When I was in high school, I lied to my mother.
One night, when she asked me if I’d completed my homework, I told her I had. But I’d left one assignment unfinished, and it was due the next day. I didn’t want to miss my favorite TV show of the moment (Buffy or Felicity?), and I knew the rule: no TV until your homework is done.
So I made a plan. I fibbed and felt bad about it (but not so bad that I didn’t enjoy my show) and went to bed. I then rose early, snuck into my walk-in closet, and wrote. No one needed to know I’d procrastinated. I had everything under control. Within five minutes, my mother was at my door.
How did she know? To this day, I have no idea. But this much was clear: I’d lied, so I was grounded. It was the first grounding that I, the responsible firstborn, had ever experienced.
And then, when I dragged myself to class, our teacher announced that she was giving us another week to complete the assignment. The sole silver lining was that I had a great response when friends asked why I was grounded: “For doing my homework. Seriously.”
Of course, I knew better. I was grounded for deceiving my mom. But at the time, I didn’t see why it was a big deal. I’d had it all under control, so why couldn’t she let me do things my way?
Years later, I see the situation differently. Instead of an isolated incident, I see a pattern: I hid my heart away.
I wanted to be seen as the perfect student, the perfect daughter, so I’d cover up anything that didn’t fit that mold. When I was upset, I’d hide in my closet to cry. It was a fallout shelter for my fears. The closet was where I’d go when Willie’s meltdowns got to be too much; I’d close the door and huddle in the small space like a refugee.
When I look back on my younger self, I don’t see someone who had it all under control. I see a scared kid who needed everybody to approve of her. And I see a mom who knew better than to let her daughter grow up huddled in a closet, thinking that deception was a good defense.
I’m actually thankful that she loved me enough to ground me.
Today, I’m not the same girl who hid … and, in many ways, I am. I still struggle with the desire to run away when things get dicey. (Our current house doesn’t have any walk-in closets, though. Coincidence? I think not.)
I do have brave days, when I face my fears and tell the stories that matter most. But on other days, I wrap my arms around my knees and pray contradictory prayers:
Just leave me alone. And … Please don’t leave me here. Please come find me.
This isn’t a unique problem. It is, basically, the human condition. When faced with terrible things, we run away. When we’re hurt and betrayed, we want to be alone to lick our wounds. But at the same time, we want so badly to be held, comforted, reassured.
Even when you’re scared, part of you — a small, fierce part — is at peace. It says: You will get through this. You have never been alone. And you are loved beyond your ability to understand or imagine.
That small, fierce part of you can only tell the truth. I know this because, when my mom opened the door that night, that part of me was … relieved. The deepest part of me did not want to lie and conceal and hide. It wanted to be found, even if being found meant being grounded.
The truth really does set you free.
Even so, there are times when it feels impossible to open the door, to act on this knowledge. If you refuse to move, that deep-down part of you — which people call the true self or God or the Holy Spirit or the Dr. Seuss creature — will understand. (It is, after all, wiser than you are.)
After awhile, if you’re still hiding, it will say, in loving exasperation: Darling, open the *?!*?!* door already!