My oldest son, 7, asked me a question today while I was folding laundry (my second least favorite household chore, next to putting the laundry away). “Mom, what is the most important thing?” I paused, looked at him with my most curious glance, and asked him what he meant. He meant: what matters most?
I pause. If I couldn’t speak and he could assess what mattered most to me based only on my actions, what would he see? Some days, he would see that what matters most is that people like and approve of me. Some days, he’d see that what matters most is that I’m right. Some days he’d probably say what matters most to me is getting everywhere on time. I think that how we live each moment is an exact expression of what matters most to us then. And that what matters most to us in all these moments rarely matches the stuff we spout out when we’re trying to impress others about what great people we are.
Back to the moment with my kiddo. I said: “Everyone answers that question differently. Some people will say that their health is the most important thing–because if you’re not healthy, you can’t do what you love. Some will say that their work is the most important thing. Some say God. Some say family. I’m curious about you. What’s most important to you?”
He said, “God. Then my family. Then, my life.” I stopped folding and just gave him my most solid mom look and said those things were all on my list too.
(I’d like to say I should get 3 mom points for this moment. Which should make up for the 3 mom points I lost this week at the elementary school at orientation when he told his new principal that his mom overslept and he ate cheetos and chocolate milk for breakfast and played video games while he waited on his mother to get up.)
I try hard not to make up ‘supposed tos’ when they aren’t useful. Like, what good moms are supposed to do with their children on weekends or cook for dinner. How many times am I supposed to give my kids a bath? Go out with my friends? Leave town without my family? What are the rules, universe?! Just tell me what I’m supposed to do! Supposed tos are short-cuts to answers that keep us oriented outward, away from our own wisdom and intuition. I’ve tried to avoid over-using them with my boys so they know that their compass is the life inside them, not some directioness dot that keeps changing position in the evolving social climate.
So I don’t believe I’ve ever said to my son: “This is how you’re supposed to care about things: God, then family, then yourself.” We’ve been searching for a church home lately and a little out of touch with a regular sanctuary (though we have church all the time in other places). So I was surprised to hear him say this since it’s the kind of a thing he’d hear about in that Sunday School class he’s not going to. And I was really hopeful that it is what is really true to his own heart.
He starts second grade tomorrow. He’s walking into a new school, one much bigger than the primary school he attended for Kindergarten and first grade. This is the year, per his teacher’s welcome note, that he transitions from “learning to read to reading to learn.” It feels big to me. And so I told him two things before I kissed him goodnight: First, there are so many people who love and care for him and who will watch over him. Me, dad, bus drivers, older kids, teachers, librarians, God–God is always with you. And second, that he’s got a big, good, brave heart (because we also believe that God lives in us) and he can choose to do stuff that matches his heart or he can choose to do stuff that matches other kids (or the ‘supposed tos’.) Doing the right thing means doing the thing that matches what is most important to him.
I reminded him: You are loved. You have the divine with you and in you. You can trust yourself.
Three lessons I have spent my life learning over and over again.
Integrity–the actual definition of it–is about being whole. It’s about having all things aligned. That what we say lines up with what we do, for istance. What I didn’t tell my son in the dining room today was that sometimes what we say is most important to us doesn’t always match how we live. A year ago I was in a group of colleagues saying that my health was really important to me. And a quick inventory of my behavior demonstrated that it was actually at the bottom of my list. No annual physical in years; prescriptions lapsing without a care; no regular exercise in months; a diet that did not make me feel well; and a pretty consistent neglect of my own body and mind. Neglect is a strong word–and it’s what a professional would have called it if I were talking about how I treated a child. But since it was my own body, it was perfectly acceptable.
Big things happen when we tell ourselves the truth. Miracles happen when we love ourselves through our own lack of integrity.
What would happen if for an entire day, I lived as though I really believed I was loved no matter what, I have the divine in me, and I can trust myself? How would I handle being hurt by a colleague’s rude remarks? How would I handle praise or a wonderful gift? How would I react to a bad diagnosis? How would I talk to my kids after they misbehave in public? With whom would I spend my time?
I invite you to join me in getting honest with yourself this week about what matters most. What do you say matters most? How do your moments and days match that? And when you see the big, gaping holes, respond to yourself with love bigger than all the gaps you see. When you see that what you thought was most important was your family yet every moment you spent with them you were actually on your phone scrolling through facebook. When you see that what you thought was most important was showing kindness and yet you were too afraid to make eye contact with the homeless man at the library. Respond to yourself with love. Miracles will happen in your heart when you get brave enough to tell yourself the truth and when you get soft enough to love yourself through it.