Some days, as a parent, I just get so frustrated, so irritated, so impatient that it literally takes all I have not to yell at my kids. They usually aren’t doing anything wrong, either – just normal behavior that pushes my buttons.
Those are the days that remind me just how much I still need to grow in virtue and holiness.
Are my charity and compassion really so small that I can’t respond with a kind word and a helping hand when my toddler is whining for help wiping his nose because he’s sick and congested? It’s not loving, it’s not just, to snap at him every time just because I can’t handle the sound that he’s making because of how miserable he’s feeling – all it does is add to his sadness and upset by pushing him away from what should be his source of comfort and gentle love.
Are my temperance and self-control really so stunted that I can’t push back a meal or miss a little sleep because my boys need me for something that they can’t handle on their own? Can I not set aside my physical needs temporarily in order to take care of these little people who are depending on me for so much, and who in general have to bend to my schedule and my desires time and time again?
Is my joy so fleeting and shallow that the small irritants and storm clouds of everyday life are sufficient to wipe away my smile and bring a harsh edge to my voice? Am I really so far from the Root of happiness and peace that every small problem raises my temper or deadens my laughter?
Is my patience so short that I can’t deal with a toddler’s incessant questions or a baby’s irrational tears? How can I hope to teach them to love people well if I can’t love them well for who they are through their normal developmental needs?
And the hard answer to hear is yes, my virtues are that weak and undernourished, that immature and small. Sure, some days we have together are beautiful and by God’s grace I am living well in those moments, but in general – when I am tired, when someone is sick, when work is stressful, when Paul and I are having trouble communicating well, when I’m worried about someone I love – in general, in the normal stressors of life, my virtues aren’t strong enough to keep my feet in the path of holiness. At any rate, they still need the help of massive amounts of willpower and even more massive amounts of prayer!
My solace in those moments is knowing that the pain of striving towards virtue, the strain of denying my inclinations time and time again, the practice of coming back to God for mercy and grace hour after hour, will all result in an increase of virtue, in the same way that the aches and pains of exercise lead to greater strength. God wants us to grow in holiness, so His grace is extended for us for this purpose without stint or reservation – all we have to do is seek it and cooperate with it instead of pushing it away to pursue our own pleasures. It’s just a lot easier to say it that way than to actually live it out…