"Why are middle school girls skipping the awkward stage and going straight to pretty? No, no, you get to wear braces and blue eye shadow. Do your time."
I chuckled a good while at that quote online today. I sat firmly in those awkward middle school years for far too long, with wild red hair that wouldn't be tamed and a bright red pimple that stubbornly stayed on my chin far too long and teeth that actually begged for braces and a the terrible luck to be stuck in the transition from 80s to 90s fashion (which I still find awkward in its current revival.) I laughed because I have made this same comment more than once lately as I watch the children under my care at church turn 12 and suddenly blossom overnight into pretty teenagers and I wonder why I didn't have such fortune.
But this little nugget has a deeper and sometimes sadder truth to it also. Last week I sat in prayer with a young mother whose second baby was only two weeks old, and she wept at the sense of failure that overwhelmed her because her toddler was running rampant and her baby wasn't sleeping and why-oh-why-couldn't-she-get-it-together? This morning I sent out a message to her again and I could hear the tears again in her reply that this morning was no better than yesterday or the day before or the day before that.
I offered some comfort, and yet knew that my experience could not reach through to her. Experience must be earned through experience. This is a gentler way of saying that we all must "do our time." I cried every day the first year of Caleb's life. I remember well the wave of utter exhaustion that held me under. I turned to hear from friends who had already passed through this stage and somehow still couldn't pull myself out with their sage words of advice. I realize now that although I could receive their love and comfort, there was no way for me to figure it all out other than simply putting another foot forward.
Similarly, I hear friends of teenagers weep as their hearts break for their children, and I naively look on and try to understand and file away parenting wins so that my own travels through teenagehood will not be so painful. And yet there is an echo in my mind: "do your time." I will never truly understand until I am walking in those very footsteps. And then, as now, any attempt I make to capture any wisdom garnered and pass it on to those whom I mentor will ultimately be in vain.
Life is about passing from one stage to the next. We "do our time" in each one and emerge on the other side victorious, only to be on the edge of the next stage. Not every stage is hard and painful, for this is a life to have joy. But even those moments of pure, unadulterated joy cannot be adequately expressed. It is for all this that we have come to walk this mortal life.