My summer with the Salonen
zoo kids has come to an end. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am so grateful that I have been able to stay home with our children during their most tender years. But I’m not quite ready to be a martyr for the cause. And yet, some days, being home with five lively children in the summertime feels a little bit like that. Much as I enjoyed the more relaxed schedule, I’m relieved it’s over, and happy to hand them off to other qualified adults through part of the day. The distance is needed both ways. I’m simply not capable of providing for every need of our children. And I’m grateful for the schools that are dedicated to that cause while I continue to provide for many other needs — physical, emotional and spiritual. With all that on my plate, I’ve still got my work cut out for me, but now I can take it in smaller and less intense increments. **sigh of relief** It’s a much healthier existence for the most part right now, in other words.
Throughout the summer, during the most intense moments, I began pondering something that I’m just now, in the more quiet spaces, able to articulate. I have come to understand more fully that through being parents, we come closer to sanctification.
Bear with me, because some of you may well be scratching your heads about now. Say what? First, a definition of the word sanctification: “refers to the act or process of making sacred or setting apart as special. To sanctify is literally ‘to set apart for special use or purpose,’ figuratively ‘to make holy or sacred.’ ” The Wikipedia definition I’m using includes the condition that, from a Catholic perspective, holiness includes suffering. “It is not that pleasure were evil in itself, but that suffering purifies one’s love of God.”
Perhaps now it’s becoming clearer where I’m heading with this. Parenting is a journey that encompasses a lot of suffering. It might start in infanthood as we try to sit out a night of raw nerves while our toddler screams out for his no-longer-available pacifier (see my friend Marie’s recent account of this on Murray’s Momma, “Dreaming of Sleep” post). Or even earlier than that, as we try to console a colicky baby. Later, it might emerge in the form of temper tantrums, and after that, high drama emotional tirades that spew forth from our hormonal adolescents.
These are the occasions that cause parents to say, “Parenting is the hardest job in the world.” It is not hard in terms of intellectual demand. But it is truly humbling and difficult-to-the-core in terms of emotional and spiritual demand. Anyone who says otherwise is either not a parent or has a memory deficiency.
The only thing that really got me through this summer was this idea of sanctification through parenting. I am viewing this through Catholic eyes, mind you, and the idea that suffering can be productive. But let me clarify further. God does not enjoy seeing us suffer. God is with us as we suffer. He does not cause it. He offers us grace to bear it. That is how God works, and that is why suffering exists in the world despite a loving God at the helm. God also understands, as did Jesus on the cross, that it is only through suffering that we can truly draw closer to Him. The more one suffers, the more opportunities to draw near to his or her Creator. This is fact. And it is from this that I take solace in the reality that, despite the arduous nature of parenting, whether one child or five or ten, fruit will come forth through the difficult moments if we allow ourselves to view suffering through that lens. Whether it be cleaning up another blow-out diaper, or being called to the principal’s office because of an infraction by our child, all of these suffering moments can bring us closer to God, if we let them, and can transform us into holier people. Not perfect people, not the impossible, but holier than we were before.
In that way, parenting, even on the very worst days — in fact, especially on the worst days — is getting us one step closer to heaven. So if you’re having a particularly rough day, don’t give up. When you can, take a break, nurture yourself for a while, and be mindful of this fact: You’re getting closer.
What are some ways you’ve drawn closer to God through suffering moments?