Right now, we have two people in the family who are about to start driving. I keep telling our daughter and our son that the key to good driving is to “be where you are supposed to be.” And, I added recently to this advice,
“Expect the other drivers to often be where they are not supposed to be.”
My dad taught me to drive and emphasized “defensive driving.” Before we really encountered other cars, we would go out of town into the western Kentucky countryside, where the big traffic was the occasional tractor or slow-going, pick-up truck.
I got a real feel for the road. I learned to use all my mirrors. I ran slightly off the road. Drove fast. Drove very slowly. Stopped. Started. Braked. Swerved. Overall, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I was very young, fourteen. By the time I actually got the permit, I was pretty comfortable behind the wheel.
One morning, after I had graduated to in-town driving (permit in hand…ha ha), we went out to get hot biscuits and sausage at a local fast-food chain, and I almost took the overhang off the drive through.
Learning to drive is an involved process. In a big city like Atlanta, it is daunting. I look to my husband to be the main teacher, especially for our daughter as he will stay calm and not scream, as I already have done. I see myself working better with our son as he is phlegmatic of temperament and does not get his feathers ruffled easily. Also, while the mother-daughter dynamic goes great with going out to lunch and shopping, at least in Casa Sullivan, it does not go as well with driving lessons.
Parenting teenagers and young adults is the ride of a lifetime. It is a privilege and a payoff of sorts. What I mean is that, when the three Sullivan young were very young, I told myself to take lots of time during those hours of diapers and sleep deprivation and really enjoy being home with them. We lived in a very close-knit community for 15 years, one with lots of stay-at-home moms …also, moms who worked very little outside the home, so I also got this message of “really enjoy them while they are young,” from some very wise, friendly and steady women. I knew one day the challenges of “those teenage years” would hit a bit hard, so it was very intentional on my part to savor the slow-going days of babyhood and childhood when your kiddos want nothing more to be at home and for you to be around.
I sure do not want my kids now (and, yes, you will always be mama’s kiddos) to think that I do not enjoy what is happening right now or that I did not enjoy junior high and high school. I did. I do. In many ways, I enjoy raising a family now more than ever…here’s what I am trying to express about that “payoff” idea: that all these years, we have been like birds in our nest. Now it is getting time that the older two go and build their own nests. Building a life is no small task. For parents the payoff is seeing your kids be where they are supposed to be.
Oh, sure, some kiddos take a detour or two. This usually is a blessing as we learn to rely on God and to pray like never before. Most parents want to see the kiddos flex and stretch their wings. It is what we are waiting for. We have prayed and worked, rested and played. We will keep doing those things, even if in different states or places.
Driving, for me, is a bit like praying. You start with little traffic, repeating the basics over and over. You practice, you repeat. One day, you can take big trips, traverse highways and superhighways, go across country, if you wish, as you will be an expert driver.
One way that driving is not-at-all like praying is that, as Christians, we give the others in our lives always the benefit of the doubt. We are often expecting that they, like us, want to “be where they are supposed to be.” We are not thinking defensively or in a worse-case-scenario mode.
It may be the number one pitfall of the Christian walk of faith to think about and see the faults in others as more significant than our own. If our rosaries and Masses are offered for all those other sinners we see, well, what about that?
Sin is real. We struggle with it. Yes, we see others struggling too –and, we should pray for them when they ask us to do so. We should also ask God and his mother for the graces to see ourselves as the first and biggest sinner. This is not to beat ourselves up. This is to be in reality. Reality is that no one needs grace and timely assistance from God more than we ourselves. From this perspective, we will have “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.” We will find that one of the best places to be is on our knees in prayer looking up to God and not down on others.
This past school year, I have found a very special prayer. I found it in the book, The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey, by the talented writer, Lorraine V. Murray. I want to copy out in this post the whole prayer as it is such a “let go and let God,” prayer. It is a prayer to St. Rafael the Archangel, one that can be an effective tool for discernment. St. Rafael is known for bringing us poor sinners healing graces.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was sometimes quirky and cranky. She was after all one of the most talented writers and greatest artists to have ever lived in this country. While she had that “artistic temperament,” she was kind and patient. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She knew who she was and where she was supposed to be. She was ill most of her life, yet her spiritual and creative energy seemed to know no bounds. She had eyes for our Lord and his saving works. She loved others as He loves them.
Flannery O’ Connor heard Jesus’s voice; His mission for her life was her life. She was known to have prayed this prayer every day, a prayer to lead us all to happy meetings:
O, Rafael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us:
Rafael, Angel of happy meetings, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for. May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured by your Joy.
Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.
Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.
Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.