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

Monday, May 2, 2016

When I Was a Child

"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

Jesus has been really great in making Himself available to me in the last few months, and it has really been beautiful.  Where once I lamented the fact that it was not easy for me to get to Mass or adoration with the kids, God has gradually been showing me there are many opportunities to spend time with Him as a family.  I have been discovering Mass times I didn't know existed in the regions where my kids have their activities, more and more churches that are open in the daytimes, and even have had a key to a parish provided to me simply because I asked when it would be open for prayer.  I am completely amazed at God's generosity in meeting me where I am in my life, and each new discovery has made me feel like a child opening a gift.  It really does feel like the Lord is opening up the Heavens and coming directly to me.

As a result my family and I spend a lot of time before the Blessed Sacrament.  While this probably sounds quite pious and holy, I assure you it is a learning process and has had it's ups and downs. I know it's important for them to spend time with the Lord, and I know we can't sit there and not be changed.  And yet, finding a way that makes the devotion meaningful to the kids and not simply an uncomfortable chore that Mom enforces on them has been quite a task. The first few times I found myself in an empty church with the kids, I tried to have everyone sit in silence. That was, predictably (with seven kids 10 months-12 years) a disaster!  I left the church a few times in a row in such a huff and having completely lost my temper at them (in front of the Blessed Sacrament, of all places!) that I realized very quickly I needed to do something to help engage them at their level with the presence of God - that silent prayer for me was ministering and necessary, but maybe for children something to help guide and direct their hearts towards the presence of God would be better.  I knew that the behavior I was exhibiting was not something I wanted them to associate with being a person of God, I didn't want them to think relationship with the Lord was rigid and forced, but this is all they must have felt from me in those first few weeks.  So I changed my perspective and started thinking about what might make things more meaningful for them.  I  started allowing them to read bible storybooks while we were there (and read to them).  I encouraged them to kneel at the altar for some one-on-one time with the Lord (I don't know if they actually speak to Him while they're doing that, but they feel special going up on their own to talk to Him).  I tried to limit the quiet time by filling it up with devotions like the chaplet of Divine Mercy or singing praise songs so that their little minds had less opportunity to wander.  And we started kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament as a family and asking each of the kids if they have anything to say to Jesus (which inspires many cute spontaneous prayers of thanks and gratitude for all their favourite things!)  It continues to be a learning process, but God continues to guide me.

We are in a church at least three times a week outside of Mass time, but for me it's always quite hectic. These prayer times are very much a reflection of my life - I know Jesus is there, infiltrating everything. But my mind is a buzz of activity wondering what my next step needs to be, what we should be doing, where we should be going, always with watchful eyes on the children around me, especially the littlest.  So on Thursday when I found myself with a quick half hour of free time while the older kids were at their violin lesson and the rest of the family was with my husband, I remembered that a parish in the vicinity of the classes recently began leaving their doors open through the day.  Typically while the boys are at their lessons I run errands, but on this day the errands were already done, so I took the opportunity to visit Jesus.  As I walked into the dark church and knelt before the candlelit tabernacle, it occurred to me that while we spend a lot of family time in prayer, this was the first time since I can remember that I had come to a church by myself.  In my first few moments there I did what I always do with the kids - I started to fill the time.  With phrases I say in prayer, with common prayers, devotions. I had even brought some reading with me. But sitting there in that church, bathed in the atmosphere of a church I had many happy memories in, soaking in the presence of God I knew that what I really needed was to just be with Him in silence, that I needed not to fill my time but to quiet my heart so I could speak to Him like a friend.

With silence surrounding me God flooded my heart, and immediately I felt Him asking me to talk to Him.  I started of course with the simple things - I'm so happy to be here, this is so wonderful, I really need this - but quickly began to realize how superficial this was. The King of Kings knows all of this, it's equivalent to talking about the weather.  "What is really on your heart?" I felt Him say.  And there, in the quiet of that holy place that is so dear to me (this is the church I came to my faith in as a youth, the church I got married in) I felt the Lord asking me to take Him to the deepest places of my heart.  So I did.  It took work even for me to voice those things.  I started asking myself what my deepest fears were, what are the things that keep me up at night?  And it inevitably became a prayer for each of my children. I placed each of them before the Lord and voiced to him my greatest concerns for each of them, my greatest shortcomings.  I felt like Hannah with Samuel bringing my children to God and offering them back to Him - it was a moment of total surrender.  I pray for my children daily by name, but this is the first time I have ever actually meditated on each one, and truly offered them to the Lord.  It was incredibly freeing to invite God into those parts of my relationship with them, because I knew in a tangible way that I could not be the answer to everything for them, and in an instant I felt the weight of that burden eased.  I felt like God was asking me to give it to Him, and I knew that in doing so He was not only taking care of them (and making up for my mistakes) but also taking care of me.

As I sat before the Lord I realized that in all of the time I had been spending with Him recently, I was clinging to childish ways.  This was of course because a lot of the time I am bringing children with me, and so in that context it is not only appropriate but necessary. But what God was showing me that quiet evening in the church was that I am not a child - I am a grownup - and I need to have grownup time with Him.  I need to come to Him on my own, and I need to set aside the ways of "filling up" time.  I needed those things in the beginning just as my kids did, to direct and focus my heart when it wasn't easy.  But I am no longer a child.  I need to spend time with Jesus as a person, in relationship with Him.  Beyond the superficial idle chatter of my youth I need to open my heart to Him.  We have been walking together for many years, we know each other.  This vain clinging to repetitive words in a desperate attempt to stay focussed is as superficial to Him as it would be if I forced idle conversation with my husband - we know each other deeply, we can skip the idle chatter and speak as ones who love each other.  

In my short half hour with the Lord I thought about love and how it changes over time. When love is young and new it is vivacious. But as it grows and matures it becomes a familiar home, the undertone of all of life.  In the beginning of a relationship a new couple spends much time talking and getting to know each other, but a couple married for most of their lifetime spends much more time in the knowing silence that the growing together of their hearts no longer requires as many words.  Like the long love of a couple who has stood the test of time, as we grow deeper in love with the Lord so too will our times before Him naturally evolve into a sweeter, deeper, more silent expression of a love that has grown over time to envelope our entire being.  This is such a gift, and I never would have known how much I desired it had my circumstances not led me to the church that evening.

A loud sigh from the pew next to me broke my concentration, and I turned to see the familiar face of someone I have known for a long time.  She was there for Mass, but I was not able to stay since I had to go pick up my boys.  "I just popped over for a few minutes," I explained. "I had some free time and decided to spend it with the Lord."

"God bless you for that," she responded.  And He did.  He really did.

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