Here we are more than half-way through Lent (if you are reading this as it comes out) and we have a moment to reflect on how we are using this season for our soul upkeep. If you are feeling that you are not using the time well now is the time to make the sign of the cross and dig your heals in again. May we not let this precious season pass us by without using it as a spiritual reboot that we will surely need this year.
Do we leave room for God?
One thing I have been better at doing in past years is reading spiritual books – and we are blessed to have so many these days and more and more by modern day authors.
I have recently been reading St. Paisios’ Spiritual Counsels – On Family Life and I highly recommend it. St. Paisios, as a more modern day saint, always feels so practical and I always find his words so filled with kindness and comfort. It is all about marriage and the upbringing of children. I was struck the other day by reading this passage:
And even though there is God Who protects the children and the Guardian Angel, who himself stands constantly by to protect them as well, the parents agonize over them until they become sick themselves. And, although they are faithful people, they act as if there is no God, as if there is no Guardian Angel, in which case they actually impede Divine intervention. Instead they must become humble and ask for God’s help, and the good God will protect the children.
We are Co-Creating with God
I realized that despite a faith that I know, by God’s grace, is within me – I do not live or love or care for my children with that faith. I remember reading in Laura Jansson’s book Fertile Ground that, when, and if, we are pregnant, we are co-creators with God – neither is our child of God’s making alone nor of ours but we work together with and through God to bring forth life. St. Paisios discusses this same thing – us as co-creators. As parents raising children we continue to co-create – we work with and through God to bring up our children. We can’t sit back and expect God to take care of everything without any effort on our part – BUT we also can’t do everything. While we may hold in our hearts that God is above and will help us in the moments of need – we may still try to control everything that we possibly can. We may try and think through and prepare for any of the many possible outcomes or difficult situations that will arise. We may feel ourselves solely responsible for the physical safety of our children, for their health, for the education, and each and every interaction they have. Even if we are not “helicoptering” over them at all times we often fail to leave room for God to work and show His mercies.
My dear friend Sarah and I are just in the final rounds of edits on a book to come out through Ancient Faith later this spring or in early summer. We were co-creators of this book (although in all honestly it would never have happened without Sarah’s incredible effort and organization and Ancient Faith’s belief in us). We wrote the book together and both of us worked hard to “make space” for the other person to be seen and heard. This idea of making space for our partner (in this case Sarah, and always God) to work and be a part of the process is very tangible to me in this co-writing experience Sarah and I have just been through.
The same is true in parenting if we are blessed to have a partner to help us co-parent. There are so many decision we make about and for our children and we cannot (if we are in a team) make them ourselves. We have to humble ourselves to the will of the other (and they to us) and come up with a decision that feels comfortable to everyone. We can’t just muscle through. And then God is there too!
Letting Go (a little), and letting God…
Our children are so precious. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea before having children how much their formation would become my highest priority – above and beyond my own prior aspirations and dreams. Whether or not this is as true for you – all of us (especially reading these kinds of blogs) work very hard to help give our children the best possible advantage in their spiritual lives – and, likely, in their worldly endeavors as well. I find myself sometimes completely wrapped up trying to be vigilant about everything from how they say their prayers to how they brush their teeth, from each and every thing they eat to what images they are exposed to, from how they cross themselves and when to what friends they play with. While I try to be discerning about what God would want for my children, I realize that I so rarely leave space – physically or emotionally – for Him to care for them Himself.
If the concept seems odd to you then – thank you – because I hadn’t thought of it that way myself until I read St. Paisos’ words. In the same passage he gives this example:
The other day at the vigil, I was impressed by a mother I knew from some time ago. She came to greet me. I saw that she had with her only the older children. “Where are the little ones?” I asked. “At home, Geronda. We wanted to be here for the vigil and my husband and I spoke about it, saying that God will provide a Guardian Angel for them; after all we are going to a vigil not for a night out.”
While I am not, by any means, recommending leaving small children at home alone or not having your children wear helmets while biking, etc. I do think that we need to hold ourselves back sometimes and simply trust that God is watching. In our home we have a newborn – newly illumined a week ago! In my work I have a handful of patients who have experienced “crib deaths” and I find myself often awake in the night wondering if our baby is breathing or not. I hear his noisy breathing or grunting, or then I don’t, and I peer over at him to make sure I hear his breath and only settle back down for sleep once I do. Sometimes this will happen multiple times before I let myself fall asleep. Especially recently he had been having some choking episodes while nursing and I found myself even more vigilant. And then I read St. Paisios’ words. Since then – in these moments of worry – the moments I am wondering what I need to do to keep my child(ren) safe – I have been trying to say to myself “Leave room for God!” – trying to remind myself that I should not and cannot control everything. Trying to remind myself (as my priest always reminds me) “God is above”. I can trust Him to do what is right and to co-parent this child with me (and so much more).
So while we must not sit back and wait for God to plant the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our children’s hearts without any work on our or their parts – St. Paisios reminds us that we cannot make ourselves sick with the worry and act as if we have some superhuman ability to provide everything they need. God’s grace is given by God alone. And we must remember that we are co-creating the environment that we raise our children in and that God loves our children more than we even love them ourselves and will provide for them and for us if we make space. I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful for the help!
Wishing you and your families a blessed and fruitful final weeks of Great Lent.
With love in Christ,