Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Carry On My Wayward Son

I had a vision a few days ago . . . an honest from God vision just as I was walking from my bedroom past the bathroom door into the hallway. I had been lying in bed thinking about a class I had to teach that Sunday. Prayer. And not only prayer, but a rather prescriptive way to pray so that our prayers can become more effective, as if there's an efficiency quotient by which one may measure our output and God's response on a scale.

Not a comfortable topic because I have felt, for years, that I pray incorrectly. Not with sufficient fervor, not with the intimacy of a best friend confiding the happenings of the day. More rote. Like a list, or a report to a superior officer after a successful/disastrous mission into Gabon. When I hear people talking about how they have poured out their hearts to God, how prayer is their favorite time of the day, a respite from the world, I can feel my eyes narrow and my head tilt and, simultaneously, my mind wonders and my heart wants.

I sort of envision myself as praying sideways, my prayers attached like footnotes and appendices to the really weighty matters of the day--crazed gunmen in Virginia and dictators in Zimbabwe, the definition of marriage in the California legislature, a child lying maimed and broken on a Thai beach. When you're accustomed to praying cripple-crabbed, it's a little difficult to suddenly turn face forward and straightout ask, "Oh, and, by the way, I really need . . ." Straightout blessing asking is fraught, at least for me, with the emotional calibrating of whether my recent prayers have been of sufficient intensity to warrant me asking for this particular without a severe loss of integrity. And, by then, I'm just a deer in the headlights. Frozen. Inarticulate.

So, it was with these thoughts wafting through my early morning mind that I stepped out of bed and past the bathroom door. And then I saw . . .

My two sons, Adam and Seth.

Adam is 9. He eats with his hands. Starts out with a fork, but by the end, his fingers are in his food, and in his mouth, feeling and tasting the runny yolk of his morning eggs. He angers with his whole body. His head shakes, his feet stamp. His hands throw things. He loves with his whole body as well. He has only just given up twirling his fingers in the hair at the nape of my neck while he talks to me. When he speaks to me, he lies across my lap, and his hand reaches up to turn my face to him. He speaks, and requires me to listen, with his whole body. One of his hands on either side of my face, his own face inches away from mine, his dark brown eyes looking into mine, gauging my reaction. There is a moment in every day when Adam lies across me, whether on the couch, or in his bed, or draped across my shoulders and the office chair as I type. When I am particularly short with him, he has been known to shout in anguish, "But that hurt my feelings. You hurt my feelings." It sounds like I have hurt not only his feelings, but his liver, his adenoids, his femur, even his prostate--although that shouldn't really come into play for another 50 years. That is how Adam likes to speak to me, and how he needs to be listened to.

Seth is a cool glass of water. Grey-eyed, dishwater-blonde hair. He starts a conversation, without apparently checking to see if I'm listening. Just starts talking. Mostly from the other couch. At a distance. Sometimes, he will sit next to me, his thigh touching, ever so slightly, mine, his hands busy shooting a basketball in the air, his eyes watching his follow through. But he talks. In questions and observations. About how a country determines the value of their currency; about the inanity of the ban against tackle football at Wasatch Elementary; of how he won the Geography Bee because he got less wrong than the others, and that was pretty sweet because he only went there for the cookies they handed out afterward. I don't believe I have ever heard him use the word feelings as it relates to himself. Still, he seeks me out . . . for his thigh-slightly-touching, hands-busy, eyes-somewhere-else, sideways-grin conversations.

I saw both these bodies, and I saw myself. Listening, as needed. Listening, because these were my sons, and I would listen to them however they chose to speak to me. I can listen so closely to Adam I feel his words breathe against my face. I can listen, head tilted, both of us staring at a point in the middle distance, to Seth. I listen as needed. I don't measure one against the other, and condemn Adam for his inability to reign himself in, or mark it against Seth that he cannot loosen up. They are as they are.

In that moment (you know those moments when time expands and you think you've been still for minutes/hours, but your foot hasn't quite hit the carpet at the completion of a step you took, what seems like, yesterday), I knew I didn't prefer one over the other. That I would talk to Adam and Seth for as long as they wanted to talk to me, in whatever way they needed. No prerequisites. I knew I would never, in my purest mother heart (we all have days), turn from the one who does not speak to me in the way that suits me most.

Then I heard a voice, "And neither would I."

With that, I walked down the hallway to start making Adam breakfast.

(Title of the Post comes from Kansas song that was playing on iTunes as I wrote this. Seems appropriate.)


  1. Thank you for blessing my life and thank you for being a blessing in it.

  2. This is so beautiful and insightful. Thank you for sharing this perspective - I believe it is true.

  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to write down your thoughts, especially about this issue. I often feel as you do, about not being worthy of being listened to. This post helped me put my conversations with God in a more loving view than any Sunday School/Relief Society lesson has.

  4. I just read this on Meridian Magazine. Thank you.