Each new year, I choose a spiritual goal. Anne Simpson told me that her church’s staff would choose and share their spiritual goals with each other, and I thought that was a fantastic idea. Ever since, I have done the same. The first year, I worked on humility; the next year, (since I had mastered that one! hee hee) I chose trust in God (an absolutely depraved point for me at that time). Each year, I am offered opportunities to plow through that rocky terrain in my life, and it is painful but salacious work. It always feels right, and I like cultivating what at first seems so impossible for me. Since they are spiritual goals, I do not feel that I am on my own; I feel like I am opening the door for God to teach me, and God sure takes me up on the offer. “I thought you’d never ask!” An interesting observation is that it often takes 2 or 3 years for the real fruit to be born. During the year, I see the work; but it is often later that I have an abundance of trust/faith/joy/peace, etc. in my life.
Last year, 2009, my spiritual goal was “getting upset well.” I did not know what that would look like, but I knew I did not have it yet! I was weary of my own upset, and I thought everyone around me would be so pleased if I would take that on as my new goal. As usual, I ended the year with some gains, laboring hard through the year to deal with bouts of depression and emotion deregulation. The improvements were marked, esp. as seen with Ron and by Ron regarding others, and we both thought I had made some advances.
But it was not until this past few months that it extended (finally!) to my children. Inspired by the Imago retreat we had gone on, I realized that, while I do lots of problem solving with my kids, the last card that I held in my hand and used when “necessary” was to get visibly upset. It is “the last straw syndrome.” When I had told them to line up their shoes nicely nine times, on the tenth, I shouted. And I always felt rather justified. After all, nine is too many times.
I came to realize, however, that it is frightening to live in a house with a Mom who seems pleasant but could blow up at any moment without warning. So I determined to eliminate this trait from our household.
I told the kids: “One punishment I have used on occasion is to shout or act scary to make you do what I want. But I am going to get rid of that option. So instead, to get you to do what I want, I am going to charge you a dollar ($.50 for Leigh and Clare) instead of shouting. And then you have to do what I have asked. BUT, if I fail to do this punishment, and shout instead, then YOU charge ME a dollar!”
The kids eyes bugged out of their heads and their jaws dropped to the ground. It takes A LONG TIME for them to earn a dollar–five cents to put away one pile of laundry; one dollar to rake and bag a professional grade bag of leaves and haul it to the curb. They could not BELIEVE how much money that they could earn so quickly, if I messed up! They glanced at each other and snickered. The fear dissipated from the room and I could see physical transformations as they relaxed from head to toe. Justice was replacing tyranny (Plato’s Republic, Bk. X)! I even helped them practice: they would wag their finger at me and say, “uh, uh, uh! No scary Mom! You owe me a dollar!”
It was the last main area that needed transformation, and almost two years after the initial resolution, it is finally a family where “scary Kathryn” mode is not in the arsenal.
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!