Sunday, November 13, 2011

together for a reason

A must-read post by Elizabeth at In the Heart of My Home

Definitely read the whole thing, and the comments too, but here is an excerpt where she quoted me, Willa, and I am quoting it in turn, because I agree wholeheartedly with what she says. 

God isn't finished yet.
Where does that leave us in our mission as parents? What hope do we have?
We can only labor together towards heaven. We can homeschool because we believe that, in the words of Willa Ryan, quoted in Real Learning, " [we]want our family to meet in heaven someday, and [we] think we have a better shot at it if we journey together as much as possible. God put us together for a reason." We can build a strong family culture. We can walk together, just as Jesus walked and worked with Peter, every day, day in and day out, endeavoring to be Christ to one another, sure that we have free will, but we can have grace, too. We can be confident that they will leave home and that they will all make poor choices and some of them will make very poor choices. However, we can cling to the truth that as we wait for God to work in the hearts of these children in whom we've invested so much, it is we who can rely on the grace of all those years of doing.
It is we who soak up the encouragement of the noble, true, right and lovely things we taught them and cling to the faith that the seeds were planted and one day the fruit of potential we know is growing will ripen on this tree we tended lovingly when it was just a vulnerable sapling. We can reflect on the years in our homes and know that that those children--despite their poor choices in the moment--do know who Christ really is.  They have walked with Him in the lives of their families. They just don't really think they need Him right now.  But soon enough, I think, they will.  
 The circumstances in which I wrote those words that Elizabeth quoted are very clear.   It was 12 years ago.  Aidan was in the San Francisco hospital, and as the doctor said, it was "minute by minute".   Not only was he in liver failure, but he had ARDS which has a high mortality rate even for adults. (Matt Wise's journey brings back many memories -- will you please say a prayer for him, if you feel called?)  And Aidan was a five pound newborn.  Things did not look good.

My oldest was 13 and my youngest besides Aidan was 3.  I knew that even if Aidan survived, and the doctors were not optimistic with the combination of issues, it would be a very long road and I would be scrambling past my natural resources just to keep our family somewhat intact, never mind getting to the lesson books.  I knew I couldn't do it on my own.  But then, I had always known that, ever since I was pregnant with my oldest. I still am very convinced of it, and that any good results have come from God.   I ran past my own capacity a long time ago. 

I believe that Elizabeth is right.  A family crisis, whether illness or a child's bad choices or the choices of others that gravely affect our children, does not take away the goodness of what has already happened.   I have thought of that again and again.   What if Aidan hadn't made it?  Would all our efforts and the community's outpouring of love and prayer be wasted?  Surely not.   I would know that I had mothered him as best I could during those short days.   I hadn't been perfect, that goes without saying, I am never that, but I would have all those treasures of memory, of holding him and looking into his eyes, that could never be taken away.  Those prayers would be of great avail even if they weren't answered the way I wanted.

What if one of my children falls away from the faith, makes bad choices, seems to be on the fast road to nowhere?   What if he or she is deeply hurt by something outside of our control?   That is a cross perhaps more difficult to bear in some ways than a child sick in the hospital.  But still I can't help thinking the answer is the same -- it doesn't take away from all the mothering I have done, and I can keep mothering up to the gates of death and beyond, if that's what it takes.   In fact, that is what being a mother is about.   Maybe tough times bring out that truth more clearly.    Once a mother, I'm a mother for always, whatever comes.   I will try to give good things to my children, but not as an insurance policy or as a kind of bargain with the gods like the Romans used to do; rather, simply because they are good and good things are never wasted. 

Being a mother means that a sword will pierce my heart.  It happened to Mary, who raised a sinless child.  All the more privilege to share in her sorrow with regard to my own sinful self and sinful children.

One thing I know is that our suffering means much to Our Lord.   He who wept for hard-hearted Jerusalem, who wept at Lazarus' death, also cares for us and our children.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
And surely it was true, but through what a sorrowful path!  All we can see when we are sorrowing is the pain, but that very pain may be our via dolorosa, our road to hope.

