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. 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 of us, that list of activities is longer than an 5:30 PM traffic jam on I 70. Allow me to illustrate by presenting a five-hour slice out of a modern parent’s life.
Dad’s Journal March 4, 2011:
“The two elementary school kids were off today because of a teacher’s in-service. Before Lisa left for her four-day out-of-town conference, she arranged day-long-play-dates at friends’ houses. Got off work at five, traffic added half-an-hour to my commute. Thanks to the miracle of cell-phone technology, I was able to call and re-arrange my pick-ups. By the time I arrived at my teen-ager’s school to collect her (she did not have the day off), it was 6:00 PM. When I could not find her, I called to discover that she had gotten a ride to a friend’s house. 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 provide at that 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. For me, those phones were supposed to be 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 severed this connection, they warned me, dire consequences, up to and including, social death could occur. In a fit of hypoglycemic-induced parental outrage, I severed the connection, and collected the phones. Silence that was not golden accompanied us the rest of the way home. Since our house was directly in the pathway of picking up my third-born, I dropped off my despondent cargo, and picked up Lizzie. After schlepping a sleepy seven-year-old, I finally arrived home five hours after leaving work. I put Lizzie to bed, called the play-date mother, took a brief history of the seven-year-old mischief, thanked her for narcing on my daughter, constructed a provisional plan of logical consequences, and 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 us 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 the priest at your Mass 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 my Tweener/Boomer colleagues and me. Real conversion takes time. Where are we carving out that time for a slow, patient dialogue? 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 Lord. We discover that conversion from these patterns takes grace, honesty, patience, persistent self-love, hope, more grace…and especially…time.
The first gift the Lord ever gave you was…you. Where in your booming, banging, buzzing schedule, is there time for you?