When I heard a crash and muffled giggling, I rolled over and squinted at the alarm clock and groaned. I meant to get up two hours ago.
Normally, I wake up at 5:30, way before the kid-chaos begins. I love my quiet time: my Bible, a cup of tea, a notebook--ninety minutes of peace and stillness before the kids hit the ground buzzing with energy, ideas and needs. Sometimes I eat breakfast (hot!) by candlelight. Once I realized the value in starting a day before the kids started it for me, I became a committed early riser. As a homeschooling mom, I've come to cherish that quiet time.
But this particular morning, good intentions didn't overcome fatigue, and I slept in. I snoozed right through it: the morning stillness, the prayer time during which I always feel close to the Lord, a few moments of reflective Bible study. I sighed and sat up.
The truth is, I'm a lot more pleasant to be around when I've had my quiet time. I just have more to give after I've been filled up. But oh well. Maybe I'd pray in the shower, I thought. Complete my Bible study lesson over breakfast. I'd make the best of it, roll with the punches. I've always wanted to be someone who could roll with the punches. Be flexible, I told myself.
In the kitchen I boiled water for tea and laid my Bible on the table. I needed to finish today's lesson in order to be ready for the meeting tonight. (Truth be told, I'm pleased with myself for always having my homework done.) Maybe the kids would stay occupied with Lego's or books for a while.
I brewed my tea, found my place in my Bible and workbook, and thirty seconds later, seven-year-old Eli stood at my elbow. "Morning, Mommy. May I have a cup of cocoa?"
Because I was being flexible, and rolling with the punches despite my late start to the day, and because I was determined not to be resentful (it was my fault, after all) that I missed 'my' quiet time, I said brightly, "Sure!"
Here's a little secret: I find it a hassle to make cocoa for the kids. I always spill the powder on the counter, the kids always want straws, that they invariably use to flick sticky brown droplets all over the table, and they never drink it all.
Maybe Eli would sip his cocoa while I did my lesson. And the water was already hot. So I rushed through the fixing, grabbing, spilling, and stashing, thinking, Watch out Presence, here I come.
Just as I set Eli's cup down, Zoe shuffled in, sniffing her blankie. "Oh boy. Can I have cocoa, too?"
Sigh. "Well, of course," I said, hauling myself out of my chair a second time. At least the water was still hot. I put my bookmark in my workbook before it fell closed, and fixed another cocoa. More spills, more powder, more dashing.
They chattered and slurped while I tried to focus. It was getting more difficult. Out came the straws. Soon they would be hungry . . . but I charged through the reading, determined to keep first things first. (Truthfully, I was pleased with my own dedication.) Zoe jumped up and grabbed a handful of napkins. I squinted at the lesson, trying to concentrate.
At the end of the page, I realized I hadn't comprehended any of it. So much for coming away to a quiet place. Just as I reread the first paragraph, my oldest son walked in and surveyed the table. Mugs, chocolate droplets, crazy straws. Big party. "All right! Can I have cocoa, too?"
I rolled my eyes and shut my Bible abruptly. "Why not?" I asked. I confess my tone was irritated. Quite irritated. The chair screeched when I stood up.
I grabbed the empty kettle and clanked it in the sink as I refilled it.
"That's okay," Brady said quickly. At eleven, he's adept at reading me. Of course, an ox could have read me just then. "You don't have to," he said.
"Oh, it's no bother!" I said, in a voice that showed it was indeed a bother. "I'm happy to do it." Eli and Zoe stared at me over the rims of their mugs. I turned on the burner and glared at it, one hand on my hip. Brady slumped into his seat.
Sunlight streamed in the windows, but a black scribble-cloud hung in our kitchen. "I want to do my Bible study," I said, as though that explained my dramatics.
Then Brady said, "I don't have to have cocoa, Mom."
"I'll fix you cocoa," I growled.
I was frustrated that I couldn't do what I wanted to do, and frustrated with myself for being frustrated, for being a prime example of how not to behave, for flicking anger all over everyone like hot cocoa off the end of a straw.
Brady looked up at me, and in a quiet voice he said, "I wouldn't have asked if I knew you were going to do it with that attitude."
Well, that big selfish balloon in me deflated. My hand dropped from my hip and my chin lowered.
Out of my son's mouth I heard God's lesson for me that day, more clearly than if I'd read it and spent an hour meditating on it. While it may be that I like my quiet time so much simply because I'm holier than most other folks (ha!), it became painfully clear that my motivation was partly rooted in pride. What I do, even the good stuff, doesn't matter nearly as much as the heart-attitude with which I do it. And while Bible study, prayer and meditation are important, we can expect object lessons to see if anything we're learning is sinking in.
So I sat down with Brady's cocoa and my cold tea and apologized. "I messed up," I said as I sponged the spots off my Bible. I asked if they would forgive me. Familiar with the Land of Messing Up, the kids grinned and nodded. For a while we just hunkered over our mugs. My mind skimmed over the day and I thought about the heart of Christ, which I wanted to bring to each task I encounter. And in between slurps and sips, I heard something like peace.
Jennifer Morris has been homeschooling for six years. She lives with her husband and three children in rural Alaska. She can be reached at email@example.com.