Monday, September 10, 2007

Screamer

Be careful what you pray for.


A week ago, I was all set to write about rules of prayer and my habit of making “on-the-go” intercessions. Not that interspersing “Lord Have Mercys” with dish washing and teeth brushing isn’t profitable, on the contrary, frequently pondering upon Christ helps to order my priorities, provides me with at least a little more patience, and is crucial for maintaining my sanity throughout the day. But there is something altogether different about standing before icons, pausing in silence while my mind empties itself of surface garbage, setting aside all other activities and distractions before opening my will up to God’s. I wanted to explore the difference between formal and spontaneous prayer, the importance of including both in one’s schedule, but then I was knocked down, took a shot to the jugular, I was humiliated, devastated on a Friday afternoon and I can focus on nothing else until I deal with what it is screaming in my heart.


Screaming. I have a screamer. What two-year-old Mary lacks in size she more than makes up for in volume. She is a spitfire, an impish stick of dynamite, and we adore her, screaming and all. "When you stop screaming,” we say, laying her in the crib, “we will get you out.” For although she is delectable and funny and snuggly such hysteria cannot be encouraged, rewarded, or extinguished by way of explanations. In Chicago, our street was abuzz with children’s laughter, with the scolding of parents, and yes, with the screaming of babies learning to sleep on their own, of siblings arguing, and of toddlers not getting their way. “Is that my son?” I’d ask myself, putting an ear to his bedroom door. “Oh no, it’s the little girl that lives next to us,” and I’d breath a sigh of relief. Nap time had not been cut short after all.


But here, in my new small town, where gardens are tended to devotedly, where houses are inhabited by the same families for decades, where the quiet has a sound of its own, the buzz of little children, my little children (the only ones within earshot) comes across more like a jackhammer ripping up quaintness and tranquility. I know this because Friday I got a telephone phone call. “Hello?” I said, over the chaos of my older kids raiding the cupboards for after-school snacks and of Mary, having just been denied a piece of unwrapped and dirt covered candy, characteristically screaming in her crib. What met my ear was a verbal assault most upsetting. Apparently, my mothering skills were being questioned by the neighborhood (or at least two people within it). I was horrified and deeply offended by the accusations from neighbors I had always considered friendly and welcoming. I was told that such screaming was not natural and that either I was mistreating Mary (and my daughter's siblings) or that something was just plain wrong with her. It was so bizarre, so hard to wrap my mind around. And I sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed in years.


That morning, inspired by reflections on prayer, I awoke fifteen minutes earlier than normal. Before getting out of my pajamas or putting in my contacts, I lit two candles and opened an actual prayer book. Taking a deep breath, I tried to reign in my thoughts so they could meditate on the words my mouth would soon deliver. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Having invoked the Holy Trinity I commenced with the morning prayers:

“O Lord, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace. Help me to rely upon your holy will at every moment. In every hour of the day, reveal your will to me. Bless my association with all who surround me. Teach me to treat whatever may happen to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray yourself in me.”


I will tell you dear friends, that this entreaty by Metropolitan Philaret enveloped me fully. I can assure you, by God’s grace, that I was spiritually uplifted even when crushed down, with the remembrance of Christ’s omnipotence. “How would you have me respond?” was my spontaneous prayer, born out of the formal prayers carved into a day as of yet unknown, carved into my soul by the effort it took to recite them. I would eventually go to my accusers, apologize for the noise, assure them that we love, oh do we love, our children. I may have been believed or I may never have the satisfaction of being vindicated. I may continue to be whispered about for years to come, wrongfully slandered, and grievously misunderstood. Be careful what you pray for. Things like patience, humility, a desire to please God alone. Because His answers can burn like a scalding hot branding iron while we are being marked, set apart, as His own.


I was all set to write about rules of prayer and my habit of making “on-the-go” intercessions. I was all set to talk about these things objectively until life dealt a blow most unexpected. Rules of prayer, formal prayer, are not merely a “good idea”. Offering the initial moments of a brand new morning to God, absolutely, unequivocally, beats sleeping in, checking e-mail, or wiping down bathroom sinks, when it comes to protecting my soul. There is no one else, nothing else, more worthy of my time, my praise, my exertions. There is no one else, nothing else, who can lead me through despair and into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no one else, nothing else that should obstruct my vision of Christ Jesus, because He is love, perfect love, unshakable love, a love that will never forsake me.


“Are you ready to calm down?” I ask my tiny daughter whose eyelashes glisten with beads of wetness, leftover tears from a tantrum. “Uh-huh,” she says, reaching out her arms for the hug I, too, am longing for. I breathe in the smell of her, sweat mixed with diaper cream, the sweetest scent I know upon this earth. “Lord have mercy,” I pray, spontaneously. “Please grant me wisdom, please guide my every decision, please help me to a better mother. Amen.”



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15 comments:

Ser said...

Oh, Molly, this sounds like a horrible, horrible thing to have happened. I'm so sorry. I would have sobbed, too, might still be sobbing. You are a great mom! Inspirational!

When we moved in here, Luke had a few tantrums that were real doozies (a half hour, things were thrown, bad words were used) and I thought our neighbors must think something was wrong with us or Luke. Perhaps they do, but thankfully, they haven't said anything.

I'll pray for you.

Love,
Ser

Kelleylynn said...

Dearest Molly!
This is all too familiar...because of what we pray for. I am with you in my (poor) prayers.

Your post has encouraged me to pray more with & for my children --thank you for your pure honesty!

I am so relieved that I have found you, dear friend!

Lord Have Mercy on us all!

fdr said...

This is Kelleylynn's husband. She didn't tell you about our little Hannah, who was just like your Mary (OUR "Mary" on the other hand is dubbed "Sister Mary Sunshine"). Hannah would scream and throw herslef around like a crazed lunatic, anytime she did not get her way (which evidently was very often!)

Once we were visiting freinds in Fort Myers FL. We had a beautiful lunch on a deck overlooking the ocean on a beautiful day. Well, I must have put her ketchup ON her fries or instead of NEXT to them as a dip (or something) so she began one of her tirades. I took her under my arm to the car as she kicked and screamed, to the the amusement of some, and obvious chagrin of others. I belted her in her car seat and we sat in the van with the a/c on full blast, while she screamed on, and every person walking past had to stop and make sure I wasn't beating or strangling her (boy, I sure felt like it!)

Take heart...your tactic was(is) our tactic. Now at the age of 8, she is a beautiful young lady. Oh she sometimes starts to go off (uusally at her brother) but when sent to her room or elsewhere, she has learned to calm herslf down. She knows whe'll stay in her room all day and miss meals and other family time, so she really has learned to control herself...or correcting herself after she has set out down that road.

It doesn't make it easer, esp when you have neighbors who don't understand. Hang in there!

Mimi said...

Oh dear Molly, hugs, hugs, hugs. I once had a similar thing happen, and the horror and embarassment are still with me to this day.

Molly Sabourin said...

Dear Sweet Friends,

You knew exactly what I needed - a little bit of "been there, done that" and the assurance that, in all likelihood,when Mary is eight years-old she will no longer be screeching at glass shattering decibels when asked to share or get ready for bed. Thank you for your prayers and especially for your empathy!

love,

Molly

Carrie said...

Honestly, I am still so mad about it. I told Troy what I would like to say to your neighbor and it is none too pleasant. It is a shame she is so close-minded and judgmental.

To me, you ooze love - especially to children. For the last nine years I have watched you with both your kids and our mutual nieces and nephews. I have been amazed at how effortlessly you connect with each, bringing out their unique personalities. You are always there with a hug when they are sad and to defend them when they cannot.

I am working myself into a tearful state, so I think I should cut myself off. Just know that woman does not know you. It is easy to judge those you don't know but in the end you are usually wrong. And one day she'll realize how wrong she was.

Lucy said...

I was shocked when I read this. How incredibly... tacky. I mean, I guess it's better than other things they could have done, but seriously. Don't these people have kids?

I, too, have a screamer. My daughter (who's almost 4) throws amazing tantrums. But she is learning to control her emotions.

Good for you for turning to the true source of help. I have found so many times that the prayers already available to me, written so long ago, say exactly the thing my heart desires to say, but doesn't know how. And I totally agree that spontaneous prayers are important, too. But I also agree that starting the day with the formal prayers affects me in a way no other type of prayer does.

