Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Sad" Is Not "Bad" (Pastor Mom Devotion #3)

Earlier this week, the Teacher got very upset in the evening and screamed and cried inconsolably. Nothing would calm her down. So, after trying everything we could think of, I just rocked her and, after what seemed a long time, but I'm sure was less than half an hour, she fell asleep. She dozed for maybe five minutes, then opened her eyes, and smiled like everything was just wonderful!

She's been similarly cranky every night this week. Best we can tell, she's just getting overtired and then has a hard time settling down. It's not fun for us being unable to calm her, but thinking about it, I remember: a few times during my academic career, there were some short periods of time when I stayed up all night or almost all night working and became miserably sleep-deprived--much worse than what I've experienced as a parent of a newborn--and at the end of each of those stints, when the papers had been sent in, the exams completed, etc., I couldn't immediately go to sleep. First I needed a good hard cry. And if someone had been there and tried to stop me from sobbing and weeping, I would not have appreciated it at all.

Since the Teacher's lessons do not yet come in verbal form, I'm not certain I've comprehended correctly, but I think she's teaching me that I shouldn't expect to prevent her from suffering. Of course, I will try to save her unnecessary, pointless suffering, but no one's life will ever be pain-free. 

Actually, this is something my mother talked about when I was a kid. There was a PBS program called Lamb Chop's Play-Along whose theme song had a verse that talked about living by the rule that "sad is bad and happy is cool." And I remember my mother commenting something like, "I don't live by that rule. It isn't bad to feel sad; it's just a part of life." 

This week's prayer: Dear God, please help me to recognize when it's best simply to accept that life comes with some unhappiness and suffering. May I become less anxious and let go of the need for control when it becomes apparent I've already done as much as I can/should to relieve someone's pain. Amen. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Being A Benevolent Despot (Pastor Mom Devotion #2)

I have experienced nothing worse than being at the mercy of someone who abuses their position of power. I guess you could interpret every evil committed by humans as some kind of an abuse of power. But in some cases there is mutual negotiation because the power dynamics are relatively equal. Other times, you are helpless. And having no choice but to suffer the consequences of someone else's selfishness, laziness, denial of reality, irrational fears, and/or vindictiveness is unspeakably infuriating (to me, at least).

In such situations, I have always told myself that the pain I am suffering is teaching me never to do that kind of thing to others when I am the one in a superior position. And oh my gosh, being a parent puts you in the ultimate position of power and authority over someone--especially at the beginning, when your child is completely helpless. So here I am with the opportunity to do as I have vowed in the past and be a benevolent despot.

It's very easy to do right now; the Teacher is three months old today and it feels very natural to rush to meet her need every time she cries. I'm sure that's what Mother Nature intended by making us perceive babies as adorably pathetic.

They say you can't spoil a baby this young--it's only after they've figured out cause-and-effect (yes, by dropping a spoon for you to pick up seven thousand times) that children realize they can manipulate you into giving them things they don't really need.

I wonder, though: is it really the case that children ask for things they don't need at all? I suspect not. Which is not to say that I'm planning to give my children chocolate cake for breakfast or buy them the latest video game as soon as it comes out. But in a sense, there must always be a real and valid need behind any request (whether from a child or an adult), or else they never would have asked for something. The emptiness and lack is there; they just may not have properly identified something that can fill it. I think part of being a benevolent despot is to recognize that; and not to be dismissive of requests that seem unreasonable or inappropriate.

Thankfully, the Teacher is only very gradually easing me into the challenge of learning to exercise authority judiciously.

My prayer for this week: Thank you, God, that I am blessed with the resources to provide for all of my baby's needs. You know it makes me nervous having someone who depends on me so completely, but I can rest my heart, trusting that you are taking care of me so that I can take care of her. Grant me wisdom as the baby becomes more independent so that I may still respond with compassion and understanding even when I have to tell her "no." In the name of Christ, in whom all things find their "yes" ... Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Class Is Now In Session (Pastor Mom Devotion #1)

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3 (ESV)

There's nothing like being part of a family to teach you all kinds of lessons--about yourself, human nature, the divine, the diabolical, etc., etc. In fact, you learn so much, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the time you reach adolescence. A nice long summer recess could be in order. And if you do escape the refining furnace of family life in early adulthood, marriage can be a good way to ease back into your studies. It usually means a gentle start, with challenges of gradually increasing difficulty. But when children arrive, it's like entering an accelerated learning program. At least, that's how I think of it.

So, as one of those people who's always reached for the "A" (even if I haven't always attained it), and having recently welcomed a darling little daughter into the world, I want to make the most of this opportunity. I'm giving myself a little writing assignment. I will try to post little devotions every week about the lessons Hattie has for me. To keep my head in the right space, I think I'll just refer to her as "the Teacher" for now. Not sure what I'll do when (God-willing) we've got a second child, but I'll figure out my new terminology when that happens. Hopefully that won't be for a while!

The focus of this, my first devotional reflection is that I am learning to learn(!). Yes, of course, we all start our lives learning very rapidly and naturally--but humans are also very lazy and prefer to do things the stupid old way for no good reason. So, I do have to work on my learning skills if I want to keep them sharp.

And as someone wise once pointed out (and probably pointed out many times, actually): people do not learn from experience; they learn from reflecting on their experience.

My prayer for this week: Dear God, I know that I am a poor student of life. It can take many repetitions of the same foolish mistake before I finally start to wise up. Please help me to become a faster learner--to hold more lightly to old ways of doing and thinking--to be open to what you have to teach me, especially through my little almost-three-month old daughter. Amen.