Over five years ago, I nervously went to an open house at a local center for spiritual direction with my two and a half year old in tow (mercifully, I was able to leave the 10 month old at home!). I knew little about spiritual direction at that point other than what I read in books. Unfortunately, spiritual direction isn’t one of those things that can be explained easily in writing – it truly needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Still, I knew that I was at a point in my life where I needed help. All the people I met at that open house were very kind and I soon started meeting with a very helpful spiritual director and have continued that practice on a regular basis. It has been a great blessing to my life. When I went to that open house, however, I can remember someone saying to me, “You have children! You already have spiritual directors!”
At the time, I couldn’t appreciate the wisdom of that statement. After all, my children were still very small. I loved them so much, but mostly, they left me exhausted. My struggle with adjusting to motherhood was one of the primary reasons I was seeking a spiritual director. I was at a loss as to what God wanted from me. Thankfully, my spiritual director was able to help me sort it all out. In the intervening years, however, I have come to appreciate all the ways my children are helping to direct my spiritual journey.
As any mother will tell you, children have a way of bringing out all your weaknesses. Somehow, they just know how to push all the wrong buttons. Reminded of one’s failings on a daily basis, there can be really no question of what one needs to work on. Thankfully, children also give their mothers plenty of opportunities to work on those weaknesses. Every day is a new challenge!
Children can also be a mirror sharper in focus than any other. It is one thing to see your faults in yourself. It is a whole different perspective to see your faults in your children. Either through genetics or upbringing, or a combination thereof, our children often suffer from the same issues we do. In helping them to work through their challenges, God also helps us to work through our own.
Parenting also helps us to recover from our own childhood and make peace with our own family of origin. I haven’t met a person yet who escaped from childhood unscathed. Growing up is hard and painful. We tend to blame our parents for much of that pain, sometimes with good reason, sometimes just because they are easy targets. Parenting one’s own children provides a whole new perspective on those relationships. At least in my case, I know that realizing how hard parenting is helped me to forgive my parents for all the mistakes that I had felt they made. There is something incredibly humbling about knowing that, even though I get up every day and try to do my best, my children will feel that I made huge errors in their upbringing. It also encourages me to beg for God’s help. If there was ever a time when I needed God, this is it. God made my children. He is only one with the instruction manual.
Children do help determine the course of our spiritual development in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined years ago. I’m sure as my children continue to grow into adulthood, God has many more lessons to teach me through them, even as I am helping them navigate their own paths. We will continue to travel on our spiritual journeys together.