a time to fast
Do not believe that I have mastered contentment.
I pursue it…ruthlessly. But just as I feel it graze my fingertips, it disappears, the butterfly I cannot catch, dancing just nearby.
Do you struggle, like me? Blessed beyond what you can believe and yet still somehow allowing the ridiculous sigh from your lips? I count gifts, always, numbering so much grace, and still, I struggle against complaint.
I could fill the days of a week doubly–triply–long: a day for scrapbooks—rainbows of paper on my desk, glitter dusting my fingers, the cropped edges of photographs stacked in the trash can beside me, notepaper covered with handwritten memories; a day for baking–even if we breathe deep the smell, taste a hot, steamy piece and give the rest away; two days for making resources to use to teach my kids—Boardmaker pictures beside words, the rough sound of Velcro pulled, laminator hum, scissors gliding through plastic, trimming edges. I could fill three days with Bible study; another four with writing; one day managing our finances; two days for lunches and coffees with friends—to spend the undivided time friendships deserve; a day staying in touch with my family; three days to volunteer; and still another penning notes and tying ribbon around tiny gifts to leave on doorsteps and tuck into mailboxes. I would love to have a weekly Encouragement Day. And it would just have to be a Friday.:) …I need a day for planning. If I’ve learned anything these eleven—nearly twelve—years of mothering, it’s that I need to plan ahead for all the hours when I will not be able to think. I need to know when to take the chicken out of the freezer, whose birthday is three days away, when we will stop everything to paint fingernails. And I could use a few days for continuing education. I flip through magazines and bookmark recipes, ideas, thoughts, in moments snatched unexpectedly. And now there’s Pinterest. Be still, my heart.:) Beside my bed, in the stack with Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, sits the big, thick Home Comforts book I love, an encyclopedia on home-keeping done well. And I read about diabetes, autism, epilepsy. I read about healthy living, and these days, I want to read a book about running and training. I’d really love to run a Rock and Roll marathon. Sometimes, I feel so desperate for more time.
So, now that you know the truth, I have to tell you another one. There were days, especially the early ones, when I never thought I’d say this: I love my work. And loving it is all grace, a gift of the Spirit, the love of Christ. So maybe now I can see the butterfly, watch her float on the breeze, even if she remains outside my grasp. And He who began a good work, even in me, is truly able to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
I love polished base boards, clean floors, and sweet-smelling towels, warm and just folded.
I love baking smells, and slow-cooking smells, and the waft of a buttered rum candle.
I love crisp sheets on folded-down beds, shiny chrome, and organized cabinets.
I love a set table, a soft pillow tossed in a chair, and lamplight just as the sunlight of day drifts away.
I love teaching my children to create a home and dwell there—beds made (even if crookedly now), clean clothes gently stacked in a drawer, warm-popcorn tossed with seasoned salt and a movie in the afternoon, legs all twisted together on the ottoman.
My kids are tracked-out right now, and I am in the season when the sounds of them make me smile, and I don’t mind their questions. The girls take turns choosing board games—calling out numbers for the Bingo game Riley gave me for Christmas, dancing on Hullabaloo mats, chasing each other’s marbles around the Aggravation star. They sit in the living room floor and decorate headbands with feathers, jewels, shimmery butterflies. And when the sun shines bright and the skies dome blue, all three of our children run outside and jump wildly on the trampoline together. I love the sound of their muted voices in the wind—calling, laughing. It makes me think of my mom’s tears when my brothers and I laugh and hug and make plans together, and the way she says, “I’m glad you guys are still close.” And suddenly, I understand why Christ has so much to say about loving one another, “as I have loved you (John 13:34).” Oh, how that must delight the Father when we get it right.
While I’m folding clothes, Adam’s remote control car peeks around the doorway and then disappears under my bed, blinking red and blue. He spins tops, clicks magnets, plays music, and presses the keys of his new adding machine, a gift from his aunt and uncle. I bring a stack of clean clothes into his room, and he’s sitting on the bed, doing a word find. He plays the xylophone, the keyboard. This morning, I walked into his room to do some organizing, and he sat beside his CD player, listening to a book-on-CD on his headphones. He builds towers with the Angry Birds board game a dear friend slid under our Christmas tree for him, and he giggles, free.
But the week before Christmas, Adam cried every time I spoke to him.
