Before I had children I knew everything about parenting and then I had children and realized I didn’t know anything at all. Period. About life in general.
Nothing cements the awareness of how vast your own ignorance is like looking into the face of a tiny human that you are responsible for shaping and sending out into the world. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in the six years that I have been a mother is that children teach you just as much, if not more, than you teach them.
I had one of those learning moments yesterday. It started off like many mothers’ Sunday mornings do with me nudging my slumbering family from their beds and into the church clothes that I had laid out for them the night before. There is always a limited amount of grumbling that comes with getting them out of bed and into the car on time, but yesterday they were monsters. All three of them. They were all overly tired from having stayed up too late the previous night, even though I had reminded them at an ever increasing crescendo that they needed to go to bed because I expected them to get up for church in the morning. The 34-year-old appreciates those reminders the least.
After about 30 minutes of complaints and bribes of after-church donuts, I walked into the bedroom to discover that the youngest had suddenly developed a “cough” and despite the fact that I had walked in on a pretty boisterous scene where he was performing what he had very loudly proclaimed the “tornado move,” seconds before, onto his father’s prone form, the two of them informed me that he should probably stay home, “because of COVID and the older people. It wasn’t worth the risk.” I was so mad that I couldn’t even speak. I just gave them “the look” and in a too evenly measured tone informed them that they could make their own decisions, but I was leaving to pick up my grandmother and go to church.
And I left them, only to arrive at my grandma’s house to notice that all the lights were off. Most weeks I call my Grammy on Saturday night to let her know that I will pick her up in the morning and then again on Sunday morning as a wake-up and to let her know what time to expect us. Last week I did not. I had spoken to her on Friday about having breakfast at her house after church and subsequently didn’t call on Saturday and was so distracted that I forgot to make my early morning call on Sunday. Like many churches, ours is live streamed on Sunday mornings so it really wasn’t a big deal, but for some reason it really upset me, adding fodder to my growing pile of grievances. I got back into my car and decided that I would just go by myself.
I attend church on Sunday mornings–whether remotely or in-person–because it helps me to reset my focus as I enter into my week. Most of the moments in my days are spent tamping down my own ego to act and speak as Christ would direct me, and not as I would direct myself–which would usually be pretty self-centered and disastrous. But if I don’t actively take time to seek God, I tend to fail pretty miserably at repressing my own ego and allowing him to work within my life.
Knowing that I was already in a state of irritation, I figured it was doubly important that I still attend church. As I drove and thought about sitting alone in a pew, my mind began filling with complaints about all of the ways that I wasn’t appreciated by the people in my life. So much so, that I rather childishly thought, “I should just leave. I should just drive and drive and start a new life somewhere else since no one seems to think that they need me. I should let them see what it would be like if I wasn’t here, maybe then they would realize all of the little things that they don’t even notice that I do for them.” And there in the midst of imagining myself in some tropical location while everyone around me scrambled to fill in the gaping hole caused by my absence I had another thought. A gentler, quieter but more resounding thought. What if God abandoned me because of all the ways that I don’t appreciate the things he does in my life. I am a habitual practitioner of gratitude in my everyday life and I would wager that I still notice less than a fourth of the ways God intervenes on my behalf every single day.
I suddenly found I could no longer hold onto my own resentments when faced with my own failings. It was then that another, pretty obvious possibility presented itself: that rather than proving a point to them out of anger I could still attend church with them, even if it wasn’t exactly the way I had envisioned. “I get it, I get it,” I retorted back to God. “But I am not bringing them donuts. They do not deserve them.” Which was immediately followed by the niggling reminder that Jesus would not only let go of the superficially perceived slight but that he would bring the donuts when he did so.
As my focus shifted from the ways I don’t feel appreciated to the ways that I don’t appreciate Christ my entire mindset of not only that morning’s situation but a lot of situations changed. Within 15 minutes from my angry departure, I returned to find three pretty remorseful faces surprised by my sudden return. As each of them snuggled around me to watch the morning’s sermon, the smaller two with chocolate icing smears on their cheeks, it was hard not to feel like God was really pounding that lesson into my psyche as Pastor Breck spoke about the importance of the attitudes we choose to maintain within all circumstances. I was so angry with their attitudes towards what I wanted from them and yet my attitude towards the things Christ directs me to is often that of a petulant child.
Once again I find children teaching me how to be a better version of myself.