Eileen Flanagan, in her book The Wisdom to Know the Difference, suggests that knowing oneself is primary in one’s search for wisdom. She offers several tools for this important endeavor – meditation, self-help programs and she highlighted 12 step programs, children, people, the aging process, memory of one’s own childhood and family experience, body, dreams and 6th sense.
Listing children separately from people is not to imply that children are not people. In her section dedicated to children, Flanagan was actually talking about one’s own children who have a power in our lives that other children are not likely to have. She was talking about how the experience of being a parent can prod, or actually force, one to look at themselves. I appreciated coming across this section this morning because on Facebook the other day, my son posted a published piece that slammed the idea of having children. My son and his wife have 16 children so you can imagine his and Wendy’s reaction.
I agreed with all that Chris said in his response, but my main objection to the woman’s article was what I often see people do: take one’s own life choice and somehow thinking it should be the choice of everyone. Also, taking one’s own life choice and putting a value on it as superior to others. Both lead, whether intentionally or not, to bashing and demeaning others. I am one who believes that we each need to seek God’s will in our lives and that may be much like the status quo or quite the contrary. Thus, as it says in the Serenity Prayer, we each need “the wisdom to know the difference”.
I’d like to share the paragraph from Flanagan’s book where she addresses the gift of children and then add a couple of my own ideas:
No one can be more blunt than young children, which is one of the reasons parenting can be such a rich spiritual path. My own two have a charming way of pointing out my flaws and inconsistencies, saying things like, “If you don’t want us to yell at each other, then you shouldn’t yell at us,” or, “You don’t want us to spend too much time on the computer, but you check your e-mail all the time.” While I’m not always grateful in the moment for such insight, I do know that motherhood has taught me more about myself than nearly anything else. Because I decided to stay home with my children when they were young, I was stripped of the crutches I had used to define myself-job, volunteer activities, even youthful figure. Sitting around home with baby drool on all my clothes made me wonder who I was in a deeper way. Losing patience with the tenth game of Candy Land illuminated the parts of me that aren’t very serene. Because young children live so in the present moment, caring for them can be an extended course in mindfulness.
It is the wisdom we call 20-20 vision that enables us to look back over the years and see that those life experiences that seemed to tie us down or get in the way when we were younger were actually the sources of our enrichment. Years of poverty, difficult relationships, having to put one’s education on hold for a time, missed opportunities, or setting a career aside to care of children…these are all fodder for growth. I myself chose to stay home with our children. When Heidi, our youngest, was preschool age, I started the journey of going back to school selecting my classes according to her time in school. I completed the process of getting the degree which led me into a career when she was in the 6th grade. It was a process I had to postpone and then take slowly if I were to see that my kids were cared for. My conviction was this: no matter what I have to offer the world, it is not of much value if I send a bunch of broken human beings into the world. Once I stepped into the work world, there were a whole new set of prods to my growth.
I am not one to tell others which path they should choose, whether to marry or not, whether to have children or how many, what religion to choose or not, where to live, what to do for work or service. Decisions are not easy, which is the point of Eileen Flanagan’s book. But we need to know that the Creator’s path for us may be what seems to be the more difficult choice at the moment. But speaking from someone with experience, God’s will for us is where we will find serenity.