Two Years ago.
I watch the flick of my husband's heels as they flash upward and then down again. My heart races wildly as I follow his steps up the familiar sidewalk and it's all I can do to keep my face calm while everything inside me rages in panic. My knees threaten buckling beneath the weight of it all. And probably the reason for all of this is that I know what’s coming.
It’s the same every time. And yet I do nothing to prevent it, to stop it, to change it.
Why don't I do anything to break this pattern?
Even though she can walk, I carry my twelve month old in my arms, hug her tight. I look down at her and those chocolate eyes sparkle, winning my heart for the millionth time. I'd do anything to keep her from what's coming - the fear that suffocates the breath right out of a person, the anxiety that threatens to collapse the lungs. I want so much to do better, to be better at mothering - than this. Than what we are walking into.
We continue along the side of the building and approach the entrance. My eyes travel long up the looming brick wall beside us. When they finally reach the roofline, there is only a sliver of blue sky visible. I'm boxed in.
And I feel small.
My husband holds the shiny glass door open for us and I step inside. We pass through the lobby at the main entrance with its cushioned chairs and complimentary coffee. People greet us, but I don’t really hear them. I can only focus on continuing to breathe while it feels like my throat is closing up.
I force my feet to move forward and my brain to cease all its rational thinking nonsense. This is not the time to think or even act logically. Nor is it the time to follow the motherly instinct that God gave me. No, this is the time to do what everyone else does - and expects me to do also.
When we reach the other side of the lobby, we pause for my husband to open yet another set of doors. We shuffle inside. I hear the usual click as the massive wooden doors with their tiny peepholes close behind us. I think they must’ve sealed out all the oxygen because I really. am. suffocating.
Then it happens, before I can change my mind.
Maybe that’s why they are quicker with me than they are with other moms. Because I have bucked the system a time or two. Sometimes I just go into panic mode, turn on my heel, and run out.
They come quickly now.
I don’t try to prevent it, but I don’t hand her over either. I just stand there like a statue as they peel her off of me. She is holding her little arms up at me crying, “Mama! Mama!” over and over, begging for me to help her. We never break eye contact and one of the ladies carries her around the corner out of sight.
I could tell the front desk lady that I’ve changed my mind. I could take my precious little curly headed girl back in my arms and keep her. I could dry her tears with my kisses until her soul igniting smile returns. But I remain frozen and I do nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I hate myself for this.
I am her mother. I am the one person in all the world who she should be able to trust. Not only do I not stop these people, raw strangers in her mind, from taking her away from me, but I allow it. And she doesn’t understand why in the slightest. And her panicked cries that echo back to me from down the hallway communicate clearly her overwhelming fear.
She doesn’t care that they are sweet ladies who love babies.
She only knows that she has just been pulled away from everyone she knows. She only knows that she is scared and that her cries for help are being - ignored.
My heart is breaking and screaming to be heard too, but I pretend not to notice.
Patterns don't break unless there's someone brave enough to do the breaking. But is it right to disrupt what is right? And what is right? Is it this? Surely it must be...
But I must not think on it too long. The tears that burn the back of my eyes threaten a messy explosion if I voice any of these questions now. As if sleepwalking, I turn around and bend down to give my toddler a hug and kiss. He used to act the same way my girl does. That’s why I went with him for the first two years of his life. And now he is genuinely excited to go, no fear overtaking him. He was eased into this more gently. So now he bounces off down the hallway happily jabbering a hundred miles an hour.
I wish I could skip out of here as light heartedly as he just did.
My husband’s look asks me if I am okay without him even saying a word. He is so understanding.
I nod and we walk out of the vault. I put on a fake smile, like all the other people on display here, and we head to the newly carpeted sanctuary.
The piano music flares and fills the room just as we reach our pew, saving me from having to greet anyone with actual words, and church as we know it, begins.
I fidget all through the service, checking my phone to see the time every two or three minutes, not even really hearing the preaching over the mental argument I'm having with myself.
