My sacred place for prayer is at the altar rail during communion. For some reason, that very brief moment each week draws me in, sharpens my focus and helps me feel the power of prayer. As I kneel there waiting for the bread and wine I feel the presence of something holy. In that space and time I am able to pray with absolute certainty that Someone is listening and my prayer is not in vain. My busy mind is quieted. My anxiety is relieved. I lay it (whatever the "it" of the week happens to be) all down at the altar and come away feeling unburdened.
For as long as I can remember, my most fervent and regular prayer at the alter each week has been for the gift of patience. As we go through the confession of sins each week I generally end up feeling like I didn't do my best in that arena. I am reminded that I am often in a hurry. I roll my eyes when the old lady at the checkout counter whips out her checkbook instead of swiping her credit card. I let out heavy sighs when my kids ask too many "Why?" questions, or take too long putting on their shoes. I snap at my husband if his request or tone of voice doesn't feel right. I spend so much time planning and looking forward that I often forget to stop and see the beauty of NOW.
And so each week, for YEARS, I have said a quiet prayer at the altar. Please God. Bless me with the gift of patience.
And for years I have been frustrated. Impatient. Waiting for the answer to this prayer.
Finally, after a few steady years of this weekly plea, I heard a joke about patience that struck me like a bolt of lightening. The gist of it was that if you keep praying for patience, it doesn't necessarily mean that God will flip a switch and grant you the patience of a saint. More than likely, He will just give you lots of opportunity to practice.
And so this small wake-up call helped me gradually shift my focus from waiting for patience to fall from the sky to being deliberate in practicing patience when the opportunity presented itself.
Fast forward a few years more and my loveable, feisty, opposite-of-his-mellow-sister, son was born. From day one I knew this kid was different. My daughter happily slept for hours in her cradle right after she was born. For days my son refused to sleep anywhere other than nestled snugly on someone's chest. The clever drawer of toys in the kitchen that kept my daughter entertained as a toddler while I cooked every night barely got a second glance from my son. He was off, around the corner pulling things off of shelves in the living room as soon as I turned my back to stir the sauce on the stove. We never had crayon on the walls until he arrived. I've lost count on how many things he has thrown on the floor and broken (accidentally and/or on purpose). The words "No" or "Stop" are very often meaningless to him.
You get the picture. This one is giving us a run for our money. Happy? Yes. Loveable? Yes. Obnoxiously adorable with his blue eyes and constant barrage of why why why questions? Absolutely. But he is also a challenge. He has made me doubt every maternal instinct and parenting strategy at one point or another. I've researched food allergies, autism, combative behavior, positive parenting and boarding schools (kidding!) in an attempt to understand and tame his erratic, energetic, defiant, rambunctious behavior. He IS my lesson in patience.
With my son I have learned that the "why" questions must be answered. I've learned to breathe deep and take our time each morning as he gets himself into the car at a snail's pace. I have learned that eventually kids do stop kicking and pulling hair and the hair-raising screaming fits will slowly subside. I've come to understand that some kids just wake up at 6am no matter what time they go to bed, and if you try to rush a child, or do something for them that they want to do themselves, it's going to end badly.
These lessons have been slow and painful in coming. But I had an epiphany at the grocery store the other day. My son decided he was done with grocery shopping. So, in his typical, subtle way, he let me know he was ready to go by starting a crying/screaming fit. I looked at my half-full cart and considered my options. 1. Leave the store. 2. Attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with my 3-year old. 3. Ignore and carry on.
Option 1 meant we would have no groceries for dinner, AND I would need to return to the store again at some point to finish my shopping. Experience has shown that option 2 is rarely successful. Negotiating, yelling, or rationalizing with this kid is generally futile. He needs to win. Period. And so I went with option 3 and went about my business. He screamed, I shopped. He kicked, I stepped away to grab a box of cereal. He cried, I checked my list for any forgotten items. I think people might have stared. Maybe they gave me a dirty look, or wondered aloud to their friends why this horrible mother couldn't control this raging lunatic of a child. AND I DIDN'T CARE!!
Suddenly it struck me. I had arrived. I had come to grips and found some peace with my child and my parenting. I wasn't boiling with anger, racing to get out of the store or offering chocolate ice cream bribes to my kid. I just carried on. Right there in the grocery store, with my son in the midst of a medium-sized meltdown, I found the answer to my prayer. I wasn't expecting it to be disguised in the form of a moody toddler, but I'll take it.