When I was a kid, we had one spoon in our silverware drawer that didn’t match the others. It had scrollwork on its handle, and even though it was thinner and clearly not as good quality as the rest, I wanted that spoon. And whether or not I expressed it aloud, I resented it when one of my sisters got it instead.
It was a sentiment completely contrary to the values my parents were trying to instill in us, but what can I say? I was a kid. Kids, I can now say from experience, are remarkably impervious to the application of values to their own lives.
When I was newly married, we had a set of four pasta bowls with spices painted inside them. I liked all the spices except cayenne, and even though it made absolutely no difference whatsoever, I made all manner of grumpy faces deep inside my head, where they didn’t show, every time I had to use the “cayenne” bowl.
Clearly, it’s not only kids who can be remarkably impervious to applying theoretical values to their own lives.
I was thinking about this last night as I was pulling out those bowls to set the table for dinner. We’ve expanded the collection to accommodate our family of six. On a “date,” Alex and I each painted bowls at a pottery place. It goes without saying that he gets to eat from the superhero bowl he painted, and frankly I’d like to eat from the one I painted. But Nicholas likes it, so Nicholas always gets it. And I don’t gnash my teeth about it, as I once would. I just shrug and set it at his place and go on. I have much more important things on which to expend my emotional energy.
I had terrific parents who instilled great values in me and a vibrant faith community to lift me up, and yet it took being a parent to make all those things come together.
When I found out I was expecting Alex, a friend sent me a card telling me, in essence, that I would learn to pray in a whole new way. That certainly has been true, although not in the way I envisioned when I first read it. Every moment is focused vertically now; in the back of my mind I’m constantly evaluating the example I’m setting, the circumstances, the painful need to put someone else’s wants ahead of mine, and so on in terms of the authentic practice and passing on of the faith.
I have never been so aware of my own failings as I have since I began to approach life this way, and it has changed the way I view faith. I have a friend who has expressed that faith ought to be a comfort. But I have come to believe quite passionately that a faith that only comforts you is useless, and a sure way to ensure it never has any validity in real life. If we’re not constantly being challenged, what’s the point? Only when we’re challenged do we learn. Grow. Become better people.
I get frustrated by my children’s apparent inability to connect the lessons about loving Jesus (an inherently non-threatening concept because it’s irrelevant to a concrete-thinking child) with loving their neighbor sibling. Yet I didn’t get it at their age, either. My whole third book is about teaching kids (and adults!) to see how those nebulous, theoretical concepts connect with the events of their everyday.
It still doesn’t work very well in my house, though. I just have to trust that life will bring them the experiences they need to make it happen. In the meantime, my job is to get the foundations laid.
Addendum: obligatory First Day Of School photos: