Monday, April 14, 2008

The Vow of Stability

My wife and I are categorized as "stable." For the purposes of a foster care license twelve years ago we were assessed as being a "stable" family unit. We had housing, we had food, we had employment, we had a healthy enough relationship. Within a period of time we were judged to be "stable" for adoption home study purposes. Those interviewing us, reviewing our references and looking into our histories determined that we would be suitable candidates to adopt children. In my vocation, as well in my wife's vocation, we have been stable. She has been involved in the adoption world as a professional for eight years, and I have been a pastor in my current denomination for more than fifteen years.

We are stable, but sometimes I get so bored with stability. Knowing that each day is going to be pretty much the same really drives me crazy sometimes, and I am luckier than most because I have the kind of vocation in which I have a great deal of personal discretion and flexibility with how I choose to use my time. I am not bound to certain hours (except, of course, for Sunday, which is a different matter) every week, so I try to be grateful for that gift. But the numbing regularity of being a parent sometimes makes me listless. I know, for example, that every day after school our second youngest son will come bolting through the door, seconds before his PCA (personal care attendant), begging for money so that he can buy pop. And I know that Claudia or I will have to begin the process of reminding him that he did not earn (or has spent) his allowance for the week, and therefore he doesn't "have any money." He will ask repeatedly, he will scream that we do not love him, that we do not care about him, and then he will stomp up the stairs the his bedroom, often uttering a string of obscenities that crescendo with the slamming of his bedroom door as the sobbing in his room commences. He will cry, he will scream, he will pound the floor with his feet. And I know, without doubt, that this will occur nearly every day in nearly the same pattern it always does.

And sure, I try to remind myself that he has been diagnosed with several disabilities that explain his behavior. I will do my best to distance myself from his emotion-laden assaults. I will, in a word, seek to be and to provide a stable response to his outbursts. And I will do this nearly every day, until I hit one of those challenging days where, instead of being stable, I will respond in kind. I will angrily stomp my feet on the stairs as I go to his bedroom to confront his behavior, where I will break with stability and raise my raise or attempt to use impassioned logic or some other ill-devised attempt to stop his daily barrage of rage.

And then, in the midst of my own momentary "instability," I will begin to feel a little guilty. I will remind myself that I chose to adopt a child whom I knew would be challenging. I will hear his teacher's words in my ears: "Can you imagine where Dominyk would be without your family?" I will look into his tear-stained, rage-reddened eyes and cheeks, and remember the first months he lived with us, and how we had to find therapeutic ways for him to bond with us, since he arrived as an unattached infant. I will take a few deep breaths, sit down on his bed and say, "Dominyk, it's time to calm down, now. You don't have any money to buy pop today, but you still need to get control of yourself and move on to something else."

Stability returns. And once again I will steel myself for another predictable day of emotional torrent, wishing instead of "stability" so-called for some moments of joyous interruption, some interchanges that lift the heart rather than dismay it. I forget the value of stability in my quest for something new, something intellectually arresting, something emotionally captivating.

As I was considering again today how much I disparage "stability," I found these words from Benedict of Nursia (ca. 500 AD), in which he speaks of the "vow of stability." Although I am not even close to being a monk, I find his words about the interior aspect of this vow helpful.

"Stability asks us to live in the present moment and to accept and respond in love to whomever and whatever God has given to us. Stability is not just saying, 'Oh well. I can't do anything about this so I might as well accept it.' Stability is actually wanting the situation we are in because we know that we can find God in it regardless of how difficult it might be."

I'm not sure I'm ready to say yet that "I love stability," because I often feel like I am missing so many other things in life because of the choices I have made. But perhaps God can help me simply want the situation I am in because through my current circumstances I can discover more spiritual depth than I could ever find were I to live the life of a spiritual dilettante, going here and there, never really committing, never really settling, always in a perpetual state of change. Perhaps I have more freedom to grow in the midst of a vow of stability than I ever would find if my life were a series of acts characterized by reckless abandonment.

Lord, help me want the situation in which I find myself, so that through such stability I might find in you my quest for something new.


Sage said...

I really like the quote from Benedict of Nursia. I've heard versions of it, but never the whole quote, nor the source. Thanks for posting it. I need to remember this vow of stability and learn to want the situation I'm in.


debbie said...

soooo, do you have a brother???