...he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. -- Mark 16:9b
I felt as if I had a demon in me last week. A demon of anger, which made me want to scream and throttle someone.
My children had not done all the things they were supposed to do before leaving for school, and yet they had gotten "plugged in" and so when it was time to go, they were scrambling to get their stuff together. And then, before we had gone very far, we had to turn around and go back home because one of them had forgotten an assignment. I had a tight schedule to keep that morning: the dog to take to the groomers after taking the kids to school, and a service person coming to my house shortly after that. I hate being late, and so I lectured them all the way to school about being responsible, and doing what they are supposed to do before they do what they want to do. "You guys pay too much attention to playing video games. You don't do your chores. You don't do your schoolwork. You don't care about anything that has to be done." When we got to school, I realized that I had forgotten the dog at home!
When I got back home, I started to tackle the housework. I attempted to make some headway into my youngest son's room, only to be overwhelmed with one mess after another. When I found that he had wet his bed again, and hadn't told me, and this less than 24 hours after cleaning his sheets for the same reason, I was so frustrated I moved on to my middle son's room. That morning, he had told me that he had no clean school shirts to wear. So I went to gather up all of his dirty clothes. Under a few dirty clothes on the closet floor, I found a pile of clean and folded clothes. This was not the first time I have found clean and folded clothes mixed in with the dirty clothes. I screamed in frustration, and left his room.
I sat down in my favorite chair in a dark cloud of anger and frustration. Aaargh! I groaned, with my head in my hands and literally pulled on my hair. Dear God, how can I teach my kids to do what they are supposed to do?
What a bad day -- and it wasn't even 10 am! By this time, I was wondering why the service person hadn't come yet. When I called him, he said I had gotten the date wrong -- he was coming tomorrow. I greeted this news with resignation. It was merely one more thing to go wrong. I thought about escaping to some more pleasant place, some place where I could have a cup of tea, and read my book. This was very appealing. But I still had work to do.
It suddenly dawned on me that I was doing just what I had lectured my kids against doing. My kids escape from their school work and chores by playing video games. I escape by going to a cafe and reading a good book. And so the house gets messier and messier, and my list of Things to Do gets longer and longer. And I forget things. Not much different when you think about it.
Last week I wrote in my blog, Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not see the log in your own? "Never were truer words spoken." I wrote. Spoken to me, anyway. How could I yell at my children for "thinking only about what they want to do and not what they have to do"? I too do this way too much. Hadn't I been reading a devotional that morning, instead of getting the dog on the leash, and making sure they were ready? On the way to school, I had been lecturing them for getting C's in their classes. I would get a few C's, if not D's, if I was graded on my work.
I was deep in remorse, recalling my angry words to my children, seeing all around me my own faults. What a mess I was in, both within and without. I heard my advice to my children: Get your work done first, then you can have fun. We all needed to buckle down and get our work done first, or life would get really messy.
So, I vacuumed and dusted, and started another load of laundry. As I worked, I thought about my frustration with the kids, and the dark hole I had just been in. Even though it wasn't a pretty sight, I was glad that I saw myself in my frustration with the kids. Maybe I could speak to my children better having this new understanding. I didn't like yelling at my children. Nobody likes being yelled at. I don't think it's very effective either. I never have responded very positively to those who yell at me. Besides, I knew all too well what it was like to have many things to do while wanting to do so many other things. It is hard to find the right balance between work and play. It's not easy for anyone. I felt I understood my children better, and understood what they needed better. And I was grateful for that insight. When I spoke to them after school about the things they needed to do, I spoke with love and empathy. Thanks be to God.
I was reading this morning in "Revelations of Divine Love", written in the 14th century by Julian of Norwich. In the Thirteenth Revelation, Julian asks about sin. "I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well." She hears Jesus respond, "It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved. Then were it a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blameth not me for sin." (55, 57) And she learned that sin is necessary and must be known so that we learn what God needs us to learn: and that is so that we accept his love and return his love. She writes that sin has no material substance except in the pain it causes, "...for it purgeth, and maketh us to know ourselves and ask mercy." If we can face that pain that comes from our sin, then we may change our heart, and become more loving. And in that we find our reward. Truly.
Also in the readings this last week, was the familiar Psalm 23, whose middle verse spoke volumes to me: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff -- they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
And then, as I ran errands around town, I listened to the next lecture on "Philosophy and Religion," which happened to be about the medieval concept of grace. St. Augustine formulated the theology of grace as that which heals us from our corrupted nature. "Grace does this inwardly. God acts as an inner teacher by revealing himself. ... Grace helps us along by giving us the ability to love with our whole heart." (Lecture 14, Professor Phillip Cary, The Teaching Company) I had never thought of grace in this way. I guess I always thought of grace as God's forgiveness, not as his instruction. But I can see now that this is one and the same. He instructs us because he loves us and already forgives us.
Dear God, thank you for this lesson. So many of my demons come from within me. Please help me to recognize that when I am angry, I need to first look in the mirror for answers. Love always, Pam