There is a part of me that is sensitive and feeling vulnerable to the posts I’ve made of late. I’ve even gone back and deleted a couple of them because it left me feeling overexposed. At the same time, it was because of those posts that I was able to find the support and assistance I needed for my family. I can’t help but be thankful to God for granting me strength to allow myself a brief moment of vulnerability in order to help my family.
I’ve been pondering the kind and thoughtful (yet declining) email response I received from a deacon I contacted last month for awhile now. Something he said really caught my attention:
I was heartened that you are all finding solace in Orthodox worship and daily life. Over the long haul, really lived, I can’t think of anything more potent than the Christ of Orthodoxy to help them find hope and belonging in those places of their bodies, hearts and souls where it feels most empty.
I spend so much time reading and researching how to help my boys, thinking therapy and therapists are the best way to help them. I’m not saying it never helped nor ever will but I overlooked the one area where it was already working. The one area where my family has found peace. Frustration doesn’t live there. Bitterness doesn’t visit. Only peace dwells here.
It’s our participation in the Liturgy and prayer within our daily life.
I could name off a list way too long of things I feel need improving. I tend to fail miserably at seeing my middle boys’ progress and dwell on the progress that still needs to be made with them. It took me quite awhile to see, through my own eyes instead of through the praise of others, that my boys are excellently behaved in church. You have to understand, this was a long and strenuous journey from where we started to where we are today so I don’t say any of this lightly but as matter of fact. My boys are amazing in church and participate along with most of the service. Let me elaborate – I kid you not, three years ago on Palm Sunday, a man sitting behind us gave each of my boys a $20 bill. Yes, a total of $60. He told Les and myself after the Liturgy that they were the most well behaved children in church he’s ever seen. I was genuinely humbled. Not because someone recognized the work we had put in with our children. No…quite the opposite. I was humbled because I had been blind for too long at the progress my boys had made from the first ever Sunday we brought them to church to now. It was a bonk on the head for me – Hey! Do you finally see it now?! Your kids are peaceful and prayerful in church.
I explained to the deacon briefly in my initial email to him that our family finds peace in living our faith daily. His response above made me think deeper about this.
There is an ebb and flow to our life. I’d like to say that we say family bedtime prayers every single night…but we don’t. (I’m going to use this as an example because it’s where I frequently stumble the most.) We seem to go through spurts. We’ll say prayers together as a family for weeks then life happens – mom doesn’t feel good, the flu or a cold is making it’s way through the family, mom’s worn out, mom’s frustrated after a hard day, dad had a hard day and needs to talk, a life changing event happens…life happens! Those nights, we send our kids up to bed skipping an all too needed family prayer time.
Then we seem to get back into the groove again and we gather together to say prayers before our family altar. It’s an ebb and flow. The goal is trying to get back up quicker from the previous time you fell.
As I thought some more about this, I realized that the rough times with my boys seem to follow a similar ebb and flow to our family bedtime prayers – although the physical special needs remain on a daily basis even if the anger, bitterness, and defiance do not.
This past autumn has been a rough patch for us. Coincidentally, we haven’t been saying our bedtime prayers together. Moving here took not only longer than we expected but it also took every single day off dad had from work for the past five months. We get to see him so little that this was significant. (He’s been getting a total of 2-4 days off per month) I also spent two months of it being nauseous from being in my first trimester.
After realizing this…I spent tonight tidying up our family altar (decluttering it mainly – I don’t need to store all our incense and “every” prayer item we have on the mantle) and printing out the Trisagion Prayers for the boys to take turns reading. It’s time to get back into the groove. It’s time to bring peace back into our home.
Kids have taught me a lot about developing a relationship with God. I think all too often, as adults, we allow ourselves to make excuses for our laziness. “I had a rough day.” “I’m tired.” “I don’t feel good.”
My kids have shown me that they will go to great lengths to pray – with or without my prompting. My kids will not even eat a snack without saying a prayer anymore! I’ll be popping popcorn in my mouth only to realize my kids are saying a prayer next to me. They reach a point pretty quickly where they are teaching and supporting you as much as you are to them. It’s not about reaching some magical age where all of a sudden they want to pray, fast, give money to others, and go to church. It’s about taking tiny steps with them from a young age. It takes years, where the transitions are so slow and natural that you really need to step back for a moment and realize – Hey! They’re doing it on their own now!
I think all too often we find ourselves looking for an age or a cue to tell us – our child is ready to fast, pray, and sit through church! It’s not going to happen. It has to start from the moment you’re willing to teach them. My little Gabriel, who is 18 months old, holds his hand up in the air with his fingers pressed together now every time we put him in his highchair. He can’t say our meal prayer with us. He can’t even make the sign of the cross by himself yet but when he holds his hand in the air, he’s participating on his own current level saying, “I’m ready for someone to help me make the sign of the cross so I can eat!”
I think rather than saying, “It’s too hard for my kids”, it’s more accurate to say, “It’s too hard for me right now”. My spiritual father once told me, “You need to start where you’re at. If making the sign of the cross before you go to bed is all you can do, then that’s where you start. Don’t compare yourself to others. Start – now – and move forward.”