A couple of years ago, my daughter had her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. We had just begun to attend a Messianic church, and we invited a new friend, a little girl whose parents were on staff. The mother (I’ll call her Gina) informed me she was fasting and eating only vegetables, and I agreed to provide a veggie tray for her sake.
When my mother and brother arrived with his family, I was embarrassed by the fact that I was wearing a head covering. We had just attended our church service where head coverings are common, and rather than show my flattened hair, I chose to leave the scarf on. I was not raised with such a custom and was nervous about my family’s reaction. Whether they intended it or not, I read discomfort in their faces.
As the party continued, I found myself increasingly self-conscious and nervous about how Gina perceived my children’s behavior. They were loudly and eagerly collecting tickets for the prizes they wanted. Their childhood exuberance seemed very selfish in the light of a spiritual “leader” who was fasting and noticeably limiting her daughter’s activities. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to her for my girls’ lack of self-control. Her responses were kind on the surface, but there was a quality in them that read to me as disapproval.
As we traveled home, and my daughter cried because we had said no to her request for cotton candy, I questioned my wisdom as a mother. Other than my husband, there wasn’t an adult at the party by whom I hadn’t felt judged. Now my 5-year-old was declaring we didn’t love her because the cotton candy was still at Chuck E’s. It was a low moment.
The next day, I cried as I told my husband I was sure I was a terrible mother. I decided to e-mail Gina. I included an apology for bringing her and her daughter into an environment where greed and “gambling” were encouraged. I concluded by asking her to mentor me in the finer qualities of Christian womanhood. Her reply contained what should have been a red flag for me: “No one has ever asked this of me before.” She eagerly accepted and had soon laid out a plan of regular meetings and a list of books for me to read.
As I emerge from the cloud of spiritual abuse, I see this incident in the light of truth. I was at a new church, with new people who knew nothing of our family. That is why I had chosen to wear head coverings. It was a chance to establish a “spiritual” reputation within an environment where I had experienced so much pain and rejection in the past – church.
Gina was someone in leadership, someone I felt I MUST impress.
When I realized I had not only failed to impress her, but had probably also managed to alienate her, I was compelled to undo my mistake. My asking for mentorship was a desperate attempt to regain her good opinion. Her acceptance was confirmation for me — I was a poor wife and mother who needed her help.
How I wish Gina had responded something like this:
Thank you for your e-mail. My daughter and I both so enjoyed the party. It reminded me of our church’s annual Hanukkah party. We set up game stations for the children and they earn tickets with which they buy all sorts of fun toys and prizes. I hope you and your girls will attend this year.
I can so relate to your concerns about being a good wife and mother. I struggle in this area too. It would sure be great if we could encourage each other. I’m honored by your request for mentoring, something no one has ever asked of me before. But since I’m struggling as well, I’d rather be a friend to you and have your friendship in return.
Is there a day or time when we might have coffee and get to know each other better? I’d love to hear about your life and share mine with you too.
And thank you for the veggie tray.