Love as I’ve loved you … OR I WILL TURN THIS MINIVAN AROUND!

Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

As a mother, nothing brings me greater joy than witnessing my daughters’ love for one another.

Each time they giggle in mutual delight at a game they’ve invented, insist on “sister snuggles” to begin the day or tenderly care for one another’s “ouchies,” I feel as though they’ve just given me an extravagant gift. No sooner have I declared that I couldn’t possibly love them anymore than I already do, they demonstrate some new kindness to one another and I find myself doing just that. “Thanks be to God,” I whisper to myself, “that my daughters are the very best of friends!”

Except when they’re not.

Like all siblings, they have their share of spats. They ferociously elbow each other as they vie for the prime spot on my lap during bedtime. My 2-year-old runs away with a bag of fresh cherries in an attempt to hoard them all for herself. My 4-year-old yells at her sister for singing the same song over and over again as we drive to the museum.

I behold these actions with exasperation.

Haven’t we cuddled together enough times for them to know there is room on my lap for both of them? Can’t my younger daughter see there are plenty of cherries in the bag for everyone if only she’d stop clutching it to her chest? Has my older daughter already forgotten how she used to belt out “Let It Go” for the duration of every car ride?

Their 4- and 2-year-old minds simply don’t comprehend the big picture, and I wish I could just make them understand:

Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

You never have to compete for my love; when divided, it grows. You are family, which means you have a responsibility to one another, whether or not it’s convenient. I have provided for you in abundance, but I expect you to share. While there is nothing, NOTHING you could do to make me love you less, there are infinite ways for us to love each other more deeply … And so very many of them involve how you treat each other. Be generous. Be patient. Be kind. Do these things and you will have given me a more precious gift than anything wrapped in a box. Do these things and I’ll know you truly love me.

From my perspective as a mother, it seems so straightforward: Trust in my love for you, and show your love for me by loving one another.

And yet isn’t this precisely what I myself fail to do on a daily basis? Isn’t this the same failure that leads to school bullying and the Orlando massacre and nuclear proliferation? Isn’t this what’s wrong with the world?

I can picture God—the eternally-patient chauffeur who drives Divine Providence ever forward (even as we kick and scream from the backseat), beholding our selfishness and fearfulness and foolishness (and all the needless misery that results)—sighing in exasperation as I do: I wish I could just make them understand.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole Steele Wooldridge has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they were neighbors in Chicago several years ago.  Her columns for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting, particularly as it relates to the radical call of Gospel living.

She has, on occasion, turned the minivan around.

 

Loving and sassy

A fascinating thing happened this school year when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors.

Kids can be so mean. I remember this from when I was in school.  As a teacher now, I see this reality right in front of me.  It’s awful.  At a Catholic Christian school it seems even  more disturbing, and as a religion teacher I feel a bit of responsibility for it.  I try to design curriculum that responds to my observations and helps my students to grow in Christ.

To help my students deal with people who are unkind, I planned a unit that focused on the teachings of Jesus.  I wanted them to learn how to be bold, brave, creative, peaceful, compassionate and kind–just like Jesus taught. My students memorized the Beatitudes and the great commandment. They realized that Jesus’ teachings are not fluffy or cozy, but really messy and difficult.

We also mulled a while on what Jesus REALLY meant when he said “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek.” Basically, we studied the Third Way of Jesus which is to creatively stand up for oneself and to honor the dignity of oppressors. To help the students understand I made a handout called Jesus’ non-violence explained.  Even though it’s really a simple concept, it’s extremely challenging to understand.

As I said, a fascinating thing happened when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors.  I found myself telling my students that practicing Jesus’ methods of peacemaking–in that Third Way style–meant that we have to get downright loving and sassy.

A slogan emerged: Let’s get sassy for Jesus! We laughed about how it sounded like a country song. The former cheerleader in me wanted to make it into a chant: “Sassy for Jesus, yes we are!  I’m thanking the Holy Spirit for giving me a catchy way to teach the truth, because the students still remember it.

God’s got a great sense of humor, and humor is what true, loving, non-violence takes.  We can make light of persecution because, with the freedom that Christ gives, we are just as powerful as everyone else.  We see Jesus alive in all people, even those who are mean. We get to love them and remind them of their inherent dignity. It’s so good!

In the teenage world, this love and sass could come out when people make fun of our shirt or our shoes. For example, a creative, non-violent, Third Way practitioner might respond by saying “It shows how I feel about mean people. Isn’t it beautiful!?”

Recently I asked some of my students how the whole “loving your neighbor, loving your classmates” thing is coming along.  They groaned. “Sister, it’s so hard!”

Yes, loving our neighbors and being non-violent IS really hard. But wow, it’s so worth it. May God help us. Amen!

Photo credit: http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1315/532519876_b00d0c79e5_z.jpg

Oh, and you might enjoy this interesting take on some of this problem about kids being mean to each other: