For five years I have been praying for the grace of gentleness. I thought that once I became a consistently gentle mother, I would be pretty much ready for canonization. A half-decade of grace (plus the devouring of a practical "how-to" manual in the form of that Popcak book) and here I am...more gentle than I ever dreamed I could be and still not ready for the Perfect Mom Award. Alas! A few weeks ago I decided that my next half decade is going to have be dedicated to growing in the ability to be "really present". John Paul the Great - a man who knew how to be really, totally, recklessly present to others- talked often about presence as a necessary prerequisite for being able to receive the gift of the person. I have the gift of five beautiful persons under this roof and I'm not receiving those gifts to the full. I'm also not giving the full gift of myself to any of them.
I can't count the number of times a day that I realize that baby James has been staring adoringly up at me, grinning with rapt attention and love, while I have been oblivious. This is not a problem that stems from having four children. I remember when all the others were babies, being stopped by older women in grocery stores, department stores and libraries so many times, and being told by these total strangers, "Your baby has been staring up at you with the most beautiful love for the past ten minutes. We've just been watching that baby stare at you." But I had not noticed. I might have been talking absently to the baby, perhaps I handed over a toy or disengaged my hair from tiny clutches....it's even possible that I nursed that baby - all without making direct eye contact or really noticing the tiny person strapped to my chest. Whenever these wonderful old ladies call me out of my
I don't work outside the home. I homeschool. So....I'm always "with" my children .... but relatively rarely am I truly with them. I often read books to children cuddled under my arm and pulled close on my lap while my mind stretches far away from them, reminding myself what to do in ten minutes or remembering events from ten years ago. I often listen to their stories with ears that do not hear and admire their artwork with eyes that do not see. I'm so often waiting for them to find something to engage their bodies so that I can slip off into my mind, remaining physically present while my thoughts steal me away.
I never remember why my husband is coming home late because I'm never listening when he tells me. I'm thinking about the fascinating article I just read or the (equally fascinating) one I'm about to write. I don't really always hear what my friends tell me because I'm regretting the stupid thing I said a few minutes back or reselecting the brilliant thing I plan to say next. And I certainly struggle to hear anything the Lord might want to tell me because there's just so much else going on inside my head. The God of the Universe, King of Glory, Maker of Heaven and Earth - the One who created me, gave me every good I possess, died for me and will serve as my final judge - THAT PERSON is really present to me and I am distracted. By. Such. Stupid. Nothings.
Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was such a daily bombardment of media - all this internet and information and images to fill our heads and rob our souls? I don't know. Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was so much busy-ness and rush and scheduling? I don't know. I do know that both of those factor in for me, (along with the problem of having very little practical experience in disciplining the mind). But I also know that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That tried-and-proven knowledge gives me perfect confidence that I can and will grow in the ability to be really, fully, soul-fully present to my kids. And my husband. And my God. It's just probably going to take at least five years - or more. In the meantime, what a beautiful thing to practice: looking more often into the eyes of the people I love; shaking off my thoughts - which really means my selfish, self-absorbed little world - to listen to the thoughts of the people I love and enter the wonderful world of "them".
It makes sense to me that the more I practice the habit of being really present to my children, the easier it will become to be fully present to God as well. If I can't practice the presence of Maria, I'll never be able to practice the presence of the Lord (He's a little more subtle than any of my offspring). I can imagine at the end of my life, the angels coming, nudging me, calling my undivided attention to the KING OF GLORY and saying, "Your God and Savior has been staring at you with the most beautiful love for the past 76 years. We've just been watching Him stare at you." He is just as close as these babes in arms. Nay, closer. And I don't want to wait that long to be shaken out of my stupor. My babies have taught me that.