Friday, October 10, 2014

anxiety, guilt and the holy work of play

The other morning I was walking a few blocks from my home with my three children, two in the pram in front of me and one strapped to my chest.  I was almost at the top of the hill, across from a petrol station, when a young man began crossing the street pointing at us and yelling angrily.  He was obviously wasted and I had a clear moment to think, "Wow.  What am I going to do?  How am I going to protect my kids?"  I glanced around to see if there was anyone who would help us.  A woman I recognised shouted at him, "They're just children!  You leave them alone!"  He stumbled away to the bus stop shelter, suddenly looking harmless

Sometimes it seems the whole world is a wasted man lumbering towards my children and I'm not sure what to do.

I'm sure it's something most mothers have felt from the beginning of humanity, I imagine Eve holding her precious firstborn with relief and joy after tremendous pain and in the next breath fearing for his little life, worrying that his future will be as painful as her labour.  I read the news and contemplate how the world will be when my kids are adults, how nation-states will have changed, where will the countries that have issued their passports be dropping bombs?  Who will our neighbours be, what about our enemies?  It's possibly still postpartum hormones but I nearly have to look away from their faces because they are so beautiful and they don't yet know how unsafe the world is.  I don't want them to ever know.

And the things is, as sketchy as our neighbourhood can occasionally be, we also live so close to the sea.  The weather is warming and the kids and I spend so much time outside doing nothing but enjoying creation's goodness.   I have this subtle, nagging guilt; it's rare for me to feel free and joyful for too long before I remember those who are displaced and mourning, especially in the Middle East but just about anywhere.  The pregnant women, those whose labour is imminent, those giving birth even as bombs destroy close to them or soldiers are fast approaching - this is reality and I don't know how people survive it.  I worry about what God thinks about all of our sunny tomfoolery, about how much time my children and I spend playing, is there something more important that we should be doing right now?

I learned about the Christian Peacemaker Teams in 2003, when Peggy Gish and her late husband, Art, visited my college and we had a small meeting where we heard their stories from Iraq and Palestine.  Their hair was as white as their commitment to non-violence was fierce.  They were the real deal and I was left deeply inspired.  I've been reading Peggy's blog lately, she is still with a small CPT team in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, welcoming IDPs and sitting with local leaders who are building bridges for peace.  I remember Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of mothers who used creative non-violent resistance to see the end of civil war in their beloved Liberia and saw the establishment of a new government.  I love knowing there are brave and kind people in the world.

I wonder where I'd be right now if I was single, I wonder where I'll be when my hair is grey.  Is it okay that motherhood has so drastically changed me?  That all I really want to do now is keep my babies safe?  I used to feel brave and strong and I don't feel that way at all anymore.

Somewhere deeply buried beneath my anxiety and my guilt there are tiny seeds of hope pushing up on the darkest earth.  I want my imagination to massively expand, I want my heart to be broken and heal wide open, I want to pray for a justice drenched peace in the world and in my neighbourhood.  I want my mind to be surprisingly reoriented towards the best security we have:  God is midwife, and the Prince of Shalom arrived as a baby, taught us the way and inaugurated a whole new world.

How we do conflict in our home does matter, and what I teach my kids about power and weapons and money and the world's history and loving people who seem very different than us will give them freedom to dream bigger and more whole-ly than I will ever be able to dream.  There is something holy in their innocence, their joy, their commitment to laughter and bare feet and play.  Maybe it's the prayer language of pre-schoolers, calling the whole world back to the way things were in those very first days.

Let the children lead.