When Dan and Jessie were away in L.A., I found myself bereft of my usual anchors and schedules—the things that tether but that also keep me grounded. I am rarely without my family in my own home for longer than two or so days at a time. I have left them to go on retreat or to canoe or kayak, but I am always with other people (even if those other people are silent!). But I had never had such an expanse of me—in my own home, in my own environment, with my own work and work routines—before.
While the trip to L.A. was Dan’s gift to Jessie, I think it was also intended to be a gift to me. An expanse of Nancy-ness for me to fill in whatever way I wanted. It was a strange expanse, because it was still bounded by certain daily and typical demands—the cat needed to be fed, the house vacuumed, freelance editing completed, food made, e-mails checked. But I also had a certain degree of choice about how I would spend my days that offered up freedom for either doing or being. I have to admit that when confronted by the doing list (more laundry, paint a room, patch a ceiling, deep wash a floor, declutter the family room), being seemed the more enticing (or needed?) of the two.
It was not so much a question of filling time—or, as the Greeks would have it, chronos, chronological or sequential time—as of opening myself up to time, kairos, or God’s time. Kairos, as I understand it, is kind of the time in between, a moment out of time when something special happens or is ripe for happening. You have to be fully present to experience kairos; you can’t use it (as you can chronos), rather, if you’re lucky, it uses you.
Now that I have adequately muddled you and demonstrated why I was not a classical scholar in university, I will continue with the Greek theme that haunted me the week they were away. Because having chosen NOT to use chronos to get chores done, but to open myself up to kairos (to see the limits of my un-doing), I was catapulted right smack into agapé. Yes, I hear you gasp in fear and trembling, agapé. A not-so-distant relative of chronos and kairos that lurks in the shadows waiting for dazed and confused parents of young adults to stumble around the corner before attacking them with the true and hence accusatorial meaning of LOVE.
Because, you see, in opening up to kairos I decided to delve back into Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals and was reading the first in the sequence—A Circle of Quiet. In it she offers a definition of agapé (pp. 158–159) that brought me up short—with an unexpected snort of laughter and a sudden stab of revelation.
L’Engle writes, “[A]gapé means a profound concern for the welfare of another without any desire to control that other, to be thanked by that other, or to enjoy the process.”
There, in concise and precise detail, is the definition of the greatest challenge God has ever offered me—the challenge of parenting and loving a young adult through transition. Because, you see, I realized after reading this definition that I had this deep desire, this longing, this absurd need to control aspects of Jessie’s learning and life (Hooray! She remembered to sort her laundry AND wash it before drying it); to receive some appreciation from her for making my schedule her schedule (Thanks Mom, for sewing the costume and driving me to the performance on time when I only told you five minutes before I had to be there); and to experience some small measure of joy from the act of parenting (I really like this part where we argue and argue and argue and then we get to get up in the morning and do it all over again!).
And I was jealous. Jealous of all those other parents of teens in transition who profess deep and abiding love for their children because said children are learning and practicing new skills (that don’t involve lying or ingesting banned substances or breaking laws); and their children thank them (really, and not in that sarcastic way that I do get to hear daily: “Gee, thaaanks Mom.”); and they admit to really enjoying the process of parenting and learning from their teens. Like, whose children have they got and how did they get them?
But I am beginning to see that I shouldn’t be jealous, because they aren’t really being given the same chance as I am to learn about agapé now are they?
And that I should shift my focus from wanting a sort of ego pleasure in parenting to learning to lean into the hard parts so I can grow. In love, and maybe even in understanding what it is to love.
The final lesson perhaps, is to never let your family leave you alone for any extended period because you might be reduced to contemplation, which might change the warp and weft of your being and hence cause confusion in the family unit.
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