Depending on whose doing the math, or the social analysis, either my age cohort is the last of the Baby Boomers, or the first of the “Tweeners.” Maybe the author of Ecclesiastes was right when he said that “there was nothing new under the sun,” (1:9), but somehow it seems like something brand new was born into the human experience when my generation of Tweener/Boomers became parents. As children, our parish’s organized sports seasons were comprised of no more than ten or so games. Now club and select leagues multiply the number of child games at least three or four-fold, adding out-of-town tournaments to the schedule.
While incrementally, human evolution was moving in this direction, we have finally arrived at that time when parents’ lives are now fully organized around their childrens’ activities. And for most middle class parents, that list of activities knows no boundaries. Allow me to illustrate by presenting a five-hour slice of life out of an old journal that accurately represents the modern parents’ life.
Dad’s Journal March 4, 2011:
“Lizzie and JH (first and sixth grade respectively) off today (teacher’s inservice). Lisa gone to a conference. JH (sixth grade at the time) and Lizzie (first grade at the time) at day-long play-dates at friends’ houses. Off work at five. Traffic added half-an-hour to my commute. Thank God I was able to call from the road to re-arrange my pick-ups. By the time I arrived to pick up Annalise (my high school freshman who did not have the day off), it was 6:00 PM. Couldn’t find her anywhere. Called her cell phone to discover she had gotten a ride to a friend’s house. Would have been nice to get that heads up! Out of time, I let her know that I would pick her up after John Harry’s basketball game, and asked if she could beg dinner from her friend’s mom. Picked up John Harry on one side of town, took him to his game through a torrential downpour on the other side of town, going as fast as I could because I was late on account of the traffic that snagged me up earlier. He changed in the car, and ate the car-dinner I had packed on ice that morning. Got a call from Lizzie’s friend’s mom letting me know of some mischief that Lizzie, and her seven-year old friend had gotten into that required more emotional intelligence from me than I could scare up at the moment. I promised to call back later and sort through it. During the game, some adult misbehavior that resulted in child misbehavior had me biting my tongue, because, after all, we adults are supposed to set an example. When the game was over, I packed a disappointed basketball player into the car (in the last several seconds of a close game, he gave up a game-losing turnover). Rushed to another part of town and picked up Annalise. At one point, I looked back over my shoulder, and noticed two children feverishly pecking the keys on their cellular communication devices. At their age, these phones are supposed to be nothing more than the equivalents of walkie-talkies, allowing me to safely keep tabs on them. To them, this technology represents a necessary connection to a common brain shared by scores of texting teenagers. If I sever this connection, they warn me, dire consequences, up to and including, social death could occur. In a fit of hypoglycemic-induced parental outrage, severed the connection; collected the phones. Silence that was not golden accompanied us the rest of the way home. House directly on the way, so I dropped off despondent cargo, and picked up Lizzie. After schlepping sleepy seven-year-old, I finally arrived home five hours after leaving work. Put Lizzie to bed. Called the play-date mom. Took a brief history of the seven-year-old mischief. Thanked her for narcing on my daughter. Constructed a provisional plan of logical consequences. Headed off to bed to get some sleep so that I could start the process over again the next day.”
In this Sunday’s third reading, John’s Gospel (Chapter Four) introduced the reader to a woman whose list of daily activities had been interrupted, and consequently, she found herself in an extended conversation that would change everything. I don’t know if your parish chose the Venti, or Grande version of this Gospel, but either way, I found that even the shorter version of this scripture was lengthy. How would a biblical scholar comment on all of this? I don’t know, but it occurs to me, that perhaps the writer of John’s Gospel purposely edited this story to stretch out over so many verses. The length of this passage may be a kind of pastoral metaphor suggesting that the conversion of this woman did not take place in fifteen minutes, crammed in between doing the laundry and picking up the kids—it was a process—Jesus patiently working with her over time.
That is what concerns me about the hurried Twenty-first Century parents. Real conversion takes time. Where are we carving out that time for a slow, patient dialogue with self, others, or God? A painful truth uncovered somewhere in adulthood is that there are characteristic ways in each of our lives where we work against our own desire to get our real thirsts satisfied. If we are even modestly reflective, we begin to notice repetitive patterns in our apologies and confessions. The most deep-seated of these patterns are very difficult to excise out of our souls and our behavior—they keep showing up over and over again. Like the woman at the well, a deep conversion may take quite a lot of dialogue with our self, with a spiritual director, with a counselor, with a self-help group—ultimately with the God within. We discover that conversion from these patterns takes grace, honesty, patience, persistent self-love, hope, more grace…and especially…time.
The first gift that God ever gave you was…you. Where in your booming, banging, buzzing schedule, is there time for you?