Fire, book, notebook, pencil…
It’s almost everything I want out of Advent.
I also want corporate worship, and my favorite of all is our Taize service.
I’ve attended only twice, but you’d think it was much more, the way I cherish it. My memories hold the music, the silence, the candles, and the contemplation. And, in one memory, I see the glow of a senior citizen I admired for years, surrounded by candlelight, wiping his nose with a hanky as he mouthed a fervent prayer. Oh, I treasure this night and longed to be there again this year.
I had to miss the service. It was exactly where I wanted to be, yet not where I needed to be.
At the same time, a hot-shot, superstar social worker and behavioral specialist was speaking locally about autism and bullying. Students on the spectrum are more susceptible to bullying than students with any other disability. And some are also prone to becoming bullies (“bully-victims”) because they may mimic the behavior. So, it was kind of a big deal for me to be there.
I’m guessing you know what that feels like too. This happens to all of us, parents or not – this wishing we could be two places at once. And it definitely happens a lot during the holidays.
For a parent, the moment occurs when we must choose between the children’s wants or needs and our own, and it’s a tricky thing to know the when and how of this.
In all this talk of self-care and preventing our own burnout, which ultimately hurts our children, how do we discern when to say yes and when to say no?
How do we know when it’s the right time to choose them and the right time to choose us?
This week’s decision was only easy because it involved Henry’s safety. I don’t pretend to know the answers for every occasion in every family. Further, I might need to say yes today, yet no to the very same thing tomorrow or next week. I do know, however, what values I consider when making decisions. Perhaps this list will help you sort through your own.
Henry’s physical safety and emotional welfare. Will this help him stay safe, either now or in the future?
Henry’s spiritual formation. Does this help us shepherd his heart?
Our needs. Do either of these options meet a need for Henry or me?
Henry’s wants. Is his desire in this moment also important for one of the values above?
To put a different spin on it, let’s pretend there was no superstar speaker. Let’s say Henry is in a robotics club and his team had an exhibition night for the parents on the same night as the Taize service. Let’s say he pleaded with me to be there – not just Dad but Mom too. In this case, I need to ask myself these questions:
Will my absence leave a lasting impression on him?
Has missing his special events become a pattern for me or is this a one-time thing?
Has he been particularly demanding of my attention lately? If so, is this an indicator of something else?
How important is this church service to my own spiritual formation at this point in time?
These answers can change from day to day, obviously. While most of us would say, “Hands down! I’m going to be with my child!” we know there could be situations in which tending to our own souls would outweigh the robotics night.
In these sticky situations, perhaps it is best to already have the parameters mapped out in our minds, like my 4 bullet points above. What do you think yours may be?
Might I suggest the following verse as a guide?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
I know my decision this time was based on justice for my son, but the next might simply be kindness toward him. It might be humility. It might even be kindness for myself.
The next time you’re faced with the desire to be in two places simultaneously, how might your decision be wrapped in justice, kindness, and humility?