It's no secret that God's ways are far above our understanding -- that he governs all according to his will, whether we approve or not, and regardless of whether or not we understand. And so when we have need of a given virtue, he gives us circumstances that enable us to develop it. Be it patience, courage, faith, fortitude, generosity, humility, or obedience, he provides for our every need!
I remember when my oldest son was a toddler, just developing a sense of his own will, and the realization struck me for the first time: this is not an exercise in biology and sociology. This is a vocation -- a calling -- that demands that I exercise every virtue, even those I lack. I remember being so frustrated with my little boy, thinking that if he would just listen to me and do what I said, then he would be protected by my experience and perspective. He wouldn't get hurt, he wouldn't have to sit in time-out, he wouldn't spill his juice on the rug...and on the list goes. And then, in the tender compassion of our God, dawn from on high broke upon me. How much pain, how much frustration, how much damage to the trust and affections of the people I love could I have avoided by simply listening and obeying the will of my heavenly father? To bridle my tongue, to be diligent, to be obedient, to be temperate, to be generous, or to be patient, in so many instances would have been my saving grace.
Several years and several children later, I find that my most frustrating moments with my children are those in which they do the very things I continue to struggle with. Sometimes I can justify "do as I say, not as I do," because there are certain things that fall under a mother's authority that are not appropriate for them to repeat (i.e., correcting and disciplining each other). But sometimes...
Sometimes, my children are rude and unkind. But how often do I raise my voice? How often am I abrupt with them, failing to slow down and direct them on their level with love and gentleness?
Sometimes, my children are impatient. They want what they want, and they react with a mountain when they are irritated by a molehill. But how often do I snap at one of them when he asks repeatedly for something, or asks for something that I have just given the other four? How often is a shouted-at-the-top-of-his-lungs rendition of "Slow Ride" just the final straw that gets somebody (or everybody) sent up to bed?
Sometimes, my children are sloppy with chores, or simply don't do them. But how often do I avoid responsibilities, procrastinate, or do a "quick job, for now" and fail to give my work the attention it deserves?
Sometimes, my children are critical and nitpicky with each other, quick to tattle on each other or simply retaliate for whatever slight they feel. But how often am I critical of them, or fail to praise them when they are helpful or kind or generous?
Sometimes, my children battle to avoid responsibility for their words and actions -- "He did it first!" "But he called me ..... " But how often do I scramble frantically to justify myself when I am wrong, or argue for the sake of being right?
Truth be told, I am flawed and sinful, and my children tend to mirror my behavior and attitudes, whether good or bad. So my prayer is that I have humility enough to recognize and admit when I am wrong, and to let my children see me when I seek forgiveness, reconciliation, and greater virtue. I pray that they will see, when they are older and look back, that I am not who I was when the first stick turned blue. And I pray most of all that they will grow into men whose lives are devoted to the pursuit of virtue, strength, and integrity, because they have seen in me the way they should go.