What a horrible experience. But I think you responded rightly and with much more grace than I would have. You're a very good example of using a negative experience to return to "the one thing needful." Thank you for such an honest, if heart-wrenching, post.

Grace said...

Words fail me. This makes me wince and I don't even have kids. So apart from noting that these neighbors are REALLY being nasty, I can't add any helpful thoughts to those already expressed except these two, which I pass on for what they're worth.

1 - As I said, I don't have any screamers of my own, but I was a bit of a screamer myself. (Youngest child -- what can I say?) And I don't remember that my mom took any special action to combat it. She just loved me anyway, and here I am: a grown-up who's usually the LAST one in the room to scream. I don't guess it was easy for my mom to put up with me, but I certainly don't think it was *her* fault I was a handful when I was four.

2 - I have had similar experiences with neighbors, and they made me feel terrible. Living in a pretty little suburb in Southern California, my husband and I were given the business by neighbors on both sides because our lawn needed mowing. (Greg was out of work at the time. The stinkin' lawn was the *least* of our worries.) Some years later when we lived in Hobart, a very weird neighbor-lady took me to task because there were pet smells in the house from my cat and the previous owner's dog. (I was living alone and trying to sell the house to move down to Greg's new job. Honestly, I think I really hated this woman at that moment.)

So ... been there, done that? Definitely. I love living in these little towns, but sometimes there are things going on with neighbors that are unbelievable.

Bottom line: I don't think this is a 'you' thing, if you know what I mean. Raise your neat kids, love their noise, try to be as friendly as you can with the neighbors, but don't let them draw blood. That's being a saint in Chesterton.

Molly Sabourin said...

Grace,

I am shocked that you were a handful! At our dinner together you made nary a scream the entire evening! In fact, I found you to be so pleasant that I am indeed quite hopeful for my little Mary and her future as a productive member of society.

Grace said...

I know. Shocking, isn't it? All I can figure out is that sometime in my 20's I tumbled onto the fact that nobody listens to you when you scream. Such a wise woman!

Mary being productive: Well, at the very least, sign her up for the choir right now. The lung power I built up still comes in handy on those long notes on the Cherubic Hymn. :-)

Belladonna said...

Molly,
I've been pondering this posting for several days now. The sacred words by Metropolitan Philaret touched my heart is such a powerful way. They have helped me through some of my own moments of anguish and self doubt more than you know. Thank you so much for sharing them.

Molly Sabourin said...

Dear Belladonna,

I have recited that prayer at least a thousand times and it still continues to either comfort or convict me in new and unexpected ways. I am so glad you found it to be salve for your wounded heart!

love,

Molly

Michele said...

Hi Molly,

I am quite new to your blog although I had read most all of your posts. My family and I are new to Orthodoxy. We are in the process of converting. It is very complicated but we will finally leave our Presbyterian church at the end of this month.

I was so thankful to read your post. Just last week an elder in our church had lunch with my husband and told him his family had noticed how disobedient our just 5 year old son was. I was horrified. First it was anger because this elder's daughter has given me fits of pride and attitude on the volleyball team I coach. I had to get past that and search my heart. The grief my baby son has given me. He has the strongest self well I have ever experienced. If I say no, he does it. No matter what the consequence, the joy of disobeying is worth the pain on his behind or being isolated in his bed. My husband pray and cry over his little soul. Lord Have Mercy. Anyway, I feel the evil one is after us because of the battle of leaving our current church and converting to the One True Church. Please pray for us as we journey. You will be in my prayers. Thank you for your wonderful blog. Such an encouragement.

Michele

Molly Sabourin said...

Dear Michele,

Thank you for sharing your struggle!
I will keep you in my prayers. I understand fully the difficulties of not only making a leap into the Orthodox Church (an act of faith which, as you stated, will definitely be attacked and undermined)but also in trying to be the best parent possible to a child needing extra support, intervention, and consistency. May God bless your efforts and bring you peace.

With love in Christ,

Molly

H and S said...

I loved this post. Thanks Molly! What exactly is meant by "Pray yourself in me"?
Selena