Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Spiritually disheveled and that's okay

Shortly after Fiona's and Owen's baptism, we began going back to mass. Partly out of guilt. After their baptism, the priest asked if we were new in the parish as he hadn't seen us around. I told him that we've come on and off for years (mostly off) and that it was hard to get here with the children.

Since September we've managed to make it about every other week. This past weekend was the first time we'd made it for the second weekend in a row. And I'm using the term "made it" pretty loosely. This past Sunday, there was not much difference between night and morning thanks to Owen. Jim had taken Owen out to the 24-hour Wal-Mart so I could sleep in and brought back donut holes. I managed to get the two older kids dressed and fed and myself showered. But Owen wound up losing the getting dressed lottery and went in his pajamas. Turns out he wasn't the only disheveled one in our bunch. As I unbuckled Fiona in the church parking lot, I discovered that she had only one shoe on.

Unlike previous Sundays, the kids were restless and not able to be quiet. Fiona ran around the halls while Jim policed her (maybe giving her a donut hole was not such a good idea); I tried to console cranky Owen while trying to listen to the homily from the hallway. Danny did go into the children's Mass eventually and later told us they talked about goslings (that would be the Holy Gospel). We left before hitting the host. All in all, it was the worst attempt at Mass we've had since we started going back.

When we returned home, Jim finished repairing the kids' wagon (that mommy broke about a year ago when she hurled it over the fence after breaking up one too many fights between the kids). We took a walk down the cul-de-sac, then a hike in the woods across the street. I'm pretty sure God is in the woods on beautiful fall days.

I have a pretty good grasp on how to teach our kids many, many things—reading and match concepts, most manners, getting dressed, hygiene and so on. For some reason, though, teaching and talking about Jesus have been more difficult for us. We're not deeply religious people. We don't pray much around the kids, although Jim used to do bedtime prayers with Danny. We don't talk about Jesus too often, although Danny did excitedly proclaim recently that God made gum. We hadn't gone to church regularly because our specific denomination offers little in the way of child care or even age-appropriate programs. Yet we are deeply spiritual people. We rely on God's wisdom and God's grace every minute of every day, sometimes even without consciously knowing it. And that is difficult to explain to young children.

At Danny's preschool, they emphasize prayer as a habit, part of their daily routine. They pray when they begin their morning, when the eat snack and when they close for the day. That's good. At home, Danny now sets up the snack, getting out cups and napkins and exhorting us to pray. "Let's pray for food," he says. And he folds his little hands and says, "God is great. Thank you for food. Amen." He doesn't close his eyes, though. His first introduction to prayer was at school was a bit traumatic. The teacher told the kids to close their eyes. He did. And then he freaked out, crying "It's dark. It's dark. I can't see."

Many churches introduce children to Jesus through Bible stories. I've read Danny a few Bible stories, but his eyes glaze over. He can probably sense that I'm not too interested myself. As a child, I knew all the stories. My understanding of them was a little odd, though. For instance, I really believed that Jesus was born every Christmas and somehow four months later he was a man who hung on the cross, was buried and then rose again.  I had a very vivid picture of these things in my head. I remember being sad and anxious around Easter time because, in Jerusalem, people were getting ready to crucify Jesus. And when you think about the imagery surrounding such stories, it's hard to explain without giving kids nightmares. Daniel was put in a lion's den and prayed that he wouldn't get eaten. Three men whose names I won't dare try to spell were put in a furnace for not bowing down to an idol. God told Abraham to sacrifice his own son on the altar and he almost did. And the man who saved all these men was hung on a cross to die for our sins. There must be better ways to teach faith, loyalty and sacrifice than through Old Testament horror stories and the crucifixion.

I certainly didn't learn those things from the stories of Jesus' life and those who followed him in the early years. Relating my life to Biblical principles came only after, well, living my life. My life experience, some of it rather rough and dark, was what brought me into the fold. The church of my youth actually caused me to flee from the fold.

Would I have known Jesus was even there without the Biblical foundation offered in church? Maybe not. But my point here is that my road back to a relationship with God was a hard one, seemingly made more difficult by church and the ideas that were put in my head at a very young age.

My son may be on to something with his aversion to closed-eye prayer. I tend to pray with my eyes open. It's then that I see what's before me. And when I see what's before me, I am grateful and when I'm grateful, I pray. Even when what's before me does not appear to be ideal. Even when life is stormy. Even when the next right thing to do is not clear.

I wrote the preceding paragraph about two months ago and really needed to be reminded of that this morning as I struggle with what to do next in a certain situation. If Owen hadn't gotten up this morning at 4:30 a.m. (and gone back to sleep), I wouldn't be sitting at my kitchen table rereading these words, taking them to heart and praying a prayer of gratitude for the wisdom God surely gave me, for the grace He bestows and the spiritual discipline that He has imposed and I have accepted over the years. 

Spiritual discipline is a hard thing to teach to a child. But it's the only thing that makes sense in my world. We'll stumble along with the Lord as our guide, though, and hopefully, our children will see faith in all its messy action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego! The Beastie Boys used those as their aliases on _Paul's Boutique_.

I think that getting three kids to church in their pajamas and half-shoeless is a testament to the continuing power of the holy spirit to work miracles. More power to you, lady.

-- Todd