The term I would prefer is “accommodating” but my husband would most likely use “pushover” when describing my parenting style. I always mean to be consistent, a “what I say goes!” type of mother but then come the tears, the excuses, the dramatics in response to the word “no” in which my kid’s faces contort into a desperate, most distressing sort of expression, similar to that of the ghost-like figure in Edvard Munch’s Scream painting. Next thing you know I am compromising, extending deadlines, way over explaining a “final” decision. It is a “come back to bite you in the end” sort of habit where short-term appeasement becomes a long-term headache, where getting what one wants becomes frantically addictive.
When they were younger, it was easier (though I never would have thought so at the time). Reactions to disappointment were fiery and immediate, yet distractible – tempers oft forsaken with a change of scenery. Now days it’s a lot more complicated, a lot less black and white. There’s little running into the street or sucking on Lego blocks but plenty of sibling rivalry, longings for: stuff, a later bedtime, independence, and suspicions that my husband, Troy, and I bred our four lovely sons and daughters for the sole purpose of having them help with the housework. There’s an awful lot of scowling, under the breath mumbling, and eye rolling around here. I try not to let it hurt my feelings, to stay stoic in my calling to be a parent first and a friend second, but sometimes I forget that being unconditionally devoted means I occasionally have put my foot down, that the lessons I most need to teach them like patience, frugality, self-control will inevitably be resented because, “dogonit!” we're so darn used to making a fuss when our plans or our agendas get derailed. I am speaking from experience, here, as a creature that’s no stranger to complaining.
What must this look like to the world - our Lent, so demanding, so unspontaneous? Unnecessary, maybe? A tad too formal for a caring and compassionate Christ? “What’s the deal?” I’ve heard asked by those unfamiliar with all the “tricks and trappings” of liturgy and Tradition. “Why all the prostrating, and begging for mercy from a good and approachable God?” I used to see their point, before I dove in myself and got a first-hand taste of the Orthodox view of repentance. Once upon a time, I too, would have dismissed the disciplines required for Great Lent on the basis that believing was enough. But here I am, on the outset of a 40 day Fast, grateful as all get out for a chance to get over my foolish self and closer still to the glory, the peace, the hope, the kindness, the power and perfection of Jesus.
You see I’m not just accommodating to my children; I have a natural and stubborn inclination to please myself. If there is something I get my heart set on, be it as big as a house or as small as a cookie, as important as health or as inconsequential as a pair of summer sandals, be it praiseworthy or vain, I’ll stop at little to make it a reality. Presuming I know what is best for myself, I focus all my thoughts and actions on the close-minded process of transforming my desires into necessities. By listening to my assumptions, I cease to hear the whispering of the Holy Spirit offering continual opportunities to lay aside my will, the same will that barricades my soul from total access to the treasures of Heaven, and accept an unknown future by embracing His holy wisdom, in faith.
“Fasting is wonderful,” said St. John Chrysostom, “because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” Great Lent is neither penance nor a punishment but a gift born of Love unfathomable. By dying to our passions, those self-protective impulses that so easily stop up our ears and blind our eyes, we have a chance to be resurrected with the living Christ. “No,” says the Father to our obsession with intemperance. “Not now,” says the Son to our affection for food, drink and merriment. “Use this sacred period to exchange short-term pleasures for rewards eternal,” says the Church with incredible insight, understanding all too well our fallen nature. I am stuck, held fast by a culture quite conniving, and it smarts a bit to be pried from that grip with such force. But I’d do it for my own kids, endure their tears to procure their freedom, I would provide them with the tools necessary for getting back on the right course.
There is a slumber party I’m not sure about but my growing son is anxious to attend. It kills me to do it, to watch his countenance turn gloomy, thinking me cruel and harsh and strict when I offer to drop him off and pick him up later but, no, he can't sleep over for the night. It is appropriate and merciful to set limits, to curb cravings for that which fill him only with sugary sweetness, which will ultimately leave him empty and unsatisfied. He may not understand this or appreciate my line of reasoning but I must learn to persist, nonetheless, trusting one day he and I both will recognize the foils and frustrations as a saving grace. May each of us through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - asceticism appropriate for every follower of Christ, develop an undercurrent of tranquility unflustered by let downs and earthly cares.
“The end is drawing near, my soul,” we cry aloud with Saint Andrew in the Great Canon, “ is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is near at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? (Matthew 24:33; Psalm 38:7)” Thank you, most Holy Trinity, for loving us enough to bring to light that which is easily clouded by our fascination with all things superfluous. Please strengthen me with the resolve to stay attentive.
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