Those sorrows don't cancel out the good times.  The defiant child is still the child we held in our arms, who depended on us for everything.  If we aren't still hoping and praying, who will?   We are together for a reason, I still believe that as much as I did back then.   We are on a journey.  We don't know everything that will happen, but that's part of the deal with a journey.  

There are three things to reflect on in regard to our children:   sin, mistakes, and free will.

Sin -- we all sin.   There's the intentional, thinking it through kind of sin and the kind that's almost unreflective, that happens because of ingrained temper or habit.   We still have a responsibility to work on the latter type of sin, especially if the "matter" of it is grave.   But if I flare up at my child for a moment because I'm sick and exhausted and have a quick temper, and then immediately try to restore the ties, it's not as bad as if I held a grudge and didn't speak to my child for five days because he had offended me. 

I think there are only two kinds of sins that go unforgiven, because we don't ask.  One is thinking that we have no sin, that when things go wrong it's the other person's fault, or God's fault.    The other is thinking that our sins are too great for forgiveness.   One is like the Pharisee who said, "Thank God I am not like that other man" and the other is like Judas who felt remorse for his crime but did not seek out the Author of grace and restoration.  All other sin is redeemable, because if we ask, we will receive.  Even Peter's denying of Jesus was forgiven and became the gateway of a great promise.   Even Adam and Eve's great apostasy was forgiven and again, became the occasion of a great promise.    So if we have sinned in regards to our children, as no doubt we all do, repentance and forgiveness can bring many graces.  I thought Oscar Wilde said something very profound when he said:

Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that: it is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. They often say in their Gnomic aphorisms, 'Even the Gods cannot alter the past.' Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it, that it was the one thing he could do.

Our children sin, too.   Sometimes their sins look very much like our own, which makes us feel bad.  Sometimes their sins are ones that aren't anything like our own, which feels bad too.  Our tears and prayers for them can make a difference, though.   Bishop Ambrose said to St Monica:
" It is impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost."

Mistakes -- we all make them.    Parenting is in some ways more complex than theoretical physics, which is reducible to relatively simple models.  We are dealing with other human beings, after all, beings who can't be simplified to theoretical models.

In another way it's easier, though, because it is about love.  Love doesn't have to be understood to be practiced.  St Thomas spoke of the way love can preclude the need for knowledge, can actually BE a form of knowledge that supersedes the normal reasoning processes.   Still, we will make mistakes.  Sometimes bad ones that keep us up at night.  Sometimes ones that seem like a failure of love, and in that way are related to sin.   I don't think God expects us to be mistake-free, any more than I expect my kids to go through life without making errors.  I think He accomplishes His work through those mistakes, because love makes up for a multitude of problems.  

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Related to making mistakes, is simple inadequacy.   I'm a limited human person.  I have seven kids.    Sometimes I simply run short on energy or creativity or human resources.   I go off and take a nap when possibly I could have made a special memory with a child that would hold him through a tough time in future.  Sometimes a kid has a problem I simply can't figure out how to help with.  Again I have to think that God fills the empty spaces in my child's heart and life.  That doesn't mean that I sit back and take it easy.  Far from that.  But it does mean that I don't think God needs ME to make things run right; it's the other way around.    Hard times remind me of that.  When a child is very ill or making the wrong choices or is affected by the choices of others besides myself, I am very much aware that I'm not in charge.

Children make mistakes, too.  Sometimes it's hard to tell what's a mistake and what's a sin.    If it's hard even with ourselves, it's harder still with our children.

Sometimes others do things that affect our families in a hurtful way.  We can't always tell if they are sinning, or making mistakes, running into the limits of their own capacities, or even doing the right thing which inadvertently causes problems for us.   Here forgiveness comes in.   Jesus said,

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
This forgiveness has echoed down through a hundred generations and has blessed us to this day.   We are fortunate to be able to imitate Our Lord in this and forgive the trespasses of others, as He forgave our trespasses. 

Finally, Free Will -- our kids are not us.   I think if there's one message we keep getting again and again as parents, it's that.   No matter what we do we can't make choices for our kids once they get old enough to make them for themselves.  And as they get older, they go into the world and are more vulnerable to the outside world and its ways.  We can teach them and pray for them, but we can't completely protect them forever.  Parenting is a long process of letting go, a sort of labor pang that lasts 20 or more years.

