A friend and I were walking through a summer market today when we spied a t-shirt that read: “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.” My friend giggled and said, “That’s true!” I smiled. For the past month, we’ve been hosting a friend’s daughter from France; for the entire month of August, she’s stayed in our home, come with us on our errands and our holidays, and basically become a part of the family. Except that, after four weeks with her living in our house, we’re still on our best behavior. I still get frustrated with my children over the state of their bedrooms, but instead of delivering a loud lecture after which I may have to apologize, I simply sigh, make eye contact, and ask them again to clean their rooms. And instead of carrying on a lengthy and heated discussion with my husband about the same thing we’ve been discussing for the past twenty years, I smile politely and choose to shrug off our disagreements, or at least postpone them until we’re alone.
Why does the presence of a stranger make my family more deserving of my kindness?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The seventh Beatitude is a call to peace, but as Pope Francis suggests in Gaudete et Exsultate, this isn’t easy. “We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity, and skill.” Peace sounds complicated, a craft that needs to be honed, but one that through time and practice can be attained. I can attest to this.
I used to scream at my kids. At one time in my life as a mother, it felt like the only way to get their attention or get them to take me seriously. When I was frustrated at them, I’d take a quick glance at the windows to make sure they weren’t open before letting loose a wild tirade that was as loud as it was ineffective. Then one February, I received a lovely Valentine from my daughter, Ellie, which read: “You are a great mom. I hope you can find a way not to scream.” I was gutted. This wasn’t the impression I wanted to make on my children, a mother who “screams.”
I was determined to do better, and little by little, though I’m not yet perfect, I improved. I realized that f I had time to make sure the windows were closed so that the neighbours wouldn’t hear how crazy I sounded before I barked at my children, I had time to ask myself the question:
What will bring more unity to my family in this situation?
Never was the answer to wildly scream at my children.
“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding,” says St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is my internal motto when my children frustrate me to the point of yelling. What will bring peace to this situation? What will build up my child, myself, this family, right now?
This certainly doesn’t mean I can or must ignore or disregard the conflict, the bad behavior, the messy room; instead, the seventh Beatitude calls us to treat conflict as “a link in the chain of a new process,” a link in the chain towards greater unity, and mutual upbuilding of our family.
Recently while I was helping with my daughter’s class at school, her teacher, new to teaching this year, starting yelling loudly at the children to be quiet, line up, and stop fooling around. I smiled to myself sympathetically. I heard in her voice the frustration I also used to take out verbally on my children. Peace takes time to grow into our role as parents (or teachers), creativity to find ways to build up instead of tear down with our words and lots and lots of practice.