"Patience is a virtue," the grizzled speaker drawled, "especially when it comes to child rearing." My husband and I eagerly registered for our church-sponsored parenting classes. With four sons aged Desitin to Clearasil, we figured we could use all the help we can get. When the air-conditioning conked out and the summer sanctuary mimicked tropical rainforest sultry, I wasn't so sure. The combined effects of heat and our lunch break--an "all the way" pizza with a tepid root beer chaser--removed all doubt as my eyelids became anchors.
Peeved over a late start and a class that was now running way overtime, I jerked awake as the podium veteran thumped his Bible open at Galatians 5. "Have you ever considered how the Fruit of the Spirit relates to families and parenting?" A retired pastor with five brothers and three sisters, father of five girls, grandfather of 17, and uncle to millions, our guest speaker had the credentials. With a resume that sterling, I figured he ought to tell me.
Instead, he focused on Ages and Stages.
"Four year olds are inquisitive, explorative, eager to please. They're also mouthy, temperamental, and often raring for a fight." I wondered how long he'd known our four year-old. "When your preschooler throws a fit, give him a time out" the family veteran advised. "Take him to his room and make him lie quietly on his bed five minutes for every year of his life."
"Great" I thought. "Twenty minutes of total destruction, all to himself. How can any four year-old resist that?"
If I can go to my room and lie quietly on my bed five minutes for every year of my life, then I'm putting temper tantrums back into my daily routine. And plenty of ‘em.
The preacher nailed the other end of our personal Ages and Stages spectrum with Adolescents and Teens: "Insecure. Testing boundaries. Think they know it all" he said. "In fact, every adolescent is convinced that once they hit 13, their parents go moron."
"Sound familiar?" whispered my husband, Chris, eyes rolling.
I had a different question. "How long has this guy been hanging out with Daniel and Nathan?" Our sons fit both categories. We once considered shipping our 13 year-old and his 11 year-old sibling to China, but we weren't sure how long Beijing could stand the onslaught. That, and we donn't want to be responsible for an "international incident."
Super Parent commented on eight and nine year-olds, but this guy obviously hadn't met our Sam. Sunny and sparkling, Sam has enough personality wattage to light up the entire West Coast single-handedly. In fact, we've been thinking about taking Sam to the Vatican. I hear they're considering candidates for beatification.
Referring to Galatians 5 again, the speaker camped on Patience.
"It figures" I muttered to Chris. Patience. My personal "thorn in the flesh".
"So what is Patience?" the preacher continued, oblivious to my squirming lack thereof. "Patience means standing firm gracefully under pressure. Enduring with a long and unruffled temper" he explained. "Another word for patience is `long-suffering.'"
"You got that right" I agreed.
Winding down, the seasoned saint cemented his message with "Patience, prayer, persistence." Profound observations. I wondered how long he'd last around our testosterone farm.
"FOUR boys?!" people say, "You've got your hands full". Which is sort of like noticing that rain is wet. They seem unsure about uttering the obvious as an exclamation or a condolence. Most wind up somewhere in between.
Based on some of the reactions we get, we must resemble the Ringling Brothers when we "take the show on the road." Folks see us coming a mile away and clear a path a mile wide. The smart ones, that is.
For example, when our quartet descends on the local library en masse, we send clerks and librarians scurrying for cover. Wal-Mart hides the Starbursts and seals off the Toys aisle. Childless relatives vacillate between cringes and sighs when we visit, always with one eye on the clock. Hunters hide the ammo. Sunday school teachers shoot prayer arrows at world record rates.
"Are you going to try for a girl?" people query. I've had total strangers ask me that. Do I look that desperate? "Well," I reply, "my husband and I have prayed about it. We decided to ask God for a sign. Keep an eye out for purple elephants."
"Patience, prayer, persistence" I chant. And one more thing. It occurs to me that my kids aren't the only ones requiring daily patience infusions in elephantine doses. It stands to reason that the same God who wants me to come to Him for my boys knows exactly what His bigger kids are like, too. And that "thorns in the flesh" may serve to show us just how far short of the mark we fall. I wonder, maybe those thorns exist to poke, prod and prick us into sinking our roots deeper into the rich soil of the vineyard as we desperately draw strength and sustenance from the Vine?
I wonder other things, too. Like, does God chuckle at my thin prayers of, "If You can't make me look younger, then can You at least give my neighbors more wrinkles?" What about moms who sometimes lose their tempers, gobble cold pizza for breakfast and have been known to scrap homework in favor of chocolate chip cookies? Does He understand this kid on the days I feel I've been treading this sod since the earth's crust cooled, getting no where at warp speed? Peering over heaven's portals, what does He think of my pinched prayers and flimsy faith?
"Selfish" the Almighty pronounces. "Stubborn. Myopic. Cranky. Patience-impaired." And more. He pauses and adds with a twinkle, "I'll give her four Saguaro-sized circuses to burn off some character dross."
Maybe thorns, like desperation, are blessings when they pin us to our Help.
How thankful I am that the One who sought me and bought me isn't in a hurry. That His help and His plans are perfect. Soaked in love. Drenched in patience. Dripping with grace.
"Patience is a virtue" Chris echoed en route to our next parenting class. "Why do you think that is?"
"Because it's so rare?" I reply. "By the way, we're late. Can you hurry up?"