I am the mother of three beautiful, unique children who aren’t so little any more. We will have a teenager in the house before the year is out, my middle child had the audacity to pass the double-digits threshold and the youngest has tried her hardest to keep up with the older ones all her life. They are growing older quickly, and I am fully aware that if I blink they will be grown and gone. I enjoy watching them develop their own personalities, passions, and skills and mourn with them in their heartaches and struggles. I love each of them deeply.
I also find living out this call to motherhood a daily challenge. There are days when I resent the immediacy of their needs that push pursuing my own passions into the thin margins of my life. There are days when the level of noise and mess in my house threaten to overwhelm me. There are days when one or more of them push every.single.button that I have.
Far too often, in spite of the love I have for my children, my response to them is irritation. Sometimes it seems justifiable. Other times it just slips out unbidden. Responding to my children in irritation has become a habit.
The thing about habits, even the seemingly inconsequential ones, is that they have tremendous power. Our habits – those actions that we do repeatedly day in and day out – intentionally or unintentionally – become the template for how we live our lives. And how we live our lives: that defines our character.
Which begs the question: What kind of person is my liturgy forming me to be? 1
There is an interesting section in the Didache that illustrates how our actions breed character:
“Do not be irritable, for anger leads to murder. Do not be jealous or contentious or impetuous, for all this breeds murder. My child, do not be lustful, for lust leads to fornication. Do not use foul language or leer, for all this breeds adultery. My child, do not be a diviner, for that leads to idolatry…My child do not be a liar, for lying leads to theft…My child, do not be a grumbler, for grumbling leads to blasphemy…”
According to the Didache, my habit of irritation is forming me into a murderer.
Perhaps I would never actually go so far as to physically lay hands on one of my children with the intent of harm. But when I push them away with my careless responses, my words and actions kill a tiny part of their souls. Indeed, my irritation has made me a murderer.
In place of my habit of irritation, I need to learn “the slow habits of loving God and those around [me].” 2 In order to do this, I need to replace my habit of irritation with one of repentance – daily, even multiple times daily. In place of this habit of irritation, I need to cultivate a habit of love.
What does love look like?
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice with wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
In recent months, I have had ample opportunities to put this shift into practice. High-running emotions, disobedience, and meltdowns were common in our household this spring.
There are times that my old response of resentment, irritation, and anger still flares. But at other times, I have made the effort to slow down. I have made the effort to draw the current offenders near rather than push them aside. I have made the effort to connect and offer my children “love in a bodily shape” (to quote Longfellow). And as I have done so, I’ve found the outbursts have been gradually becoming less frequent and the tone of our home generally becoming more peaceful.
It may be true that the habit of irritation breeds death. But the reverse is likewise true: the habit of love breeds life.
1 Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary, p. 31
2 Ibid, p. 35