“Dad! Isaac peed on the dog’s bed!”
“Dad! Lily punched me!”
“Dad! Tell Sarah to stop bothering me!”
“Dad, can you co-sign on my student loans (again)?”
I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about each of these real life situations.
As the father of six children, ages five to twenty-three, I can fully attest to the fact that parenting is not a vocation for the faint of heart. Sometimes it is the single most rewarding source of pure joy that I’ve experienced. Sometimes it makes me want to put in a few extra hours at the office just to have some peace and quiet. More often than not, I feel wholly inadequate for the task of guiding a bunch of little humans into productive members of society; and even less qualified for helping them become saints.
I want to provide a safe, stable home for my children. I want to model for them what a good, loving father is like. I want them to know and see the love I have for their mother. I want to instill good moral virtues in them so they will know, love, and serve God and their fellow man. Unfortunately, I’m all too human and too many times I’ve reacted to the crisis at hand by loosing my patience. Sometimes it’s just easier to take a shortcut to peace and quiet by imposing my will than taking the time to listen and respond with grace and love. God promises to give us the grace we need to be holy, but we must learn how to yield to that grace.
In the year or so since our move from Florida to Indiana life has been hectic. Our kids have had to adapt to a new school, new friends, and a new climate. The winter months here are certainly different than “winter” in Florida, and being confined to the house starts to wear on everyone’s nerves.
We recently sat our little ones down and talked about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) We asked them if they thought those words described our family, and they agreed that often times they did not. We asked them if they wanted more of these fruits in our home and we all agreed that we did. We explained that when we see a lack of love, joy, or peace that we need to stop and ask, “Where is the Holy Spirit?” If those fruits are missing then we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to be present with us.
We’ve taken to praying each night, not just rattling off Our Fathers or Hail Marys, but taking a few minutes to invite the Holy Spirit to be with us. When one of our children starts to get upset, we try to intervene right away by calmly reminding them about the fruit of the Spirit.
Parenting with grace, like any spiritual discipline is hard. It takes much more effort than reacting out of anger, frustration, or fatigue. I’m not perfect and I still struggle with taking the easy way, but I have to admit the difference is tangible when I stop and work with God’s grace. It turns out that when we work with the Holy Spirit we really do see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and the lives of our children. I pray that I can keep getting better at recognizing the work of the Spirit and yielding to his direction.