I was chatting to a friend the other day who was talking about the experience of living in isolation with his wife and three children. He jokingly quipped: “I feel like I am in an episode of Outnumbered!” This reminded me of a funny story I had read.
A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three-year-old girl in her trolley. As they passed the cookie section, the little girl asked for cookies and her mother told her no. The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Monica, we just have half of the aisles left to go through; don’t be upset. It won’t be long.” Soon they came to the candy aisle, and the little girl began to shout for candy. And when told she couldn’t have any, began to cry. The mother said, “There, there, Monica, don’t cry – only two more aisles to go, and then we’ll be checking out.” When they got to the check-out stand, the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there’d be no gum purchased. The mother patiently said, “Monica, we’ll be through this checkout stand in five minutes and then you can go home and have a nice nap.” The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Monica,” he began. Whereupon the mother said, “I’m Monica… my little girl’s name is Tammy.” (Author unknown)
There is no doubt that this time of lockdown can be challenging for many households. We don’t spend this much time together in such a confined space and for such a long period of time. For some of us, the novelty may have worn off!! It is almost like we have to learn how to be family again!
We also may have had to learn the virtue of patience all over again. Clothes lying where they shouldn’t be, arguments over what cartoon to watch next, dirty dishes that should have been washed a long time ago, the dishwasher not emptied, who will change the nappy next, grumpiness, tiredness, a slow Wi-fi and so much more. Add into the mix the sense of the unknown, the fear of contracting the virus and the not knowing when we will get back to some normality again. All this can make our homes pretty stressful places to be!
St Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (Col 3:12)
Look at those characteristics again. For me, these are great characteristics to be aspiring to within our family homes. But we are asked to “clothe” ourselves – in other words, wear them. We take pride in what we wear and our choice of clothes often reflects something of our identity. Clothes can say something about us. And they tell other people something about us. So I am asked to dress myself in these characteristics each day.
And what I have noticed most at home is that very often my lack of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience is not because of what someone else has done. Rather, there is something in me that needs to change. And this leads to my point.
These next weeks in our homes – or even if we are only in contact with others via phone or Zoom – presents us with a real opportunity to practice and “wear” these qualities. To notice in ourselves why we react the way we do. To be aware of recurring situations that lead us to react in ways that we later regret. Are there emotions that we find hard to deal with? Are there longstanding conflicts that are resurfacing which need to be faced? How can we be more understanding, compassionate and patient with our loved ones instead of reacting in the same negative ways all the time?
And this is what Lent is all about! God calls us to change our hearts, minds and lives so as to live in the way that God knows will bring us wholeness and life, that can lead to healing in our families, our relationships and our marriages and will prepare us to celebrate the true meaning of Easter – love.
A post on Twitter by Andy Crouch read: “I honestly hadn’t planned on giving up this much for Lent.” Actually, if we follow St Paul’s advice, this could be the best Lent we will ever observe.