Originally published on Practicing Families
Faith and gratitude are maidservants of each other. Without one you lose the other.
For many parents however, the moments of glory do not balance out the fuzziness of parenting, and sometimes the fuzz becomes overwhelming. Fuzzy turns to foggy, foggy turns to fear, and fear to failure. With two kids, two working parents, and little sleep, it’s a miracle from God that our family remains strong and resilient through the hard times. Like the unflattering selfies that never make it to social media, not every interaction with our kids, spouse, or family is a moment of glory. Those moments that don’t make the highlight reel are nonetheless as much the truth as those that do, but in looking at them plainly and for what they are – snapshots of the human condition – we can learn, grow, and strive to improve.
We’ve all heard it said, “We are all just one accident away from total disaster.” And, while this may be true, there is a remedy. The greatest threat to the miracle of making it through the hard times is when we take the good times for granted no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they may feel in the moment. Paying attention is key to this.
Fellow former band mate and Princeton Seminary grad, Aaron Anastasi, writes in his new book, The Voice of Your Dreams, “Focus determines emotional state. That’s why gratitude is such a powerful practice.” Focusing on what is happening in and how you’re contributing to your day-to-day interactions with your spouse, children, family, friends, colleagues, social media followers, etc. brings with it knowledge of how God is working in your life, and there with it that for which you must be grateful, namely, your life – all of it.
I remember when I finally let go of our couch. By that, I mean that for two years I tried to keep our beautiful red custom Pottery Barn sectional in pristine condition (two kids under three, who was I kidding!). The other morning, our oldest – a son, Ketch – knocked over a Yeti travel mug full of coffee right onto my seat. Now, it’s not like the couch hasn’t had its spots and spills, but this one was bad. In the past, I would have not only gotten frustrated but also worked tirelessly to get the stain out. Furthermore, when I asked Ketch what happened and he said “I pushed it onto the couch because I wanted attention,” I realized that he was, in some innocent 3-year-old reasoned way, helping me care less about the couch and more about him. So, instead of getting onto him for it, I told him that I was sorry for not paying attention to him. Instead of spending time cleaning it and explaining to him that cleaning it was a drag, I said, “Let’s go play.”
In part, I believe that the fog of parenting allowed me in that moment to only see what was right in front of me, namely, my son and what he truly needed. Letting go of the couch in that moment of parental frustration allowed me to actually be grateful for the stain. In five years I’ll look at that stain and be reminded of the day I became a better father.
So, be grateful for the stains on your couch. Be grateful for when you’re all there bright-eyed and when you are dead tired. Be grateful when you’re hitting your diet and exercise goals and when you’re not – at least you have goals! Be grateful for every moment you have with your children, no matter how disgusted, annoyed, and fed up you may be. That’s life. Be grateful for it.
You have to practice that sort of gratefulness though. It is tough work but it is righteous work. As philosopher Baruch Spinoza, in 1677, concluded his treatise Ethics:
“Needs must it be hard, since it is so seldom found. How would it be possible, if salvation were ready to our hand, and could without great labour be found, that it should be by almost all men neglected? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”
There is no shortage of sadness, anxiety, and depression in this world and there is no shortage of things about which we could be sad, anxious, or depressed. The suffering of the world is pervasive and heavy. How are we to be present with our children and spouses when there is so much else going on and demanding our attention? Work, hobbies, politics, money, purpose, etc. are all there demanding attention in the middle of the fog of family. How do we manage it all? It’s a lot.
Parenting is complicated and messy. Who we are is not the selfies we choose vs. the ones we don’t. Who we are is what we practice. And, what we practice, we perfect, and what we perfect, we give to our children. And, from our children to their children, and on and on. It is the most tangible way of living forever.