As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Starting Off Small

So lent began a week ago.  And I gave up grinding my teeth.  That might sound silly, but anyone who knows me well will tell you - I have a temper problem.  I yell a lot.  And that yelling is always accompanied by teeth grinding.  Don't believe me?  Watch my little ones clench their little teeth when they get angry.  I'm sad to say they get that from me.

So wouldn't it have been better to just give up loosing my temper then?  Alas, this issue has been my single greatest trial for my nearly nine years of parenthood (save maybe the first two years, during which time I only had one sweet little baby who had not yet learned to misbehave, and was just the cutest, sweetest, most obedient baby ever!)  If it was as simple as that, I would have done it a long time ago, nipped it in the bud before it became the persistant problem that it is today. It is however much bigger and more difficult for me, and the thing that causes me the greatest shame.

The bible refers to hell as a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth".  This scripture is not lost on me.  When I grind my teeth and start to lose my cool, it is my own personal hell.  Well-meaning people will say, "there there," but you shouldn't.  I know I will have to answer someday for the ways in which I've mistreated these little ones entrusted to me.  I am so grateful they are so very patient with me, as I fumble my way around this parenting thing.

So - rather than set myself up for failure by choosing to give up something I could in no way, possibly succeed at actually giving up - at least, not just like that - I looked to the symptoms.  What causes me to go off the deep end?  Well the kids, sure, but I can't control that.  I can only control myself.  That's when I realized that grinding my teeth was someplace I could focus my attention - a physical, measurable reaction that I had control of, that somehow didn't seem as big to conquer as my temper, and yet was directly linked to it.

After a rough start (Ash Wednesday Mass alone with the six kids at 9 am was a little trying) I am happy to report that I am noticing a BIG difference.  I am finding, by the Lord's grace, that it is not that difficult for me to not grind my teeth.  What I am also discovering is that when I take a moment to have a little self control, it makes me a more patient parent.  Sure I still raise my voice.  But I'm not having a whole physical reaction - I'm not flying off the deep end.  I've been able this past week to discipline my children, even yell at them if the situation warranted it, without getting fighting mad.  I have been able to stay one step outside, so that I am acting with a calculated firmness instead of an emotional attack.  And once the moment passes, it's gone.  There is no lingering anger or tension, no guilt over having blown my top.  I believe I am slowly getting a glimpse into the way discipline is really meant to be.

This is part of a bigger picture with me.  When my daughter was born four months ago, her labour and delivery (and the time leading up to it) were the most anxious and difficult I have experienced so far.  Through the most painful parts of her delivery I called on the Lord, breathing deeply and repeating the name of Jesus (the only words I could muster) over and over.  I knew the Lord was teaching me to weather the storm with my eyes fixed on Him - that even though my body was telling me to do one thing (panic!) He was calling me to a very different response, and that I needed to fix my gaze on Him.  I feel like this is the same lesson He is trying to teach me now - that even when the circumstances of my life are such that I feel like I'm going to explode, I don't have to.  I am not a slave to that.  In the same way I need to get better at calling out to Him, "Jesus, Jesus!" in spite of mounting frustration.  I am not a slave to my emotions.

I'm not pretending all my problems are solved.  I know I still have a looooooong way to becoming the patient parent the Lord wants me to be (and my children deserve).  But I feel like, thanks to the beautiful season of lent, which encourages us to look our weakness in the face and decide how we can let the Lord meet us there, how we can lean on Him to help us out - I feel like He is revealing to me the road I need to travel.
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
(Gathering Prayer, Ash Wednesday liturgy)

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