Earlier this week I quoted C. S. Lewis when he says that: “The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back.” I relate to this very strongly, though ‘wishes and hopes’ sounds far too positive to describe much of what rushes at me first thing in the morning! It’s often simply the memory of mundane everyday chores that I know are waiting for me downstairs, my long mental ‘to do’ list (which I know I really cannot do ALL of in one day!), and of course the sometimes harsh demands of my own wounded psyche. In fact, my wild animals rush at me so very violently when I awake that I am usually unaware that I have any other option but to give in to their clawing and yowling, and then charge through the rest of the day with them snapping at my heels. Some days this works better than others. Perhaps because the wishes or hopes I am first faced with are gentler or healthier than normal. Perhaps because, for once, my untamed desires don’t get into a fight with each other – a battle for supremacy – that will leave me either frantic or frozen still. Or perhaps it’s because now and then my desires aren’t thwarted quite as quickly as they usually are. I don’t know. Most of the time, though, life really doesn’t work well when it starts in this way. But the incredible thing is that, every morning, I get to choose.
This morning, for example…
Despite an oft-repeated agreement, Amélie had woken us up with loud shouts from the bathroom in an attempt to escape the arduous task of wiping her own bottom! As I lay there and listened, I could feel the annoyance rising inside me – not just at her waking me up, and not just because she was once again not sticking to what we had agreed, and not just because of the self-centredness that comes so naturally to her, as it does to most of us… I was also annoyed because I knew that this time round I finally had to follow through with what we’d arranged, not get up, bear with her insistent and increasingly impatient cries, attempt not to get impatient myself, and wait until she dealt with the poo herself! To be honest, I resent this. I resent being woken up by another person’s agenda and demands, and I resent having to jump straight into parenting – especially the discipline and consistency and follow-through part of parenting – when I’m barely awake. But this morning I chose to do what had to be done: I stayed in bed and waited, Amélie eventually did the dirty deed, and then she came proudly in to tell me what she had done and how good and clean her bottom now felt. Instead of getting cross I was able simply to confirm to her that I had ignored her cries, and congratulate her on following through with our agreement and doing such a good job of it! Then we got up, I gave her a homemade blueberry muffin, apple slices and some orange juice for breakfast, and we started our day quite happily.
This might seem remarkably unremarkable to you – and I suppose it is – but I know what a terrible cycle I can get into if I give in to the resentment and irritation first thing; if I let it lead me into recriminations or back-handed criticism, and then self-hatred and self-criticism which, un-dealt-with, just begs to be turned outwards onto someone else again…and on the vicious cycle turns. This is one of the tediously habitual ways that those wild animals rip me to shreds. But how differently the day can start and continue when I am able to stop, take stock, acknowledge rather than ignore my troubling emotions and conflicted desires, and truly CHOOSE a course of action rather than begin – and continue – with knee-jerk reactions. This morning, for instance, it turned out that all the wild animals needed was to be noticed, given a little pat on the head, and sent on their way.