I seem to spend much of my life trying to avert war.
I do. Conflict, at least. Alright, anything from bickering and squabbling to major civil unrest. It's tiring.
Is that what you think when you look down on this earth and count the places where we're at each others' throats? Do you sigh and shake your head? Do you wonder at our ferocity as I sometimes wonder at the fury of my two small girls?
They are seven and five years old. They are beautiful children with smiles that light up a room. They are sweet, thoughtful, loving and gentle.
Then there are the times when the explosions come out of nowhere and ignite everything around that's flammable. I am speaking mainly about my littlest daughter, Katy. The Tantrum Queen.
I would love to see inside her head, just for a minute or two. Half an hour, tops. Surely it would explain so much to me if I could just get a look at the world from her point of view. What is it about getting up time or teeth-brushing time, or getting dressed time, or leaving for school time, or mealtimes, or going to bed time that is so incendiary? If only I knew. Her temper can go from 0-60 in a matter of milliseconds. There will be hardly any warning before the balloon goes up. And when it does, we need to run for cover. She can scream, she can shout, she can kick, hit, throw things and turn over small coffee tables. There is no earthly point in reasoning; the order of the day is to prevent serious injury. Most at risk are the shins and eardrums.
Lord, keeping the peace is not easy when it is necessary to get out of bed, clean teeth, get dressed and eat meals, then do it all in reverse on a daily basis. I can't let her live on Haribo sweets in her pyjamas until her teeth go furry; I don't think that's anywhere in the job description for being someone's Mummy. So carrots need to be eaten. Toothbrushes have to do their thing. Socks need to be put on and rules have to be stuck to.
I guess every mum feels like a referee. I'm just having a moan, that's all. If the children are quiet, playing nicely together, laughing - I rush to smile and point out how proud I am of the lovely way they're playing. Within seconds, someone's been assaulted. They can be best friends in all the world one minute - Katy wailing how will she possibly manage at infant school without her Elizabeth, who starts Juniors in September - and then moments later she'll be hurling a marker pen at Lizzie's head and telling her she's a stupid girl and she hates her. Elizabeth can be charm itself at a teddies' tea party with her little sister and half a minute later kicking Kate under the table because she was 'looking at her with a funny expression'.
I am stern, I am understanding, I am patient, I investigate.
I am calm, I am fair, I am judicious, I blow my stack.
Blessed are the peacemakers. How blessed are they if they avert a crisis a few times a day, run away and hide a couple of times and then once or twice make it a whole lot worse? What about those times when it's completely unclear who is the aggressor, who's in the wrong, who did it or threw it or tore it or spoilt it? What does the peacemaker do when two angry children with mutinous faces are expecting justice for the Nth time in an evening and the would-be peacemaker just wants a coffee and five minutes peace?
I would love to know how you train a child in the way that she should go with gentleness and compassion when you have to tell that child that she can't have a biscuit because tea is nearly ready, knowing full well that you might as well light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance. When do those susceptible grow out of tantrums, Father? Does it ever happen? Do I want to know the answer?
I'm not really going anywhere with this, Lord God. I love my girls and I wouldn't have them any other way. Actually, I would. I'd have them a bit less volatile. A bit more understanding of my point of view. A bit less heavy sighing and eye rolling from my older daughter and a bit less shrieking and flailing from my younger one. But I don't seriously think that my experiences differ from the norm very much.
It's just a stage they're going through, isn't it? Isn't it?
Thankyou for my girls, God. I love them to the ends of the earth. Oh, Lord, I bet it's quieter at the ends of the earth, is it? Not so much arguing and bickering? Who has the bigger biscuit, who is hogging the red pen, whose sunflower is the largest? I love them. I would do anything for them. I so want them to grow up as thoughtful, compassionate women. I want them to do things to help people, to make people happy, not putting themselves first whatever the cost. I want them to be fair, generous and warm.
Sometimes it's hard to stay one step ahead; to know how to play it. I find myself making so many decisions on a daily basis and trying to second guess the outcome of each one. Always analysing the implications, looking for negative precedents that I inadvertently set that might come back to bite me one day. I know the danger that lies in the three words, 'Just this once...'
I know the onerous weight of having to be oh-so-fair every step of the way. Nobody's slice of cake must be larger than anyone else's. The felt-tip pens must be equidistant from both colouring books. Perish the thought that one should get to wear their favourite T-shirt when the other's is in the wash. Often I feel ill-equipped for the task of being a mum; I don't feel very grown up myself.
Endlessly entertaining, endlessly confounding. Frequently surprising, frequently infuriating. Challenging, amazing, hilarious and awe-inspiring, my daughters leave me shouting with frustration and speechless.
'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.'
Lord, does this include those of us that simply want to make a happy home for our families? For those of us that resolve every night to be more patient with our children, and for those of us who look forward to seeing their little faces as they emerge into the playground after a school day only to be cross and irritable before they even get back home?
I do my best to avoid flare-ups and disagreements and sometimes I unthinkingly cause them. I try to choose my battles. I try to intercept missiles and intervene in a timely manner, and sometimes I put my head in the sand and hope that nobody gets seriously hurt. I think this is family life. Am I wrong? Somewhere, is there a mother who presides over a brood of children who never have a cross word? Nobody ever feels hard done to?
I don't think so.
Lord, I know that you don't have any grandchildren. My two girls are your children and so am I. I have my fair share of sulks and strops and tantrums. I dig my heels in and refuse to be placated just as Katy does. I roll my eyes and do my own thing like Lizzie. Lord, is it as frustrating to be our Heavenly Father as it is sometimes for me to be their earthly mother?
Give me what I need to do this job well, Lord. Give me wisdom and an insight into their world. Give me a sense of humour. A bigger one. A better one. A sense of humour that's more easily accessed than mine sometimes seems to be. The ability to throw caution to the wind and let them make a mess without fretting that everything isn't perfect.
More love. More generosity. More gentleness. More fun.
This job is far too big for just me, Lord. You chose me to be mummy to these wonderful children so full of potential and you don't make mistakes - you think that between us, me and you, we can do it. Help me hold up my end of the bargain. Lord, I need your help. I need you to teach me to be all the things that we want them to be; no good trying to get them to do as I say and not as I do. Change my heart to be more like yours, Father. I'd rather have them take after you than me. Teach me to guide and to forgive as you do, over and over again; and the many times that I get it wrong, Lord, give me the humility to own up and be grown up.
Thankyou for the immeasurable blessing of my two girls. For their smiles, their wit, their energy and their inspiration. I would do anything for them - I pray that they know that. Please Lord, help me to help them grow up to know right from wrong. To choose kindness over selfishness and forgiveness over conflict. To understand their worth and know that they are loved so, so much. By us and by you.
I once asked you for patience. You gave me two children so that I could practice and get good at it. Hmm. I won't make that mistake again. Maybe when I'm as old as Methuselah I'll have patience in buckets. Alternatively, by then I might just be so hard of hearing that I can't hear the shouting.