Elijah, my eight year old, glanced sheepishly at the cold hard evidence of his late night addiction: reading any and everything he can get his hands on. If I asked him to sit down with these books at a more reasonable hour, say at noon or 4:45 pm, he would complain passionately enough to make me worry that my love for the written word had not been passed on to our children. But put Elijah in a twin size bed (sometime after 9:00 pm) and suddenly he becomes best friends forever with Ramona Quimby, Roald Dahl, Nate the Great, and Homer Price. A good friend of mine relays so fondly his own youthful memories of reading “Lord of the Rings” in a pitch-black bedroom, illumined only by the orange glow from the on/off switch of his electric blanket. I don’t want to deny my son those sacred moments of adolescent enlightenment, but neither do I care to strain my vocal chords on repetitive requests to get up and get-a-move-on the next morning. “Hand them over,” I commanded, filling my arms with pages and pages of Charles Schultz endorsed data on space, geography, and reptiles.
When, once again, Elijah’s mattress was supporting nothing but the weight of his of own body, I kissed his cheek and then headed downstairs for last minute chores and preparations. After packing two lunches, programming the coffee pot, checking the calendar, and leafing through the homework folders for any papers I neglected to sign, I too, was finally ready to call it a day. The minute my foot reached the second story landing, however, I heard the telltale rustling of sheets followed closely by exaggerated breathing - heavy inhalations designed to imply that the person taking in such large quantities of oxygen was most certainly deep in slumber. Elijah knows that I worry. He knows I get frustrated when ten p.m. rolls around and he’s yet to have begun the restorative process of unconsciously resting. So he squinted his eyes shut when I peeked in through the door. But I was on to him.
The prayer corner is at the end of our hallway, just a few feet from where Elijah was faux sleeping. I knew he could hear me as I lit the candles and cleared my throat. That night I would pull out “The Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children”. That night I would chant louder than usual. If I asked Elijah to sit down with me at a more reasonable hour so I could fervently lay out for him all of my earnest longings for his soul, he would squirm uncomfortably enough to make me worry that nothing I was saying, nothing I was trying to communicate about faith and God and salvation was getting through to him. But confine Elijah to a twin size bed while his brain is unwinding, while speaking of him but not to him directly, and suddenly he’s as absorbent as a sponge.
First I took a moment just to look at her. I marveled at all she was asked to endure and still believe. And yet her face, so wise and certain, spoke volumes about the worthwhileness of her ascetic struggles in light of Christ’s victory over death - in context of the glory that was to follow. When I had absorbed the incredible truth that Mary, the Theotokos, was listening, that she loves my family with all the maternal tenderness in her heart, I commenced with the written petitions. I poured out my anxieties, my insecurities, all of my selfish wishes at her feet in exchange for a heavenly reminder of what I’m here for: to pass on a legacy of faithfulness to my sons and daughters.
“By the wondrous and incomprehensible actions of Thy Son,” I implored Her, “lead my children with Thy merciful hand beneath Thy gracious protection, that with Sincerity I may cry to Thee:
Raise my children to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.
Raise my children to walk the narrow way leading to life eternal.
Raise my children to do the will of Thy Son and God in every place.
Raise my children to long to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to not commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Raise my children to be numbered among Thy chosen ones.
Raise my children, Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary, O Lady, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.”
Each line I spoke clearly, pausing between sentences to let the words sink in because this head of mine can be thick as a brick sometimes. I hoped that Elijah was still eavesdropping. I wanted his last memories of that day to be the sound of his mother praying - for him, by name, with devotion. I can’t force-feed a significant interaction down the throats of my children; I can’t predict when a door will open. So if a rare opportunity presents itself for connecting on a more meaningful level, I try and seize it. I am looking, always searching for ways to make Christ’s teachings relevant to their every day experiences- with relationships, disappointments, and fears. But I was pleading that night, in front of God, the Theotokos, our patron saints, and Elijah, for the strength to desire for them humility over worldly success, patience over comfort, and eternal joys over temporal ones.
When the candles were extinguished, I kissed the icons – thankful for a chance to physically express my gratitude to Jesus, His most pure Mother, and the “Great Cloud of Witnesses,” all of whom miraculously and mercifully care deeply for the likes of a sinful, forgetful, impressionable old me. “I love you mom,” came a whisper from the boys’ room. And it nearly stung, the sweetness of that moment, like an electrical current carrying light, energy, life itself to our darkened hallway still smoky with the remnants of my supplications, still echoing with reverberations of God’s goodness. “Elijah… ,” I choked out, almost inaudibly, into the quiet of a random weeknight evening turned extraordinary in its eleventh hour, “I love you, too.”
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