I want to believe these words with all my heart
The first installment of my “frustrated parent” blog. FYI, most of the time it will be frustration aimed at me or my kids or both…but not this time.
A few months back I took our 5-year-old son to his first martial arts class. He was bursting with excitement, so much so that it was near impossible for him to keep some measure of control over his faculties. It was priceless. I managed to get the door open just wide enough for him to squeeze himself through. He hopped his socks and shoes off. Then he was through the inner door in a flash.
He was so excited that he began to whisper in that “oh-so-subtle” way that children do, by which I mean that he could be heard three rooms away. I quickly did my best to get his attention and pass along a few brief instructions. 1) follow your teachers’ instructions, 2) practice listening instead of speaking, and 3) remember to have fun. I would like to believe that he heard at least one of those instructions but that may be delusional.
He quickly made his way through the waiting area and out onto the mat, full of excitement, ready to learn something new (and probably pretending he was Spiderman).
I retreated to the waiting area to sit alongside a bevy of parents and grandparents and settle in for the show. The space was…lets say “cozy”…but adjacent to the workout area, which meant that we had a fairly decent view of our kids. As I waited for his lesson to begin, I let my eyes wander around the room and noticed a rather large sign near the door where we had made our grand entrance mere moments earlier. It was not a subtle sign. In fact, it was a rather eye-catching sign, with giant lettering that was painted in a metallic, electric blue. It listed a number of expectations that the masters at this particular dojo have for the children who learn from them.
The instructions were all centered around the dual concepts of discipline and respect. A few of them were, “Children who study here will do their homework as soon as they get home. They will wait their turn to speak. They will practice waiting patiently. Children at this dojo will refer to adults as ‘sir’ and ‘mam'”, and so on. I found this particular sign to be rather reassuring, as I knew relatively little about that establishment, and hoped that it signified a real holistic concern for our kids–to make them positive members of their families and prepare them for being positive contributors to society at large when they reach adulthood.
It wasn’t long before the lesson began. The instructors took great care to be reassuring but firm with each of their students. For the entirety of the hour’s lesson, they were side-by-side with the kids, showing them exactly what they wanted. They performed a series of punches, kicks, stances, and stretches. The instructors patiently modeled what they wanted and the children did their best to imitate the grace of their instructors. I was very impressed and excited for what this place could mean for my son.
About half of the way through the lesson a conversation started up between two adult males in the waiting area. I think that they were reliving the glory days of their youths in some fashion, but I know that their voices were carrying out onto the mats. The instructors noticed. The kids noticed. Fortunately, I had the periodic ring of another parent’s phone set at decibel-level-“I’m mostly deaf” to distract me from their incessant babbling.
Eventually, I became so exasperated that I threw my head back to stare at the ceiling and let out an explosive sigh. When I finally lowered my eyes I noticed a relatively benign sign located directly above my chair, at the portion of the waiting room nearest the mats. The sign had instructions for adults, but only three: no cell-phones, no talking, and no children playing in the waiting area.
I must admit that my first instinct upon seeing that sign was to stand up and draw everyone’s attention to the rules and begin to pummel this room of parents into submission. However, that was quickly suppressed by a rather bleak realization. These people were paying someone else to teach their kids things like respect, obeying the rules, courtesy, obedience, self-control, and discipline. Yet, these kids were only at the dojo for 1-2 hours a week; the other 100+ hours they were at home with their parents, the same parents that couldn’t be bothered with simple courtesy rules at a public place and couldn’t care any less about what their kids were doing out on those mats!
They are throwing their money away if they think their kids will learn enough discipline and respect in 2 hours to override the disrespect and discourtesy demonstrated by their parents. Now, I know that parenting is terribly hard (I almost capitalized ‘terribly’ here) and it is possible that some in the room were just tired or having an off day. But I have a strong suspicion that the hypocrisy of the moment lies in each of our homes to varying degrees…but I can certainly speak for myself and nod in the affirmative.
Hypocrisy as a parent is unavoidable on some level, but it is an extremely unsettling reality nonetheless. The harsh truth is that little children are grade-A imitators. My boys observe and mimic everything I do and say; EVERYTHING. They try to joke like me, lounge like me, do projects around the house like me, laugh like me, play games like me, kiss their mother like me, marry their mother like me. It is comical, infuriating, and a daunting responsibility. But I know that it isn’t something I can avoid. They will model themselves after me, it is unavoidable. I know this because I am an imitation of my father. Sometimes it is a poor imitation and sometimes it is an exact copy, but I am an imitation of my father.
All this to say that I wish to leave you with 2 parting thoughts:
1. Forget gun control, civil liberties, and immigration reform…if you want this to be a better country then start being good parents. God, it is hard to parent. There are so many days I don’t want to be one. But…I am the model that these little people have, and you parents out there are models for your own as well so at least try.
2. Get your heads out of your phones and tablets and SEE your children; actually SEE them. Who knows, it may get easier to deal with them if they feel that they matter…
There is nothing quite like a rainy Spring day. Sure, you can choose to notice that the clouds are gray, hate the feel of wet clothes, or resent the extended commute. But all I can see this day is how quickly the grass turns from a lifeless brown to a vibrant green. All that I can see is newness of life. Truly amazing…awe inspiring…magisterial.