 I think sometimes we are tempted to go into homeschooling thinking that  it's a solution or substitute for free will, or a guarantee of some kind.   If we do everything "right" our path will be smooth.   I know that sometimes I forget that homeschooling is, more than anything else,  a way to make sure that the parent-child relationship stays more open and "living" than it often does when the child's off at school for way more than half his waking hours.   When our children are around, we have more time and opportunity to show them what is true, good and beautiful.  This is where Elizabeth's point is so crucial. 

That parent-child relationship goes two ways, I've found.   Perhaps the most important part of it is that it keeps my heart bound to theirs.   All the good things that I've shared with them through the years help with that.   When I look at my child who isn't living my dream, I can also see the real person that I love, that God loves.   Homeschooling can help forge that "attachment" relationship that sees past the surface, that pays attention to the good things, that knows the child is worth that.  

In that way, the pain that homeschooling parents feel is a sign of hope, a sign that our hearts are turned towards our children not just when they please us, but always.  Blessings usually cost.   The blessings of the cross, after all, came from the cross, from the pain of the Son of God and his Blessed Mother.

 Some parents nowadays are not committed enough  to their children to be hurt deeply.  They want them to be status symbols or accessories, if they want them at all.    If the children are disappointing, they don't grieve and pray and suffer.   They move on to something that gratifies them more.  This may be easier, and it may be what society recommends, but it is not what a child in trouble needs.   He needs someone who really cares, even in the dark times.   That caring takes different forms depending on what stage of life the child is in and what he is doing, but the pain we feel is a road of prayer and so it's not meaningless suffering.   It is a way of walking next to our Lord, which will sanctify everything around us and in the end ultimately help our children, even if we don't see all the fruits. 

It seems hard to face that this road of pain might be ours for a long time.  When Aidan was ill, the doctor said that if he made it through the crisis, it would still be a marathon.  It is similar with any dark time in the life of one of our children, whether he has brought on his own troubles or not.   But that marathon goes one step at a time.   Every moment and every day is new.   It doesn't pile on you all at once, except when you envision it doing so.   There is always hope, there are joys, things that are better today than yesterday.

.....when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him -- really rest -- and start the next day as a new life."   -- Blessed Edith Stein

We used to keep a daily graph of Aidan's weight.   When he weighed ten pounds he could have his transplant.   Some days were good and some days were bad, but none were absolutely without hope, and eventually he did get to that point.    The graph became a sort of testament to hope.  There are always a few hopeful things even about the most difficult child, even about the most difficult times in a family.  I am always surprised when I hear about that troubled, difficult child in someone's family doing something like cradling his newborn sibling to sleep, or planning gifts for his mother on Mother's Day.  Maybe the hopeful thing is small, but it's there, like a little plant emerging from a rocky crevasse.

Just a few things to I remind myself:  

God promises to wipe away tears.  He does not promise there will be no tears. 
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
He mourns along with us.    If it's hard for us, who love our children partially and have limited control, how much harder it must be for Him.  I can hardly imagine how hard it must be, except in glimpses by thinking of Him Crucified.

We don't see the whole picture right now.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

But we do know that God planned to put that child in our family for a reason.    Our journey won't look like anyone else's.   But if we keep close to Him it will be an Opus Dei, a work of God.

A beautiful prayer from Blessed Edith Stein:

"O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace. 


  1. Wow! Beautiful and true! Thank you so much!

  2. Dear Willa,
    A post I needed today. We are going through so many struggles some in regards our children some not, thank you for reminding and encouraging me with this. Today has been hard and you helped
    God Bless

  3. Thank you Faith and Gae!

    Gae -- Chari and I were inspired to start this blog partly because as "older moms" with grown children we saw ourselves being in a different stage of life. Almost any homeschooling mom at this stage will be facing a few heartaches and ongoing "issues" that are difficult to deal with. As well as great joys, of course!

    So definitely you are not alone! I will add your intentions to my prayer list. Isn't it a blessing we can pray for each other on opposite sides of the world!


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