You know when your toddler falls off the couch the exact way you warned her about forty-three times. And you say, “I told you not to do that. That’s what happens when you don’t listen.” But they have barely stopped crying, clutching their rug-burned knee, before they attempt to do it again?
It’s like looking into a mirror, having children. And not a dimly lit one, but a highly polished mirror surrounded by garish, buzzing, neon lights.
Children delight in things that are bad for them—eating bugs, assaulting their friends, escaping the horror of apologizing. Sometimes they only learn when they get exactly what they want. And even then, more times than not, they dust themselves off and get right back to it.
I’m exactly like that.
In disciplining my three-year-old, these words come out of my mouth: “How many times have I told you? That is not how we treat your brother.” And within the hour, I’ve said something unkind to their father because I was frustrated and didn’t get my way. When they get upset because their sibling has something they want I tell them, “Don’t worry about them, just worry about yourself,” and then find myself coveting my neighbor’s home. It’s hard being this on top of my spiritual game.
And it’s not just the gaping inconsistencies on a daily basis, the “do what I say, not what I do,” that I find myself tripping over. I also find myself thinking about my confessions.
Whenever I’m pointing out that my daughter has done this exact thing one thousand times, and every single time it is wrong, it has been wrong, it will be wrong, it is not acceptable—I realize that I’m usually confessing recurring sins, beating a horse that should be long dead.
I know they are children, and I’m an adult, and we’re at different stages in our spiritual development. But “let the little children come to me” feels more personal since having my own children.
I see myself in them—the willful, wrong, and stubborn child of God that I am. There’s a reason God is our Father, and the Virgin Mary is our Mother. Adults still need authority, discipline, and guidance.
My children are not yet at the age of reason, so they aren’t as culpable as I am. But my inward reaction to the Cross is eerily similar to their outward reaction. I just have enough awareness of social cues to avoid jumping up and down, flapping my arms, shouting, “I don’t want to!” before thrashing about on the floor when faced with some unpleasantness. But on the inside that pretty much sums up my reaction. Maybe that’s why toddler tantrums are so appalling—we see what open rebellion looks like, and it’s not pretty.
I’m told it’s beneficial to have a regular confessor who knows your struggles, and has walked a ways down the spiritual road with you. But then you find yourself saying, “Here I am, with the same tired list of sins, the same faults, here for yet another confession.” And that is extremely humbling. To be there once again, asking for forgiveness, and yet again, promising to do better. Is it really so different, my own gluttony and my daughter saying, “Mama, bugs taste icky, don’t they?”
Yet no priest has ever heard my confession and said, “Are you serious? I’ve told you one thousand times not to do that!” Despite the fact that he has repeatedly talked to me about this exact issue. And that I have actually heard the same admonition in homilies and scripture readings throughout my life. The reality is that I have, in fact, been told a thousand times. Yet I’m still forgiven and given another chance to choose the good: to be happy for my neighbor and kind to my husband—to choose not to eat another bug.
For His mercy endures forever.