Staring out at that vista of life I get lost in the connectedness of life. “No man is an island,” words from a song, leaps from the deep recesses of my brain to my frontal lobe. Suddenly I find my vision widening out from the rain drops to see a little broader. I can make out houses and neighbors busying themselves protecting their basements from flooding or sheltering their prized flower beds or covering that car they polish every Saturday afternoon. I can see birds of every sort hiding beneath our parked cars to escape the heaviness of this particular storm, all the while scanning the newly fertilized soil to see where the grubs will surface (yummy). I can see children playing in the newly formed–ever expanding–puddles in our yards. Filled with excitement at their good fortune–God made them a new pool!
What I see is this crazy, disjointed, yet intimately connected, dance of life. Faces of wonder, hunger, distraction, determination, single-mindedness, survival, hope…
And, as is so often the case with me, my thoughts drift from this mortal plane into thoughts about God and how, if at all, this vision mirrors what it means to be a child of his in this world. Is there a message for me in this moment?
This time I find that there is something for me to notice. I find the steady rhythm of the rain pouring its way into the inner recesses of my soul and I feel quickened in a way that I haven’t felt in some time.
I am immediately reminded of the story in the New Testament of the woman at the well and recall Jesus asking her if she would be interested in partaking of a kind of water that satisfies in a way that she has never experienced before. It is a story that I have read countless times yet I find suddenly resonates with me in an entirely new fashion.
Never before had I connected with the woman at the well. But now…she is me. An outsider, a shameful past, an imperfect present, in need, always thirsty but never sated,
Then Jesus is said to have offered her an alternative to her life as she knows it. Her world can change. She can be satisfied if she partakes of a life-giving water that he has to offer.
I am transported some 20 years in the past and, vaguely, I recall that time when I tasted that water and felt satisfied for the first time. I recall having clarity, peace, and purpose. It is a memory that brings a small smile to my lips and a wistfulness to my soul. For that satisfaction has long since passed. Somewhere the water that springs forth into an eternal kind of life has been suppressed back down into the dark recesses of that deep well that is my soul.
Life happened. Brokenness happened.
I wonder if it is as simple as going back to that person I was back then, but I know that I can never go back. I am not the same person that I was then. There are layers and layers of life in the way. I know more. I ache more. It has been too many years. By now that period in my life has moved from reality to memory to myth. There are no glory years just glorified partial memories.
And so–back in this present moment–I find that I am the woman at the well, drawing water that does not satisfy out of that deep well. Daily. An outsider. Caught in the grind of life.
Then I recall that Jesus asked the woman about her spouse and relays to her that she has had 5 husbands. I don’t know that his words were meant as anything more than a sign of his intimate knowledge of her and a demonstration of his power and status as more than a simple Jewish man. But, due to my own story, I find myself feeling judged by her string of failed marriages.
You see, I went through a divorce 5 years ago after 10 years of marriage. I never thought I would experience such a thing and had no idea in how many ways that experience would come to define me. How it would scar my perception of my self. How I would let it derail me from my God-given gifts and consign myself to the mundane. How it would seal away that life-giving water…deep within me…
Yet, now, like the woman at the well, I find myself encountering this Jesus character once more and, like her, am excited at the idea of an alternative to this daily grind. I find myself asking “Can you give this water so that I do not have to keep coming back to this place?”
In the silence that follows I realize that the only thing preventing this explosion of life is my own self. My doubts. My fears. My scarlet letter. My perceptions. My weaknesses.
I look back outside my window and it dawns on me that I am too much like that guy covering his car–preoccupied with mundane tasks–and not enough like the kids playing in the mud with nothing but wonder and excitement on their little faces.
And in that moment of wonder my observation of the connectedness of things starts to take on a whole new life for me. Pieces that seemed random before start to coalesce into a coherent picture of the life before me. Before us.
This is going to seem a little disjointed but bare with me…
That life-giving water that you may have partaken of was never meant to be bottled up within us. It was meant to spring forth, to come bursting out, to make its way to the world around us thereby bringing that life to others. I don’t meant this as a call to evangelism. It’s more personal than that. What I mean is this…In the Old Testament God entered into a relationship with a specific group of people and in that relationship he called them to practice justice. Not the kind of deeds-consequences justice but the kind of justice that looks out for one another. The personal, interrelated, risky kind of justice.
They were to look out for the disenfranchised: the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the stranger. Policies were created to ensure that these things took place and to discourage individuals from succeeding at their expense. So important was this idea to this relationship that it embeds itself in their worship and sacred text for centuries. It was an enduring, foundational idea, woven into the fabric of their eternal relationship with God.
In this way they were to be guardians and givers of life; to one another in the name of their God.
I see now one of the biggest impediments to this life-giving water within me. In life we either give or we get. For too long I have been a taker and not enough of a giver. I think that when we receive this life-giving water that it becomes our responsibility to act as conduits of this water for the world around us.
To bring life to our families. To bring life to our neighbors. To bring life to our work places, school mates, cities, country, and world.
Giving a kind word, a much needed hug, a helping hand, a smile, reassurance, guidance, time, patience.
The second that my gaze moved from within to the world outside of myself I began to feel that life-giving water stir within me. Ready to be used for the betterment of those around me. I think that is what Jesus was calling people to be. I think that is why he made the deposit within us of that kind of living water. The church should be a place where people are showered with life. And it starts with each and every one of us extending our gaze outward and pouring life into others.
Do you want to enliven that personal relationship with God? Then take care of those around you who are in need because he loves them. Start SEEING people, truly seeing them. Be a conduit of that life-giving water today.