Many mornings at our house begin the same way: my boys wake me up and then watch a video while I take a shower. Then we all shuffle into the kitchen, and as I put the waffles in the toaster, the brotherly battle begins. Hungry and a little bored as they wait for their food, they argue over toys, pulling them from each other’s hands and trading insults. Inevitably this leads to high-pitched yelling and all-out sobbing from one or both of them… and usually, some yelling from me (and a few tears of frustration and parental self-doubt on occasion), as I admonish them over my shoulder to be nice to each other as I peel the banana.
I do not do well with noise; this is just part of who I am. When I am driving alone in the car, I keep the radio off because I love the silence. I am also a task-oriented person who does best focusing on one thing at a time. Once I start making breakfast, I want to finish making breakfast without having to play “Mom Cop” for five minutes between pouring the juice and doling out the vitamins. But these parts of who I am has led me to deal with this daily brotherly battle in one way and one way only: jumping in immediately so that I can end the noise and get back to the task at hand.
It took me a few weeks to figure out that if I wanted things to go differently in the morning, I could not keep doing the same thing. (Each time a parenting challenge has arisen over the last five years, I get shocked anew at how long it takes me to identify that there even is a problem that needs to be addressed or a pattern that needs to be changed.) And out of nowhere, I found myself praying the Serenity Prayer when the din arose:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Praying this prayer did a few things for me. First, it meant that I had to take a deep breath and a moment of pause before responding to the scuffle before me. Miraculously, this meant that on occasion, the boys resolved the issue between themselves. (One morning I even heard my five year old say to the three year old, “That hurts my feelings when you do that,” and the three year old respond, “I’m sorry.” That brought another sort of tear to my eye!) Second, I found that I could make better decisions after asking for wisdom. It felt as if praying made me smarter. Instead of just trying to end the battle, I began to differentiate between different sorts of brother battles and to tailor my response to the actual situation that was happening before me.
But perhaps most importantly, I opened myself up to the wisdom of God. In saying this prayer, I admitted that I did not know exactly what to do in this situation and I asked for guidance. Is my noise sensitivity something that I simply cannot change, or can I change how I react to large amounts of auditory stimulation? Is a little scuffling between brothers something that just happens when siblings live in the same house, or can I do something or help give my boys the skills to do something to reduce the fighting?
Philosopher Francis Hutcheson wrote that wisdom is pursuing the best ends by the best means, and dictionary definitions tell us that wisdom is the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting. If we are humble about our humanity, as last week’s first reading urged us to be, it is clear that discerning what is true and right and acting on this wisdom is not something we can accomplish solely on our own. We need God’s wisdom and counsel in order to discern what is truly good and right for our lives. And this is what we are told in the first reading from Wisdom this Sunday: we will not know God’s counsel unless God has given us wisdom, but when we have this wisdom, our paths on earth will be set straight.
I would love to write that the morning brother battles have completely subsided, that our paths have been set straight, but these battles still erupt from time to time and our paths remain necessarily curvy. However, I do sense that God is granting me wisdom. Instead of just reacting to the noise, I can put the conflicts into a larger context about how I want to act as a loving parent and how I want my children to act as loving human beings in the world. I am making decisions about how to respond to this situation based on a larger system of values, as well as employing practical solutions that did not occur to me before (e.g. eat breakfast first thing). And slowly but surely, I am gaining clarity about what things I can change and what things I cannot.
How would you define wisdom? In what areas of your life and in what situations do you find yourself asking for wisdom? Are there prayer or other spiritual practices that help you find wisdom?
Are there things in your life that you need the courage to change? Are there things in your life that you need the serenity to accept? How can you draw on God as a partner in making this discernment?