It would be fair to say the past few months have been a challenge on the parenting front. We have dealt with low grades, lying, lost toothbrushes (that weren’t reported for over a week- yuck!), temper tantrums, bed wetting, insane scheduling, holes kicked in walls, tears (some theirs, some mine), and so forth.
And now comes the craziness of the holiday season. We have children’s concerts and programs (two in one evening in two locations, no less). We have travelling to do. We have relatives already wigging out over when we will visit. There are still a few weeks of studying, assignments, and exams to go. Decorating, baking, Christmas letters, the annual Christmas picture of the kids, shopping, and on and on and on goes the list.
In the midst of this, I find myself, oddly, at peace. One great outcome of two rough months with our kids is that I had to majorly amp up my prayer life. On some of the worst days I think I actually achieved St. Paul’s goal of “praying without ceasing.” I have found that when things are the craziest God throws lots and lots of lifelines. You just have to be looking for them.
Through the past crazy months, when one child was behaving badly, there was always another behaving very well. (For the record, they took turns playing good guys, bad guys.) Important reflections would show up in odd places- stories I was reading to my seven year old, songs on the radio, YouTube videos, and random Bible verses. And in a sad way, friends shared their challenges and worries which made me realize how minor mine actually were.
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After a very difficult weekend, I found myself standing in front of a table filled with Advent devotionals on Sunday. Our pastor saves all the samples he is given and then offers them on a first come, first serve basis. The first time I walked by the table, I barely glanced at it. Just one more thing to feel guilty about not doing I thought. Yet after the congregation had left, long after the first had been served, there I was. And there it was… an advent devotional by one of my favorite theologians, Henri Nouwen. (The Lord Is Near: Advent Meditations from the Works of Henri J.M. Nouwen by Mark Neilson)
His first devotional hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also what you read in the daily newspapers. The Lord is coming, always coming.”
Perhaps, I think, it is time to focus on seeing God in my children instead focusing on my own interpretation of their character flaws.
Another devotional ended with this thought.
“But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.”
Perhaps, I think, it is time to focus on growing and understanding instead of poking at my wounds and fears. Perhaps it is time to be creative, to see the sadness of the world as an opportunity to bring joy, to serve. Perhaps it is time to realize and embrace the fact that where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be.
I am going to ignore the “Must Do” lists this beautiful Advent. What gets done, gets done. I am going to concentrate on a new beginning and a new vision. The key to joy this season isn’t what we can buy, but what we can find all around us. The key to joy isn’t doing dozens of things on our lists, but being available for joy in ways we cannot anticipate. Be alert. Look for beauty. Look for peace. Look for joy. Be alert.