Is there such a thing as the liturgical season of the snipe? The side-eye? The passive aggressive glare, or the directly aggressive loading or unloading of the dishwasher?
No? Well, there should be.
And it should happen every late spring/early summer after a year and a half pandemic, when the days are still cold, the sunsets are still untowardly early, and the beauty of this extended time spent together has turned into a familial Lord of the Flies situation.
I can speak to the unexpected graces of this time stuck together during the pandemic with joy. The discovery of the wholeness of each member of our family has been a strangely delivered gift, albeit a costly one.
And I can assure you that my precious cherubs, beloved children of the Most High, many times have loved nothing more than to screech at each other, and throw blame around like candy at a Fourth of July parade, and then come to the inevitable conclusion of screaming ‘MOOOMMM! So and so did such and such!’
Obviously as good parents, we responded to this by ‘having to do laundry’ and hiding in the basement and eating the snacks we’ve hidden down there from our children. That is, when my spouse and I weren’t sniping at each other as well. Probably about the laundry and who ate the last good ‘basement snack’ (yes, this is a thing in our household).
In May, I decided to fully abandon all parenting and completed a forty-hour Zoom program hosted by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center on Conflict Mediation for Church Leaders. Ostensibly, this was part of my continuing education commitment as a priest; realistically, it was also a week respite from juggling the work and parenting balancing act. I hid in my basement, surrounded by coffee and the aforementioned basement snacks (and piles of laundry), and along with 35 other people, delved into the nitty gritty details of conflict and mediation. The LMPC is grounded in the Mennonite tradition of believing in Christ-following peacebuilding and conflict transformation (not, note, “resolution”).
On the first day, our leader laid out the theological groundwork for conflict transformation and mediation, and these particular learnings stopped me in my tracks:
- Reconciliation is God’s primary responsibility and is a gift to us.
- Our work is to implement, be prepared to engage and do the work, but ultimately reconciliation is in God’s hands.
- Conflict is often an opportunity to learn something about God.
Growing up, I assumed conflict was a bad thing or at least something of which to be moderately ashamed. As an adult, seeing conflict in my family or experiencing it with my spouse—and especially under the past year plus of duress—was understandable, but I added that to my ever-expanding list of perceived failures and missteps as a parent and partner. Understanding conflict as something not only inherently human and biblical, but of reconciliation as a holy gift, astounded me.
Could it be that God isn’t interested in ‘getting to yes’ as quickly as possible? That perhaps God is interested in how we create space for transformation, curiosity and justice on all planes of our lives? Including dishwasher squabbles? Including sniping children? Including my own whiny prayer version of ‘Moooooommm……,’ which many times presents as ‘Gooooodddddd…. So and so did such and such and make them stop’? Could it be that doling out justice wasn’t my primary role as parent, but making space for deep listening was?
I don’t know if that new framework relieves me or not. What it has done is shifted my perspective from settling too comfortably into the role of tired arbitrator to trusting slightly more that God is at work in the midst of it all. It allows me to recall that I am not meant to always solve the situation at hand, but allow space for God to be present, to listen carefully, and most of all, to not run away to the basement until it’s all over. If conflict offers us an opportunity to learn something new about God, and about ourselves, then even the season of the snipe can be holy and thin time. But still made better by basement snacks.