Before Assisting Others

“Why is it called Aslan’s Table?” asked Lucy presently. “It is set here by his bidding,” said the girl. “But how does the food keep?” asked the practical Eustace. “It is eaten, and renewed every day,” said the girl. “This you will see.”-Chronicles of Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We were on a flight last week coming home from holiday festivities in Michigan. The flight attendants did their usual spiel about not smoking on the plane, staying buckled and all sorts of helpful hints most of us have heard a million times before. But my ears perked up when she talked about what to do with children if there were to be an emergency. For the first time we were travelling with 4.

This being outnumbered 2 to 1 made me feel more vulnerable than normal. If there was a crash who would my husband and I reach for, how would we help them all get those inflatable life vests on in time? The flight attendant got to the part where they promise that oxygen masks will magically be deployed from the celling. I have never seen this happen for myself. I guess we just go on blind faith that they’re telling the truth. Then I heard her with new ears when she said, “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

In a real emergency, I’m presumably going to remember this one-sided conversation. I’m going to calmly sit (buckled) in my seat and wait patiently for supposed masks to drop from the celling. Then I will selfishly put mine on first while my child sits next to me gasping for air. Not likely. I’m pretty sure my nutty mom instincts would kick in and I would not only use mine, but steal the mask from the guy sitting next to me to make sure my kid has enough air. I’d probably yank down every mask in the vicinity, depriving a whole row of fellow passengers oxygen and pass out in the process. This securing of our own masks first business is counterintuitive to mothers.

Also, I’m terrible in emergencies.

The morning after we got home and the mornings since, my kids have woken up in the 4 o’clock range. Even if I could get them to go back to sleep for an hour or so, their little bodies are still on the Eastern Time Zone, and by bodies I mean bowels. Twice this week I’ve found my 2 year old in various states of undress at 4:30 am using the bathroom alone, which is nearly always disastrous. Each morning I’m jolted awake. Blurry eyed, I lurch through each day, putting out fire after fire until they collapse in bed for the night. I feel rushed and snappy and un-centered. I can’t seem to catch up. I can’t seem to catch my breath. I have not secured my own oxygen mask and I’m attempting to assist others.

Well meaning friends have said I need a little ‘me’ time. I need a glass of wine and some Honey Boo Boo. Maybe get my nails done or stare off into space for a couple of hours. True story: once when my firefighter husband was working a 72-hour shift I laid the kids in bed and sat down on the couch. I stared at the celling for what I thought was a minute or two thinking no thoughts making no plans. Just staring. I was so burnt out from the “whyyy mommm’s” and the “he looked at me’s” and the “I accidentally’s…” that I literally just stared at the celling. By the time I thought about 5-10 minutes had passed I looked at my watch. An hour and 15 minutes had gone by.

There is a deep and merciless exhaustion that accompanies parenting that makes one feel like no amount of rest will be sufficient. The truth is, no amount of staring at the paint on a celling or garbage T.V or booze or distractions can give us true rest. I don’t know very much but this much I know: God and God alone grants true soul rest.

Back in my childless days when I felt burnt out I would find some alone time to commune with God. I would sip my tea and read my Bible. I would journal. I would sometimes cry. I would be quiet and listen.

This used to be my primary mode of getting close with God. So you can imagine my dismay when I had kids and could not enter into God’s presence because it was never Quiet. So like millions of mothers before me, I have tried and failed and learned how to commune with God despite the chaos. I’m on a path to finding God in the noise. Instead of trying to get to Him by removing myself from the chaos I’m learning how to invite Him in. I’m not very good at it yet, since I’m just now at the point of seeing that it may be possible.

I have a (good or bad) habit of reading several books at a time. I don’t know why I do this as it can be very frustrating when I’m trying to relay something great I have read to another person and can’t for the life of me remember which book it came from. But then there are times when words and thoughts and ideas from several books merge to form a similar theme and teach me something wonderful.

Here is what I have been reading/ re-reading lately.

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In their own way, all of these books put an emphasis on embracing the duties of this life to commune with God; infusing the commonplace with His presence. In essence they describe spiritual breathing or, I’m coming to realize, what Jesus meant by abiding.

Abiding has always seemed to me to fall under the category of Things That God Calls Us To Do But We Will Never Really Be Able To Do.

Like, “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

Or, “Pray without ceasing” 1Thessalonians 5:17

“Abide in Me and I will abide in you.” John 15:4

These verses ring of the impossible.

This is why I love the Jesus Calling devotional. It’s a daily reminder to turn to God in everything. It encourages a life based on deep dependence on God. If you’re hurting, ask God for help, if you’re joyful, rejoice with Him; acknowledge His presence in all things. Christianity gets boiled down to a simple, daily one on one conversation.

My copy of The Quotidian Mysteries (in case you had to look up ‘Quotidian’ too it means ‘commonplace/ordinary’) is so repeatedly underlined, I don’t dare give you more than one quote, “I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and the relentless daily duties that can consume the self.”

Ok, I thought I could stop, I can’t. One more, “Where people need assistance with the most basic tasks- breathing, eating, urinating, bathing- the holiness of ordinary acts is made most manifest. It is there at one extreme of human vulnerability, that we come to realize that all we customarily take for granted is truly a gift from God. The Christian faith also asks us to acknowledge that to shortchange these quotidian gifts is to reject God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.”

Alright, and this last one doesn’t count, because she is technically quoting another author,

“Whatever you do repeatedly, has the power to shape you.”

Here’s what Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, says in Practicing the Presence of God,

“The souls eyes must be kept on God particularly when something is being done in the outside world.” And later,

“What could please God more than for us to leave the cares of the world temporarily in order to worship Him in our spirits? These momentary retreats serve to free us from our selfishness, which can only exist in the world.”

I also have a monastic cookbook with these cute little inspirational monk quotes on each recipe. From the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict (i.e. quote from my cookbook), “Idleness is an enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and at other times in sacred reading. For they are truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands, as did our fathers and the apostles.”

The monastic way of life demands that monks do all kinds of kitchen duties and manual labor since monasteries are mostly self-supporting. Monks scrape dried cheerios (or the equivalent) off the floor. They scrub toilets. They pay bills. They do repetitive, boring, backbreaking work. But they invite God into it. They infuse the mundane with the Divine.

I feel this is as good a time as any to tell you, I sort of love monks.

There is a way to breathe God. There is a way to be close to God in all moments of the day. There is a way to allow ourselves to be renewed day-by-day, hour by hour moment-by-moment. There is a way to abide. That’s where I am right now. I realize I need to secure my own oxygen mask before I can assist anyone else in breathing. I see that it can be possible but can’t imagine how I’ll get there. I welcome your comments and thoughts both here on this blog and in person about your perception of abiding. You can also tell me books you’ve read that have inspired you, if you can remember what they are.

One thought on “Before Assisting Others

  1. Liz Cervantes says:

    I’ve been repeating to my self the verse, John 15:4 “Abide in me and I will abide in you.” for the last couple of days and almost every time I say it I catch myself sighing of exhaustion and saying ,”How do I do that?”
    I also admire Monks for their lifestyle. If they can bring God into everything, I know I can, And I know it is very much possible.

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