One of the beautiful things about aging is the wealth of experiences that becomes available, as they accumulate over the years—beyond our control, and sometimes far beyond our wildest expectations. That which we are asked to offer God each morning — our prayers, our works, our joys, and our sorrows—are indeed the compilation of events and lessons, a treasure trove of inestimable value. For each person, the singularity of that wealth is staggering, all told. We often try to define those experiences, to share the lessons, and to make known what lies in the recesses of our sensory imagination, but words fail. It's all so deeply personal.
And yet we keep trying, especially with the younger people in our families. We've all met the quizzical looks, the indulgent smiles, or the less indulgent sighs. Unfortunately, the lessons don't translate and the experiences fail to resonate. It can be so very frustrating. What does that subtle wall teach us? It's not that the lessons are not valid or the experiences not true, but that they were our gifts, the open-handed deposits to our treasury.
A prayer I've found from Saint Ephrem includes the request: “Grant to me, your servant, the spirit of patience and neighborly love;” and one day the usual throttling of that phrase came to mind: Who is my neighbor? As an aging mother who is learning to budget her diminishing energy, I think first of my family when it comes time to pray, but are my children my neighbors? If they are, how does that change the way I make myself available to them?
The thought seems strange, but I have discovered that when I think of my children as neighbors, it creates a curious distance that allows me to think of them as fellow travelers, as pilgrims sharing a journey, as independent souls with their own treasuries of experience that God will use to lead them to his truth. Gone are the usual emotional leverage points that can tempt us to manipulation or unhealthy expectations.
And that leads naturally to the other loaded word in the prayer: patience. For all our own growth and maturation in the faith, we must admit it has taken us years just to arrive at our present point — and that being a point we’re not entirely pleased with. There are the frustrating confessions, the recurrent landscapes of familiar failings, and the envious side-eyes cast at the lives of others. Is it any wonder we see the same in our neighbor (especially those neighbors sharing our gene pool and family tables!)
Since our youth, we wanted to find a way of our own making, and so do our own children. God knows that, and generously offers a cornucopia of lessons coded into everyday life — tangled amidst the usual relationships, and especially hidden within the surprises. These lessons are deeply personal and entirely adequate to our growth. When you're asked how you arrived at a given place or opinion, be ready to share the anecdotal details — since they did hazard to inquire! — but don't be surprised at the vacant response. What is translatable will fall into their ken, and the rest will evade them. Trust God to speak to their hearts in ways they can hear, and offer the rest in silence. Some gifts are meant to be shared, and others will remain in our keeping — form-fitted, monogrammed, and ours alone. In that wise, our children will receive their own in due course, so be at peace, and pray for their prudent receptivity.
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.