My mother had three prayers when she was raising her children. “Lord, give me strength.” “Lord, give me peace.” “Lord deliver me.” These were most often uttered in our cramped seventies-green kitchen but were also occasionally murmured in the hallway outside the sanctuary of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church as she reigned in an unruly child or spot cleaned with a spit-laden thumb some smudged face. I can still picture her standing at the sink preparing dinner, her children arguing over whose turn it was to set the table. Her hands clutching spoon and saucepan, her self-control frayed to within an inch of our lives, she would turn her gaze skyward and like any good Catholic beseech her heavenly Father to assist her in her time of need.
As a young child I was curious about these spiritual appeals of hers. What was it she really needed? I pretty much had the strength request figured out. That was where she asked Him to hold her back so she didn’t beat us silly. I liked that one, and I liked it even more when He answered, the picture from my children’s bible of His hand stopping the knife wielding Abraham just before his sacrificed Isaac, playing in my head. (I was known for my melodrama.)
But, I was a little less clear about her request for deliverance. Was she asking to be delivered from our bickering or was there something more to her plea? And where did she want to be “delivered” to? Certainly not somewhere away from us! She loved us. I knew this because she was with us 24/7 except for school and she never even took trips except to the lake in the summer with all of us, and the dog, in tow.
And peace? Well that one was up for debate too, but eventually I figured it was probably just a shortened version of “peace and quiet”. Really just a request for rest. Every once in a while I would find her napping, with one ear and one eye open alert for danger, on the old brown couch in our living room while the afternoon life of her children swirled around her. That was the extent of her peace so that must be what she would pray for, standing in her kitchen or driving in her car, chaos burbling at the edges of life. In fact, from my egotistical child’s view, I figured maybe that was where she was asking to be delivered to. “Lord, deliver me to the couch and give me enough peace to rest. Oh, and while you are at it please keep the kids outside. Amen.”
Now myself a mother of three, I know full well the peace she sought to be delivered to and wonder if she found it in her busy day, during the hours we napped, or, in later years, were at school. And I wonder did she, as I have had to learn to, pencil it in on her calendar between the morning trip to the grocery and the afternoon-visit from elderly-in-laws. Or did she, as some more disciplined do, just put down her wash, her cleaning, her groceries, her household clerical tasks and retreat to the kitchen table, coffee mug in one hand, pencil in the other, New York Times spread out beneath her news-ink-smudged-elbows to work her cross-word puzzle in the silence. Or was her peace swept along with the day, kept just out of reach, until it was compressed into a small window of gathered moments that she climbed through, Agatha Christie paperback in hand, in the late evening hours before sleep claimed her exhausted body and our night-owl father returned home to find her glasses bent into her cheek asleep with her light on.
These days I find my own peace in the carpool line in front of my youngest daughter’s school. I selfishly maintain this slot, thirty blessed minutes, sometimes a little more sometimes a little less, on my daily calendar for my own sanity, politely deferring any engagements that might nibble away at this most sacred of times. Occasionally I have no choice, and a doctor’s appointment runs over and I am grumpy and feel all disorganized as I race to school, arriving at the end of the line. Usually however, I arrive at 2:30 for 3:00 dismissal, small thermos of tea and writing journal or current book at the ready. On colder days (of which we have had a lot this winter) I bring my “lovey” – a pink, terry-encased, bundle of microwavable rice – to keep me warm after I turn off the car to wait. Sometimes, when the sun is out and the world quiet, before the playground recess begins, I recline my seat and lay like a cat, a slice of sunlight across my face, napping, one ear alert for the start of fellow car engines and the retreat of my peace.
I have selfishly kept this appointment with myself for several years now, missing it when we lived in Asia where mothers collected their children in taxis or standing in small clusters on the sun-baked playground. As my life coach and good friend Cameron pointed out, it is necessary time, just like the rest of my day’s work and I should not begrudge myself these moments. Indeed, without it I might not approach the rest of my day with the energy and attitude I need.
So, thank you Lord for delivering me in to this peace each afternoon. Amen.