Slow to Anger
June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
James 1:19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
I like kneeling in church. At Saint Ann’s, there were many parts of the service where we knelt. At our new church, there are only a few; still, I kneel at all the points in the service where I did back at Saint Ann’s. i feel more prayerful, sure; but I also feel more connected to the energy that first brought me into the Episcopalian fold.
Our pew at Saint S— is wide. It is a special pew for families, right up front. Rather than a kneeler, there is a wide space with a carpet runner for children to play during services. A basket full of toys sits on the floor, along with a tote full of crafting supplies. Children’s books generously donated by Mother K’s son sit next to hymnals and prayer books in the racks.
As I kneel, secreted in the curtain of my long hair, little cars make roads around me. Chubby hands push crumpled bits of glue covered paper beneath the veil. Sometimes, the privacy of my meditative curtain is pushed aside, and two dark brown eyes light up the space beneath.
“Mama? Mama?? Can you hear me? Watch this!” comes the small, urgent whisper of my son, He is reaching through the foil. He has found me.
My boy loves this set-up. This is the perfect mix for a kid like him. At once deeply spiritual, and yet only four, he can be four and still be a part of church. When Mother K moves down the aisle, he stops playing and moves toward her. If the time is right, she puts out her hand and he joins the procession.
Last summer, after the storm that changed our lives, we spent a few months living at Saint Ann’s. One late night my then 3 1/2-year-old son asked me, “Mama, can I be the one who stands up front and teaches about love and peace?”
I think I stopped breathing for a few small seconds.
“You mean the priest?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “I want to teach about love and peace. I want to be the one to give the communion.”
Since then, he has continued to tell me this. Whenever he can get involved more deeply in the services at Saint S—, he does. Bits of folded paper pile up around me, beads and feathers in my hands and shoes, but when Mother K moves, his energy shifts. He is ready to be mini-priest whenever he can.
Some at church are delighted by this. They can see his passion and they marvel at it. When he sprinkles them with holy water and unrelenting joy, the blessed drops fall like a living rain. “Your son!” they say to me during coffee hour, “He’s really something! He’s just so beautiful! So radiant!”
I don’t take credit for it. I am just as amazed at they. “He’s different,” I say to them, “He has a light inside.”
“Yes!” they say, “He shines!”
For some, a shine is dazzling. For some, it hurts the eyes. And ears. And any other sense that is touched by a child who is small, and four, and not completely still.
My son doesn’t sit in the pew next to me. He may crawl under it to get to a friend, or down the side isle to get to another. In our church, there are very few children. The few there are spend church in the nursery. J doesn’t want to be in the nursery. He wants to be with me, and he wants to be a part of the service.
We are a gentle parenting family. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that I am o.k. with him crawling down the side aisle, as long as others are not unduly disturbed in their worship. It means that I expect from my four-year-old boy behavior appropriate for a four-year-old boy, which doesn’t include sitting still in a seat in silence for 40 minutes. It means that no matter what I hope he will do or what I wish he would do, that I first consider what is developmentally appropriate before I respond.
And when I respond, it means I won’t respond with punishments. And I won’t respond with rewards (or bribes, whatever you might call them). I talk to my son like I want others to talk to me. I give weight to his position, his feelings, and realize that our priorities are probably not the same. We work for balance between us, and solutions that work for us as a team, not just forced compliance for the sake of saving public face.
Which is great for us as a family. We are Team Q, and we tackle everything together. When I need help, I call on Team Q. My sweet son never refuses to help me when I need him. He wipes tables, puts away dishes, folds clothes (that I usually refold later) and rushes to be a part of anything that needs to be done for the sake of the The Team.
I listen to him. What he wants matters. It matters that he needs to fold paper, or that he needs squish glue. As long as, in church, he can do it at a low volume, with respect to others, I call that harmony.
Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I have also heard from a minority at our church that my son and I spend too much time together (Attachment Parenting) and that his activity in church requires Discipline.
Just this past Sunday, I asked a friend at church if she had some beginner piano books to lend. My sweet budding priest is also a budding musician. In great kindness, she gave us a set of books for him to explore.
As we stood there talking my son was losing his patience. He had already spent an hour in church, an hour after church, had helped wash the dishes and was ready to play outside. He is four. And really, that is a pretty long day for four.
As she and I talked, J pulled on my sleeve. “Just a minute,” I said. She was talking about Discipline. I felt my face getting hot. I was anxious to finish my conversation and make my point.
I am very aware of how some people view my son. When he exhibits normal impatience, my own impatience starts to rise and I can forget my Gentle Parenting Credo. Instead of telling my ADULT friend, who is practiced in waiting, to wait, I asked my tiny son: WAIT.
“I have home schooled students,” said our friend. “I don’t know what this one mother does, but when she tells her kids to stop they will stop on a dime. Children need to be disciplined.”
My sleeve got longer as my adult friend told me how important discipline was for children. My embarrassment grew with my sleeve as I asked J again to Wait.
“Are you saying J lacks Discipline?” I heard myself say, through my haze of discomfort and impatience.
My mind was too mucky to really hear my friend or my son. I was stuck in the vile place of parenting sin and parenting shame, looking like a bad mother to her and acting like a bad mother to my son.
“Mama! Please! Come see this!”
Different priorities. Now, he was making small, punctuated growls. And I was trying to make a point.
I don’t even remember what she said. But as she made her Grand Point, I was hit by a small, black shoe.
She walked away, and I turned to my son. My connection button was disconnected. I was overstimulated. I could no longer think.
“MAMA! COME see THIS!”
I stood in shock for a second, and then said no. I chose the no over losing my cool. I chose it over venting. I said no, and I walked to the door.
Behind me came a flurry of tiny feet, and a tearful voice shouting, “MAMA!”
My little guru shouted through his tears, “We need to Stop and HUG, right now! Do it!”
And there it was. The clarity of gentle parenting. The clarity of scripture. The clarity of all that matters at the center of our lives. Love.
I stopped. I hugged. I reconnected. I found our center.
I looked into the face of my remarkable child.
“Mama,” he said, “Let’s try again.
And in this expression of God’s grace, we did.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.