It used to be, in the not so distant past (as in yesterday), that when my eldest boy, Elijah, was chastised for a series of questionable decisions, such as employing his selective listening skills or hiding uneaten carrots in his desk drawer, he would respond with a most frustratingly pathetic grimace and a phrase guaranteed to push my buttons:
“I’m just stupid I guess,” he would grumble. “You probably don’t even want me as your son.”
“Oh, Elijah, not this again,” I’d beg of him.
You’d think that I’d prefer this type of penitential narcissism to five-year-old Benji’s technique of adamantly denying the indisputable evidence of a crime smeared generously across his face or shoved deeply into his front pant’s pocket truly believing, while being punished for his deceitfulness, that the wrong guy was nabbed and now he is unjustly paying the price for it. Yet as maddening and irrational as such blatant defiance can be, it points back to a sturdy constitution and a rugged, youthfully dauntless sense of worthiness that will keep dear Ben, God willing, from being crushed and irreparably damaged by future heartaches. I can work with a strong foundation, chiseling away at those knee-jerk, self-protective habits, inspiring all sorts of various takes on cheating, tattling, and slothfulness, through prayers for wisdom and discipline. But what I cannot sculpt or create with is material that crumbles to pieces the moment that pressure is applied to it; this world does not cater to fragility.
As the first-born, Elijah knows exactly how to get to me- that swollen eyes and a pained expression can slice clean through my often shaky resolve like a razor blade swiped effortlessly through Jello. If the day is getting away from us and I’m stretched too thin to be logical, his emotional degradation can double masterfully as a cover-up keeping Elijah and me both overly focused on rescuing his wounded spirit rather than nipping inappropriate behaviors in the bud. But when I am prepared, when my morning has been offered up to Christ instead of dumped haphazardly on my shoulders, I can separate myself from the drama and explain clearly, calmly, why his despondency is unacceptable, even offensive to this adoring mother. “I carried you in my body,” I tell him. “You were fearfully and wonderfully knit together with a purpose and placed precisely in my womb, in my life. To give up on your ability to grow and mature spiritually is to negate our Lord’s benevolence and compassion. To insult yourself, is to insult the one who bore you and that, sweetheart, happens to be me – the mom who sees potential oozing limitlessly from every fiber of your passionate being.”
“What I hear in confession during Lent,” said our priest last Sunday, “is that ‘Father, its not working! I am behaving worse than ever!’” And once again I was uncomfortably caught off guard by his insightful candor. Because lately it’s been one bad decision after another, a vicious cycle of impulsive and unintentional reactions gaining speed and momentum like tumbleweeds in a windstorm, revealing loads about my character and lack of restraint. “Can you ever just not stand yourself?” I asked my husband on the phone when the ugliness of my sinful nature became too obvious to ignore. “I’m just stupid, I guess” I grumbled pitifully to the Holy Trinity, “You probably don’t even want me as a disciple, as a follower, as a daughter.”
“But it is working,” my priest continued, “bringing to light our hidden transgressions.” Which is true, of course, because mine have gone on to ignite themselves like fireworks, exploding violently against the all too placid backdrop of my own self-confidence. If I hang around long enough, allowing the oppressiveness of residual smoke to fill my lungs, burn my eyes, and cloud the heavens, I too, like darling Elijah, will stay anchored in place and all choked up by my failures, which is far easier, I daresay, than the arduousness of a repentance requiring the dusting off of oneself, the changing of directions, and the faith to start over from scratch.
Beware of despair, said St. Isaac the Syrian. You do not serve a tyrant, but your service is to a kind Lord, Who, taking nothing from you, he has given you all. And when you did not exist at all, He fashioned you so that you would be in that [state] in which you now are. Who is sufficient to render Him thanks for the fact that He has brought us into existence? O the immeasurable grace! Who can sufficiently honor Him with hymns? For He has given us knowledge of all things. And not only of those which are manifest, but also of hidden things. For we know that if there is anything we do not know, it is necessary for us only to ask this [knowledge] from Him.
But do I want to be informed? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question. Do I want to come to terms with my own helplessness not for the purpose of excusing myself from trying but to honestly assess my position, accepting my utter dependence on grace and realizing that in order to be used by Christ, I must release both puffed up and disparaging opinions about myself. We are loved, every single one of us without exception. Forgive me for doubting even momentarily that Truth, the Truth for which You willingly suffered.
Parents mess up too, you know - every day, just like their children. Look at me, Elijah. We need to quit wasting time on regret and journey forward, secure in the promises of our Savior. We must mourn our sins and then depart from them instead of wallowing in their filth, and tepid stagnancy. With Christ as our core, we can endure the pruning necessary for bearing fruit, without wilting into dry and comatose nothingness. With contrition should come action and determination to be better, more obedient, less selfish than we were an hour, a minute, or a second ago. As long as we are breathing and capable of thought, we are expected to confidently seek out righteousness. Keep moving son, keep hoping, keep believing in the goodness of our God.
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