From a journal entry about 30 years ago…
It was late evening. My husband was settled in his favorite chair, feet propped up before him, the Friday evening paper rustling occasionally as he acquainted himself with the day’s happenings. From his expression I could tell he wasn’t too impressed with anything he’d read so far.
Brandon, our nine-year-old son, was sprawled out on the living room floor engrossed in a new package of football cards spread in front of him as he sorted them into teams. Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Houston Oilers… He could tell you the position played, length of service and vital statistics of every player in the NFL. If only we could convince him to put that much energy into cleaning his room!
Occupied as they were, I didn’t think they’d miss me for awhile, so I decided to sneak away to write a long-overdue letter. Our house is small and affords few places of privacy, but once in awhile I can cloister myself in the bedroom and remain undetected and undisturbed for all of 15 minutes…if I’m lucky!
Armed with pen and paper I curled up in bed beneath my reading lamp and my old worn quilt, and with my lap desk on my knees I began to write. I had finished two whole paragraphs when there was a not-entirely-unexpected knock at the door; and without waiting for an invitation Brandon was in the room and all over the bed. He bounced nimbly from one corner to the other, finally landing next to me on his dad’s pillow.
A lick of brown hair hung over one eye, partially hiding a streak of dirt that ran from his forehead to his chin. His untied shoes were full of sand, most of which would no doubt find its way into my sheets. His Dallas Cowboys jersey and his jeans were spotted with dried gray-brown September mud, and he smelled like he’d just spent two hours working out at the local gym.
“What’cha doin’, mom?” I knew that question was coming by the look of, “I’m bored. Please entertain me,” that stared back at me from that adorably dirty face. My heart sank into my stomach as resignation set in.
“I’m writing a letter,” I responded as calmly as possible, my visions of privacy fading before my eyes. “What do you need, Beej?”
“Oh nothin’,” he decided after considering the question a moment, then he, too, snuggled down under the covers, shoes, sand and all.
I looked at the barely-begun letter on my lap. “Beej,” I said gently, “I came in here so I could be alone for a little bit and write my letter.” I hoped he’d understand my need of some quiet time for myself, but I saw immediately he’d gotten a different message altogether. One that smacked of W.C. Fields and “Go away, kid, ya bother me!” His face clouded over and he started to untangle himself from the covers. Conviction sprang to life in my heart as I realized I could write the letter some other time.
But my heart was hard tonight. It had been a long day. Indeed, a long week, full of church meetings, scouts, and two birthday parties. I deserved some time to myself, didn’t I? More conviction. “Tell ya what,” I graciously compromised, “you can stay if you lay there and be still so I can finish my letter.”
Brandon smiled a little half-smile. I breathed a sigh of relief and mentally patted myself on the back for handling the situation so well. He readjusted himself on the bed. My attention went back to the letter. Then he readjusted himself again. And again. And a fourth time. My irritability was nearing the vocal point when he slipped from under the covers and headed out the door.
“Now where are you going?” I asked, struggling between annoyance and the Spirit’s gentle prodding in my heart.
“You wanted to be alone,” he said over his shoulder as he pulled the door shut behind him and was gone.
He was gone, and so was an opportunity to get to know my son a little better. He’d come to me in need of nothing more than companionship and conversation, not so much to ask. He’d been open and vulnerable. I had been busy. Had I been willing to listen to the Spirit speaking to my heart, had I been willing to be open and vulnerable as well, we might have been able to draw a little closer together and perhaps teach each other something in the process. My aching heart told me I’d missed a blessing and so had Brandon. I swallowed the golf ball-sized lump in my throat and blinked back tears of regret as I realized how empty my “compromise” had been.
How I wished I had set the letter aside, pulled him onto my lap, and just held him as he tried to find the words to say what he was feeling. Or maybe what he was dreaming. Or dreading. How many other precious moments had slipped by unnoticed because I was too busy to stop and listen?
“Father, teach me to be sensitive to those times of need in my son; to hear his silent cries for attention over the noise of my own loud, restless yearnings; to be willing to fill my arms with him instead of unfinished letters and other busy work. Please, Father, teach me to be a better parent, a parent just like You. Amen.”