Today was one of those days where I was pleased with myself just for staying upright and not bursting into tears at any given moment. It wasn’t that anything terrible happened, (it doesn’t take much to get me near breakdown) just a poor night of sleep combined with a preschooler who needed to nap but wouldn’t plus the angst of knowing we need to move but not knowing where to go or what we will do for work. Then I get to St. Benedict (this is our last week covering him in our reading group) and I finish off the section about the abbot and all that is expected of him.
He must be chaste, temperate and merciful . . . he must hate faults but love the brothers . . . Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or over- suspicious he must not be ( I am all of these seriously, especially extreme and anxious) , . . . He must show forethought and consideration . . . he should be discerning and moderate (forethought and moderation are just about the last traits that anyone would ever use to describe me) . . . He must keep this rule in every particular . . .
And reading all this made me feel worse because I had been planning on writing a post about the abbot and how his role parallels that of a parent. I was clearly not measuring up Benedict’s standards.
In many ways the monastery does function like a family and the abbot is the father. He is responsible for teaching, loving and disciplining his monks just as a parent is for their children.
He must point out to them all that is good and holy more by example than by words. . . he must vary with circumstances, threatening and coaxing by turns, stern as a taskmaster, devoted and tender only as a father can be . . . He must so accommodate and adapt himself to each one’s character and intelligence . . .
His role sounds so similar to mine that reading all that is expected of him overwhelms me. The last thing I want right now is for someone to remind me of how hard parenting is while at the same time dangling perfection in front of my face.
After a frantic search for the milk which I had accidentally put in the cabinet and the Zip-lock bags which I had put in the fridge (I am not exaggerating here) I decided I needed to get out of the house and get some air. Trying to usher my daughter into the car I stood there grumpy, pleading with her to hurry up and to pay attention as she dawdled. It occurred to me, as much as I wished all my coaxing was teaching her to move faster and to take on a sense of urgency whenever I asked her to, all I was actually teaching her was to imitate my bad attitude. My example said, look at me, I’m trying to bear the weight of the world on my shoulders and I’m failing, and instead of this bringing me to my knees before Jesus I am standing alone and it is crushing me. And I am taking out my frustration on you, my three year old little girl. I’m being careless in my work and neglecting what is important to me all because things aren’t going my way and I can’t control them.
Benedict also says of the abbot,
He must always know what a difficult and demanding burden he has undertaken . . . Above all, he must not show too great a concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world, neglecting or treating lightly the welfare of those entrusted to him. Rather he should keep in mind that he has undertaken the care of souls for whom he must give account . . . He is to distrust his own frailty . . .
Benedict’s rule is about humility. It is about living in a way that requires you to face your own weakness and failure everyday and to recognize that Jesus is the only hope.
. . . and while helping others to amend by his warnings, he achieves the amendment of his own faults.
Through parenting his monks the abbot himself matures. This gives me hope that even for me, wisdom and discernment will come, and that maybe as I get older, my failures will get smaller. Tonight I know I can’t be the perfect parent I would like to be and I can’t raise the perfect child. But I can show my daughter what to do with her imperfections. I can demonstrate humility in my failures and show her what it looks like to fall at the feet of Jesus. I can take that milk out of the cabinet and pour a glass with gratefulness knowing that as much as I love my daughter and am here for her my Jesus is here for me.