So here we were at Cheesecake Factory. If you notice the center bottom edge of the photo, that is a big puddle of passion tea on the table, knocked over by my cute little pumpkin. He likes messes. He lives to make messes. But that is another story.
Life has been more than a bit challenging lately around our home, and as a result, I've been really examining what makes me upset and why. People often comment that I must be so PATIENT to have all these kids, or that they could never do that, they are too IMPATIENT. And yes, I think that I can say that I am more patient that the average person, at least in some ways. Part of that comes from really believing in the importance of grace and understanding and accepting people, in spite of their failures. But part of that is just being willing to put someone else before myself, even when it does NOT feel good and is not what I really want to do or have the natural impulse to do. I have learned, or earned, patience, by lots and lots of opportunities to feel the burn and push through it to the other side of love and grace.
What I have figured out is that no matter what is going on, if I am tired, if I am hormonal, if I am hungry, if I am busy, if I am worried, if I am whatever, you can fill in the blank, the only reason I ever get impatient is when I AM NOT GETTING WHAT I WANT. My kids interrupt me: I wanted to be left alone. My kids are loud: I wanted quiet. My baby wakes up: I wanted him to SLEEP so I could do whatever I wanted to do. My kids need something for school at the last minute: I didn't want to have to get up and go to WalMart or spend more money and I wanted to watch TV and have a "nobody needs anything from me evening" FOR ONCE. The real reason underlying every single time I feel annoyed and impatient, and I sort of imagine why you do too, is that whatever you and I think you and I want or need is not happening and that really sets us off.
I am certain that sometimes what I want is legitimate and valid and reasonable. But this does not let me off the hook of being kind or loving. I am, after all, the grown up. I am the mommy. I am supposed to know how to act and how to lay down my life for another, after all this time. But selfishness dies hard. It does not want to let go, completely. This flesh clings to self-service and self-satisfaction, kind of like my baby clings to the star burst fruit chew he discovered in the couch this morning, and was highly upset that I should think he shouldn't be eating it, paper and all, and gently but completely removed it from his tight little fist and clamped mouth.
I remember when I was a much younger mother, driving down the highway with at least four or five kids in the back of the van, asking God to please, please help me learn how to be patient. It had been a rough morning. I thought, they were all my kids, after all. I had given birth to them, brought them into this world, and I desperately wanted something better than the shrieking, freaking out hag who appeared unexpectedly, albeit at rare times, but scared everyone involved, myself included. But it wasn't the witch who appeared every once in a while that was the genuine problem. It was the frustrated attitude that in general prevailed throughout my days and nights that was the real issue I wanted help with.
And as I prayed, one of the kids spilled something in the van, another informed me that they forgot the library books, and another asked how long till we were done with our errands (we hadn't even made it to the first one yet) and something in me just snapped. Into place, I mean. I felt this huge surge of anger and frustration and incredulous-ness, and in that moment, I realized that God was answering my prayer for patience. In His wit and wisdom, He was giving me the chance to...practice.
I suddenly realized that this was going to be learned by painful work. Practice. Lots and lots of it. That is what I did not want to do, and though it is SO MUCH easier now, because of so much practice, it is still a little bit painful. It hurts to be patient, because we have to DIE TO SELF in order to put someone else first. And that is what patience is: it is stopping all those thoughts and emotions dead still, and thinking about the other person - what they are doing, saying, feeling, and needing, at the same moment seeing ourselves clearly, too, really being honest about what I really wanted in the situation and am losing at this very moment, and then doing the right thing - being like God for them. We choose to be THERE for them, to give them the understanding and acceptance they need, the love and grace and tenderness they crave, the forgiveness for being a burden and gladly taking their burden on our own shoulders and carrying it. This all has to happen in an instant. Because the moment when we choose to love comes in these fleeting seconds before we open our mouths.
Ouch. It is hard. I am so glad we do not do this in our strength or wisdom.
I am the first to admit that this will take much failing to get right. It takes trying, failing, confessing, seeking the Lord, quoting whatever verses you can muster up for your heart, to show you the way in the dark, and listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, whispering calmness to us when we are about to blow up. It is refusing to be selfish. It is considering another as more important than ourselves.
When we think we cannot survive one more sleepless night with a restless, teething baby, or one more spill at the table, realize that actually, yes, we can. We just have to want to do the hard work of being nice, as one of my friends likes to say. It is truly hard work at first. But the sweet rewards are that it comes easier the more we do it as a lifestyle. And we experience peace. And we can have joy after all. And best of all, we have children who know they are wanted, welcomed, and loved for who they are and that they are not a bother. Even if they do spill your favorite tea at your favorite restaurant.