He did not really even want to eat. I’d call him to the table, and he’d wipe tears from his eyes with the back of his hand while he fumbled with his glucose meter. Peering through the watery blur, he’d hold up a finger and try to focus, looking for blood, trying to see if the needle had penetrated past his calluses. He’d look up at me and melt into a cascade of tears and frustrated words. Gently, I helped him work through his frustration for days, sitting him in my lap, stroking his hair, prompting him, “I am frustrated because…,” and every time, he’d say something about the computer or Riley’s ipod. But the last time he melted into tears at dinner, I drew a line in the sand.
“No eat supper today!”
“Adam, are you hungry?”
“Well, you need to eat.”
When Adam is frustrated, he writes with his finger in the air, on surfaces. He picks up the dry erase marker and writes his frustration in large, crooked letters on the sheet where he records his food and carb counts. His finger scribbled on the worn wood of the kitchen table, furiously. I know what he wrote. “No eat.” I ignored it and asked him to pull his chair up to the table. He grabbed the dry erase marker and quickly wrote, “First eat, then ipod,” filling up the white space at the top of the recording sheet with ugly, jagged graffiti. Again, I ignored him.
“He just wrote—,” Zoe spoke up, eyeing him from her chair.
“I don’t care what he wrote. He can write anything he wants, but it’s time for supper.”
I picked up his recording sheet and flipped it over, then picked up the dry erase marker to write my own note. “Choose: Good attitude at supper. No crying, yes computer tomorrow. —OR–Bad attitude at supper. Yes crying, no computer tomorrow.” We had followed this path before to its end. He knew I would follow through.
He looked up at me. “Yes computer!”
I pointed to the note. “Choose. Yes computer, no crying. Yes crying, no computer.”
His bottom lip trembled. He circled “Good attitude” and sat down in his chair, rubbing his cheeks with his hands. For five minutes, he ate his supper. Then he looked at me and said, “First eat supper, then computer.”
“No. You already had computer time today. First supper, then bed time. Computer tomorrow.”
The tears came again. “First bed time, then wake up! Wake up six o’clock.”
“Okay, fine. Wake up six o’clock.”
“Wake up 3:45! Wake up, then computer!”
“No. Choose: Wake up six o’clock or wake up eight o’clock.”
“Wake up six o’clock!”
“First wake up, then computer!”
“No. Computer after lunch.”
His mouth fell open, a twisted chasm. He sobbed.
I put my fork down. “Adam, I think you’re finished with computer. You need a break. No computer this week.”
Kevin shook his head. “No, I think he’s finished for a while. No computer at least for the rest of track out.”
I nodded. It was time for a media fast. I could see the wisdom in it. We were losing our son to electronic devices, once again. This is not a new problem for us. Our children’s compulsions, their obsessions, threaten to crumble our sanity and our connection with them on a regular basis. Adam couldn’t bear to do the most normal, necessary things. Every moment had become about just how long it would be until he could play on the computer again or fiddle with Riley’s ipod. He scarcely wanted to do anything else. All of his free time he spent doing math, waiting for another hit of cyber crack.
He argued with us constantly, negotiating a shorter wait. Our Adam, our happy, fun-loving boy, had become someone else. He’d become an addict. His drug—electronic gaming—haunted him, consumed him, gripped him entirely. He could not be content away from the screen.
Sometimes we can’t be sure how much Adam catches of our conversations, and other times, it’s clear that he’s heard every word. He hadn’t missed any of this. He fell off the emotional cliff on which he’d been perched.
“I’m crying,” he said, as if we couldn’t see that clearly. “Computer tomorrow!”
“No,” I said gently. “Computer is finished.”
He negotiated for a few minutes more, scribbling across the table with his finger, but as soon as he realized that we weren’t going to budge, he sat down and started eating, defeated.
Fifteen minutes later, Adam danced in his chair, grinning widely, bubbling over with sounds of joy. I looked at Kevin. “It’s like we unlocked the prison door. It just took a few minutes for him to see the door standing open and recognize his freedom.”
And for these last weeks, he’s played like he’s never played before, as though for the first time in his life he’s realized he can have fun doing so.many.other.things. And he doesn’t cry over his supper. Oh, he’s impatient about leaving his play, but it’s more playtime he’s looking forward to, not the electronic abyss.
And watching him, seeing the freedom in the fasting, I realized something: When my contentment flits away, so illusive, perhaps its time for a fast, time to put away everything that casts shadows on the One who is truly everything, time for the reminder that contentment is Christ.
Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast (Matthew 9:15).’
Until He comes… Fast.