“…this not making a name for yourself-—that’s really hard,” Zoe says, lightly biting her bottom lip, tapping the page with an extended finger. Her hair falls loosely over her ears in sun-lit sections. She rests her chin on one tender knee, peering down at the Book in her lap. Her chair spins, but she interrupts its drift to carefully lift a coffee mug to her lips.
And so daughter becomes sister, too. I watch her and gather up the gifts–the glimpse of both the girl she is and the woman she becomes, the turn of God’s sculpting hand, the glimmer of Spirit. She lengthens.
“Yes, it is.” The thin paper rattles beneath my fingers. “And what’s the trouble with it?”
Her blue eyes capture me, and I smile. Even when Zoe was a baby, those eyes gave whole speeches and swallowed up the world. I can tell that something rests there, held in her soul, something she’s waited to say. “Well, we’re supposed to care about God’s name, and not our own so much. And I’m not going to build any towers up to Heaven so that everyone will think I’m amazing, but I will sometimes say things I shouldn’t–or listen when I shouldn’t. She spins, and all I see is the high back of her chair. “…But that’s really not any different.”
I close my eyes, just briefly, feeling the weight of the mug in my hand–the warmth, the steam on my chin, allowing Zoe’s thoughts to sink. Words ripped, garbled, fractured, jagged—yes, these are the natural consequence of Babel, and also maybe its historic shadow. In my mind, I can see the ancient people wounded, uncomprehending, unable to collaborate and connect. But so often I have read and missed this, that our broken communication is born of the same dead seed: the reckless, pridefully disobedient desire to make a name for ourselves.
And so, we live scattered.
“It’s hard. Sometimes I say things—especially when I feel hurt or frustrated—before I even think about what I’m doing.”
I look up, meeting her eyes, and still, I see a wealth of words she waits to say to me. Suddenly I realize that this is not just a personal confession. She’s witnessed something in me, a shadow. If I were able to reach right into her, I could grasp it with my fingers.
“I know. I do the same thing,” I confess, giving her permission to notice my weakness, to say what’s on her mind. I smile, acknowledging the truth. “I’ve always wanted other people to think the best of me. Sometimes that means I say things I shouldn’t or don’t say things I should—maybe to protect myself, but especially to influence other people’s opinions of me.”
She nods, thoughtfully, watching me carefully as she sips her coffee, and then she casually drops a few details into the space between us, enough to sketch lines for me around a specific observation. She absorbs so much of me. As my daughter, she inherits my best and also my worst. She has watched me build my towers, has listened to me make my boasts, has heard the ruin of my words, and all because of a historic sin: I want to make a name for myself. Self-righteousness is living so that others think the best of me, but true righteousness is living so that others think the best of Him. It’s a repentance I embrace, a transformation He’s still working in me.
“You’re right. I want so much to honor God with what I say, but sometimes I get it all wrong.”
Confession frees souls—mine and hers. She stops still, holding my gaze steadily, offering aloud the specific ways she also struggles with words, the way she wants to be, the growing she desperately desires. And so, she honors God living and with us, laying her own pride on the altar. She exchanges her own name for His. She lengthens. Because the real building words are words that confess not how great we are but how much we need Him. And with these mama-hands, I gather up yet another gift, the evidence of something blooming—life-fruit only tended and gleaned by the work of God’s Spirit.
“I want you to help me with this,” I say, reaching to touch her on the knee. “I give you permission—when you hear me say things I shouldn’t say or when you know I’m participating in a conversation that dishonors God–I give you permission to tell me, to ask me if I’ve thought it through.”
“I want you to do that for me too,” she says slowly, thoughtfully nodding. “I think we can do better at this together than we do separately.”
And I know she’s right. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. She makes me wonder what could be if we sisters all agreed to be accountable to each other in our conversations.
“What if we come up with a signal—maybe this—” I offer, making an easy gesture with my hand, “and whenever we need to remind each other of our desire to put God first–not make a name for ourselves—we do that, in any situation?”
Zoe grins, suddenly giddy. “Yes! Let’s do that.” Her eyes gleam, empty now of every heavy, hidden thing. She spins wildly in her chair, and I gather myself to find supper and finish the day. But as I move to get up, she suddenly stops, pressing both feet into the floor, capturing me once again with her eyes.
“Mom?” She reaches for me, and I gather her in my arms, speaking into her shoulder.
“This has been good. Really, really good.”