Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gratitude, Humility, and Meekness

Four months ago during Advent--a mini-Lent--I had a deeply meaningful morning retreat during a time I was struggling with anger, resentment, and impatience much more than I am currently. Motherhood is most definitely not all about apple pie, sunny days, and roses. I have let the following reflection percolate all this time, but share it now in hopes that it is useful to other mothers.

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It took me a few hours to find out why I was at an otherwise good, fine, and orthodox Advent half-day retreat for women but one from which I wasn't perceiving any profound or particularly meaningful message.

I certainly needed to be on retreat. My priest says carefully, "Katherine, you need to work on achieving meekness." I try, try again, and stumble, trip, and fall.

On the one-hour drive to the retreat, I listened to a sermon on the radio. It was quiet and I valued getting to listen to another adult speaking without constant interruption and general loud noise. The preacher spoke on meekness, explaining that it was patience in the face of injury. He said that meekness is the opposite of sudden anger and vindictiveness. (That part pierced my heart.)

The two men in the Bible most known for meekness were Moses ('the meekest among men') and Jesus ('I am meek and humble of heart'), both men known for strength and authority, not weakness (so often confused with meekness). This gave me much on which to meditate, as I struggle with understanding how one is supposed to be a parent with authority and a human being with meekness.



I arrived at the retreat and sat in back, letting my baby crawl around, while listening to the first of two reflections given by the priest. As I said, it was fine, good, and orthodox, but no 'lightening' was being set off inside of me and I hoped the very rare investment in a half day away from my familial duties would be worthwhile.





I was the only woman at the entire women's retreat who had a baby on her hip, when normally there are many of us. I felt out of place and wondered if my baby was a disturbance. During the coffee break in between talks, I was seated at a table at which apparently none of the women had children at all. I kept trying to make conversation with the women but the lack of common ground made it awkward.

One woman--appearing likely to be beyond childbearing age--commented on my cute baby and asked his age, so I replied and asked the natural question of whether she had children. She answered, "I had a daughter your baby's age when she died."
image source


I offered my condolences just in time before I felt the breath go out of me.

God in his providence allowed that this woman experience motherhood for ten months and never again. Meanwhile, has allowed me to experience motherhood for seven years and counting to four children so far. Yet I struggle with anger, resentment, and impatience.

How I can have exactly the life I wanted and prayed for, how is it that I am immeasurably blessed, but the reality is that this life requires heroic patience and detachment from my own will moment by relentless moment? That remains the mystery: how to be meek even amidst this whirl of blessings that do things like require tremendous household chores that are never completed, make messes, disobey, escape, hurt each other, and make so very much noise.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I sat limply in my chair with my cherubic baby charming all the childless ladies at the table, including the mother whose baby was dead.

God hasn't taken any of my children from me.

Yet I am so ungrateful.

In the following days, I was allowed in rapid succession to remember the tenuous nature of life, that all my children are on loan to me from God.

Over the weekend, Joseph gave me a scare. I had been washing dishes and walked away to tend to one of the many matters that pops up suddenly and urgently in a family with many little ones. Often such a matter pops up one after another, such that Mama remembers after a while what she was doing in the first place. When I made it back to the dishes, I discovered that I had left the bottom cupboard (with its baby latch) wide open and Joseph was playing with various bottles of dangerous cleaning supplies, and had dumped out a pile of Comet (bleach powder). Amazingly, our ten-month-old didn't put any of the powder in his mouth before I got to him! How differently that day could have ended.

On Monday, my fright was over our firstborn, John. We were leaving the doctor's office for John's seven-year well-child check and I was relieved at having managed all four little ones very well. We would be loading into the car to go buy milkshakes as a reward, and we were carefully navigating the peaceful parking lot: I was wearing the baby, pushing the toddler in a stroller, and had Mary walking immediately on my right, John walking immediately on my left. I don't know whether I heard a noise or sensed John looking over his shoulder, but I turned to the left to see a maroon van driving way too fast and bearing down on us, such that I grabbed John by his sweatshirt and yanked all of his fifty one and a half pounds off his feet and out of the way of the van. I literally felt the air of the van whooshing by me as I saw the male driver swerve wildly and then speed up as he drove out of the lot. John asked me, "Why would a person be so dangerous and mean?" How differently that day could have ended.

Tuesday came and I was given a poignant, if not dangerous, reminder of the gift that are children. I received news from a mutual friend of a woman I had met two years ago. This woman and I had been at a conference together, me with my baby (Margaret, at time of this writing two years and nine months), her with her baby (one month older than my Margaret). Well, Tuesday was the morning that that mother found her daughter deceased, while my daughter has been charming and mischievous and singing "Signing Times with Alex and Leah" on a loop for hours all day. How differently that day could have ended.

That leaves Mary, my five-year-old, and I pray that God sees no need to use her as his fourth and final example to me since she gives me frights regularly with all her climbing, leaping, and falling from heights!

Ask nearly any parent if she'd do anything for her child and she'll answer a resounding, "Yes, of course!" We like to think we'd do anything for our children . . . but we don't really mean it. I think it's because we don't think our "anything"--the vice we're supposed to quit, the action we're supposed to take, the virtue we must foster--really matters. As if it won't really have ill effect if I raise my voice and use an ugly tone of voice. As if Jesus wasn't quite clear on the sermon on the mount when he said we are to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Gratitude will lead to Humility.

Humility will lead to Meekness.