04 Apr The discipline of the long pause.
This afternoon we went swimming. Afterwards, when we were in the changing rooms, putting clothes onto still damp skin, one of my daughters said ‘Where’s my other shoe?’. Almost before she had finished the sentence I replied ‘Have you tried the locker?’.
So far, so profound.
Immediately – before the words had completely left my mouth – she had found the shoe on the bench under her towel. And a thought flashed across my mind, ‘Why did I answer so quickly? She would have found it without my intervention.’
And I have been realising, this is what I do.
All the time.
I jump in and answer the question almost as soon as it is voiced. I want things done quickly and properly, and consequently the kids have learnt, or I should say, I have taught the kids, that ‘Mum will do it’. Don’t bother to think for yourselves or learn through experience, just ask your mug of a Mother and she will find your shoe, pick up your clothes, locate all missing things, bring you a drink, sort out your squabbles, cure your boredom.
You don’t have to think for yourself when Mum-mug is around.
I want to be there for the kids. I want to be the one they turn to when they are sad or upset, or troubled. And I want to be there to share in their successes. But I also have a job. And part of that job is to teach them how to be independent. To train them not to need me. I am not doing too well at it. If only when Madge asked me about her shoe I had just said nothing, but waited for a few minutes, she would have found her shoe. It is a tiny, silly example, but symptomatic of a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour.
So, as of now, I am going to try and institute the long pause as a parenting technique. I will (try really hard to) wait. Even though inside I will be screaming out, I will not jump to fix everything straight away. I will give them the gift of finding the answer for themselves.
As I had this minor pool-side revelation, my thoughts turned to me. If this is what I do as a reflex with the kids, maybe it is what I do in my own life, with my own problems and situations I am finding complicated.
Maybe I try and solve my own problems too quickly because I find it uncomfortable to leave things unresolved.
For example, I am the first to apologise. Always. My parents would tell you (in fact they made a joke about it just last week) that I always said sorry very quickly when I was a kid. Before I even knew what I was being told off for, I was firing out the apologies. I wanted it over. (As a consequence they were never sure I was sincere, but that’s another story).
And I am still the same way now. Generally this is an admirable quality, I don’t hold a grudge, I don’t punish those who have wronged me. But sometimes I wonder if it is because I want to move past the conflict and restore the status quo. I don’t want to tackle the trickiness of relationships, to face the problem head on. I’m not advocating withholding forgiveness, but maybe I need to weigh it a little longer, and risk some conversations, even those conversations that I don’t know the ending to. This habit of jumping straight to a solution means I miss out on the potential learning and growing I could have gained from remaining a little longer with the turbulence.
I am the same with work. If I am feeling inadequate, or frustrated creatively, if I don’t think I am doing enough or I feel the urge to make something new, I am unlikely to stay in the place of frustration for long. So many times in the past I have embarked on a project that wasn’t ready yet, or I was not ready for, just because I couldn’t handle the uncertainty, the lack of forward momentum.
And this is certainly true for me spiritually. It isn’t that I think I know more than God, but sometimes I do wonder if his timing isn’t all it is cracked up to be. I push on regardless with my best plan. I decide I know the answer, the solution. And then, sometimes (this is ugly) I manipulate to make sure that what I wanted to happen is what transpires, thus proving this was God’s will and I was right all along.
All this because I was not happy with the unresolved, the yet-to-be-decided. All because I couldn’t sit with the unknown.
From here on in I am going to try and make peace with the long pause.
And as a reminder to myself, I’m starting with the kids. Every time I institute the spiritual discipline of the long pause with them, I will remember that this is a lesson for me as well.
They will be answering their own questions and solving their own puzzles. Getting themselves a drink, finding their own lost things. and sorting out their own inter-sibling spats.
I’ll let you know if we are all still talking at the end of the week.
I wonder who will have learnt more.