At 9:23 this morning I will celebrate forty-four years of life. It is my birthday.
My day began early and well when at 5:00 AM my spouse roused herself from sleep, heard me ask "What time is it?" and told me. She was on her way to the YMCA for her morning exercise frenzy and I, hearing the silence of the morning, could sleep no longer. Having spent the past week engaged in numerous parental direct-care responsibilities (Claudia was out of town several days with two our kids visiting her parents in Arizona), I savored the quiet of the early morning. The birds are chirping in the cool, early morning as the sun rises.
I am at my desk in my office by 6:15 this morning, grateful for the quiet in the church and the soon-to-be busy street outside my window. In the serenity of this day I begin with my morning prayer ritual. There was a time when I had to work pretty hard to have anything resembling a growing interior life, but for the past few years I have been drawn to these important thirty-or-so minutes to begin my day. I have experimented with many models for morning prayer, from the free style of my evangelical heritage (which is often unhelpful to me because of my tendency toward distraction) to the more structured approaches found in the Catholic or Anglican traditions. Since the start of this year I have settled on a modified Anglican approach, using an Order of Daily Prayer format while freely substituting content within the structure. I find this provides me the structure I need along with the variety I must have to maintain active interest.
So, this morning I prayed the written prayers, the appointed Psalm of the day, the three daily lectionary texts (one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Christian
Scriptures and one from the Gospel), sang the two hymns and focused spiritual reflection by reading from Brendan O'Malley's Lord of Creation: A Resource for Creative Celtic Spirituality.
I say all this to buffet my feelings of frustration and despair of last night. After a marvelously delightful morning in worship and study yesterday morning, and an equally pleasant lunch with our children and a family friend, the afternoon crashed, bringing one challenging interaction after another into my sphere.
If it wasn't our twelve-year-old son obsessing over money and going to the store to spend it it was one of our thirteen-year-olds (we have three right now) defiantly refusing to comply with even the most courteously offered directives. Our older kids were also not immune from whatever demon was hautning our house yesterday. From aggressive behaviors to generally annoying barbs, the de crescendo of my day was a disappointment. I spent most of last night bemoaning our plight to my spouse whose own tolerance level was minimal. It was a bleak close to a disappointing afternoon and irritating night.
To be a parent is a mysterious, ever-changing role that no one is qualified to fill. It doesn't matter whether you are a parent having given birth to children or having adopted them. It is the most exhausting, challenging task there is. It may be this alone that has driven me to the need for ways to daily restore my inner, spiritual being. I mentioned earlier that I have not always been able to maintain the disciplines necessary for developing a growing interior life, but that in the past few years I have.
I suspect the greatest incentive has been need. A healthy interior life is no longer a luxury that I may choose to develop or not. I have come to discover its absolute necessity if I am going to survive, at least, and if I am going to thrive, at best. I have come to discover how "spiritual" a work is this job of parenting. It is more than simply possessing good common sense, or an understanding of the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. There is more to parenting than simply having a stable income, or adequate shelter in which to live, or a moral enough life to pass on to your young ones. To be a parent involves the very core of one's being, and unless the core is being refreshed and restored on a regular basis, there is the certainty of despair and burnout.
To be sure there are moments of deep joy that help to sustain a parent's life as well. On Saturday night, for example, I took two of my kids to eat with me at a Chinese restaurant. Before leaving the car I turned to them both and gave them the "this is a nice place to eat, so you need to be on your best behavior" talk. I warned them that if they were inappropriate it would be the last time for a long time I would be willing to do this. With a few reminders on my part during the meal they behaved nicely. Toward the end of our meal, Dominyk (our twelve-year-old) asked me if he could get a refill on his pop. I said, "Yes, but wait until the server comes back to our table." The server in this restaurant, however, is not all that dutiful, and often requires customer assertion. Before I could intercede, Dominyk spotted our server, said, "Excuse me. Could I have a refill, please?" As she took his glass from the table he said, "Thank you." And then, beaming with pride at his accomplishment (and for someone with ADHD, OCD, and a variety of other interesting letter-combinations festooning his name this was an accomplishment), he looked at me without blinking an eye and said, "How good was that?"
"Very good, Dominyk. I am very proud of you," I smiled. And that is how I am feeling on this early morning of my forty-fourth year. Very good. And, at least for now, I am smiling.