--from Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver"In the normal course of family events, every other thing got snatched from her hands: her hairbrush, the TV clicker, the soft middle part of her sandwich, the last Coke she'd waited all afternoon to open. She'd once had a dream of birds pulling the hair from her head in sheaves to make their red nests."
True story, that quote.
"Once you're a mom, you really don't have anything that's yours anymore. Everything you have belongs to your kids," my aunt said to me the other day.
Yes. Also a true story.
Before I had two little boys, I took for granted such luxuries as:
going to the bathroom alone
having my own things that were whole, clean, and not reeking of spit-up
sleeping through the night
decorating with things that are beautiful and breakable (and doing so in low-lying places)
sitting for five consecutive minutes at a time.
And now, everything I have, apparently, is up for grabs: time, space, stuff, even my very self. My flabby gut and stretch marks are a testament to this. Even the kitchen sink (and the bathroom sink, for that matter) is theirs for the taking, it seems. My older son monopolizes it every morning, splashing and spraying water as we try to brush our "teef".
No, I have absolutely nothing of value that my youngins have not snatched away. The thing is, I am starting to accept (intellectually, at least), that this "snatching" actually may be beneficial to me.
Kenosis is a Greek term for "emptiness" or "emptying out." This word is often used in Christian theology, particularly in the Orthodox church, to describe the process of "self-emptying" we go through as we strive to love. We surrender our own will so that we can do the will of God.
In my case, this "self-will" does not go down without a fierce fight. It seems I will beg and plead and kick and scream against circumstance before it finally snatches, wrenches, drop kicks and drags away what I want. My experience of kenosis does not feel very glamorous or graceful or even holy most of the time; it feels more like throwing up the virus of all things vain and proud and selfish after being nauseated by them for so long.
Even my desires that seem benign and even noble--like wanting to follow a sign to an "organic heirloom plant sale" yesterday or wanting to get a "good night's sleep"--end up becoming selfish wants that I give up only when a screaming and crying infant drags them out of me.
Okay God, you win.
As C.S. Lewis once put it, I'm a "have-it-Your-way" mother trying to learn "Thy-will-be-done"--and it's not easy. And yet, every so often, I have an encounter with another person who makes me want to do better and be better:
Like my aunt who took care of her kids all day then worked the night shift at a nursing home.
Like my friend who gives her son with special needs blenderized meals through a feeding tube every day.
Like my uncle and aunt who organize yearly fundraisers to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, the disease plaguing two of their three children.
Like my mom and dad who bring bubbles and sidewalk chalk for my kids, clothes for me, and dinner for a party of seven when they come to visit.
I used to think a hero was someone who performed grandiose feats to the admiration of any and all onlookers, but now I'm starting to believe that heroes are all around me, living great sacrificial lives virtually unnoticed. They are heroes by habit, achieving kenosis by performing one small act of love after another as they go about their daily routine. A bottle of bubbles here, another blended meal through the feeding tube there--acts that are seemingly small but mighty in love, mighty in the eyes of God Who sees these mites being offered to Him through the "least of these".
"A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop falling persistently, hollows out hard rock"
writes St. Isaac of Syria.The "ascetic of love" hollows too, slowly and over time. This, I think, is what is meant by the "perseverance of the saints": To keep doing, to keep giving, to keep loving...a little at a time.
As I marveled at my aunt's ability to often run on four hours of sleep and / or to stay up for 24 hour periods as she balanced caring for kids by day and working at night, she said to me, "Oh honey, you'll be amazed at the stamina you develop..."
As my sister watched me in action in the go-go-go throes of stay-at-home motherhood in a recent visit, she deemed a mother's inability to rest, "mommy momentum."
Perhaps "mommy momentum" is nothing more than the grace of God imbuing me with strength to rise to the challenges of love that are daily set before me. If so, may "mommy momentum" never elude me, even as my role in life changes and evolves. May it be the force compelling me to daily acts of heroism that hollow my heart of selfishness and snatch me away in love.