Should I go get her or just wait it out? She has probably stopped crying by now, but then sometimes she cries the whole time. Maybe I should just at least go check with the girl at the front dest of the nursery. Or maybe I should just suck it up like all the other mothers here and pretend like it doesn’t bother me.
After the service, clammy and shaky, I am the first mom to the nursery to collect her. She cries profusely in the backseat all the way home, trying to deal with massive emotions and make sense of the hurt.
Weary and worn and frazzled, I carry her inside and we sink down on the sofa. I just want it to swallow me. I lie back and close my eyes and I think that I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t. And I won’t.
And I try to reason with myself.
It’s not like I was sending her away into a torture chamber. Those nursery workers are some of the sweetest people on the face of the planet. It’s not like she was in any danger. And it’s not like I was never going to see her again.
The thing is though… she didn’t know that.
I did. But she didn’t.
I try to think how this would look if I put myself in my daughter’s situation, how it would feel from her side of the looking glass.
What if this was me and not her? What if I was unable to communicate verbally with my family?
What if I had been physically forced away from the safety and security of my family into the care of a person I didn’t know?
What if I was helpless and I knew it?
What if this forced separation was to be for a length of time that was indefinite or incomprehensible to my mind?
What if the person I loved and trusted most in the entire world was the one forcing me away?
I can only imagine the hurt, confusion, and betrayal she must be feeling.
And I am growing rapidly more bitter about these choices I’ve made that have brought all this about. I realize now though that it is a choice. Steven and I's - our choice. And we don’t have to put her through this. So we won’t. Not anymore. He sits with me and talks with me through this until we reach some clarity and peace on the subject. And I am thankful for his ever-present strength.
But then the next wave of questions hits me harder than the first.
Why does it have to be this way?
Why do I have to send my child away to go learn about Jesus?
Why are the children’s needs the least important?
The reality is that this separation, this forced way that stems from the church culture norms is simply not natural. Not the way God intended it to be.
And I think that is where my real issue lies. In the paralyzing pattern, in the love of tradition over the love of people, in the idea that the people must adjust to the rules of the structured church entity, rather than the church ebbing and flowing and adjusting to better love and serve the people.
I think of the sweet women in the nursery who love my baby girl, and who have loved me well over the last five years here at this place. I smile as I think of all of them giving their best to love Jesus, all of them doing all they can to ease the separation anxiety that suffocates this heart of mine every Sunday. I think of them and my smile grows. They love well. And I know it’s not them at all, they are not what I am questioning here. I am questioning the Church Culture, the behaviors of the believers in this current culture, the traditions that have been in place so long that they are entirely unquestioned and unquestionable.
It is a dangerous thing to have in place a set of traditions and rules that cannot be questioned.
I know it with ever fiber of my being that this separation anxiety, this thing that the world would see as a weakness in me, could better be describes as the motherly intuition in me vying to be heard, grappling to be acknowledged. This is the logic in me roaring loud against the silent expectations of society. And now that I have embraced my separation anxiety, I see the age old wisdom in these God-given maternal instincts. I see why my Daddy has told me a hundred times over to trust my gut, that unexplainable sense of right and wrong that comes bubbling up from deep within a person.
But now that I can breathe easier and smile more readily, there is still something here that bugs; there is a looming suspicion, a daunting ideal that my instincts have know something for a while that my mind can only just now comprehend - that the cultural church may not actually be biblical.
And it’s all I’ve ever known.
So where do I go from here?
**Submitting to God and letting Him lead me in a journey of discovery about the Church of Jesus has been the craziest, most joyous, most awakening journey - beyond any that I could ever have imagined. It has led me to a place much farther from the nursery in the big brick building than I ever imagined. I’ll soon post about where we have ended up in these last two years.
I know this though… God has not called me to always go with the grain or to stay inside the lines. Has He you?
In what way have you stopped allowing your life to be controlled by the expectations, traditions, and patterns of the culture we live in? How are you living borderless today?