I watched my four year old daughter walking a little ahead of me, her purse slung over her shoulder and the tilt of her chin just so. The out of body experience feeling struck again as I saw myself so perfectly mirrored in her mannerisms.
As the primary educator of my children, I get very frustrated sometimes. I long to have deep, philosophical conversations that reveal a common love of God and a deep bond in the brother and sisterhood of Christ. But, more often than not, I find myself trying to teach them a lesson over the antics of a three year old while juggling a baby and getting interrupted with, “Can I have some more apple juice?” and “When are we going on another hotel trip?”
Sometimes I wonder if they are paying attention at all, if they hear anything I am saying, and I am often tempted to give up, to throw in the towel and coast along in the wake of their Catholic school education and weekly Mass.
But I know it is so important that all of the spiritual lessons they learn elsewhere are reinforced in our home. I know it is so important that most of those spiritual lessons are learned first in our home.
But how do I accomplish this when the decibel level in our house is usually louder than a marching band in a gymnasium and the craziness level rivals a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Sometimes I want to stand on top of our kitchen table and yell, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?!?”
The truth is, our children do hear us in many more ways than we realize. Whenever I see one of our children acting exactly like me or my husband, I am struck by how much they learn from us when we aren’t saying anything at all.
The actions of our bodies convey lessons in all of the virtues, but most importantly in the virtue of love. They sense us giving our love freely to them when we hug or hold them, even when they don’t have the words to ask us for it. They know that our unconditional love results in the total gift of self that we make to them each day as we feed them, clothe them, and comfort them. They see us as faithful spouses and faithful parents, loving through the good days and bad. And they see the fruitfulness of their parents’ love through virtue and new siblings.
Free, Total, Faithful, Fruitful–these are all ways of love that form a complete cushion of security for our children. These are all ways of love that speak to the Truth in their hearts–the Truth of God’s great love for us.
Did Jesus not give Himself freely on the Cross? He was God–He didn’t have to die for us, but He freely chose to because He loves us so much. He also gave Himself totally–He stayed to the end. He didn’t bring Himself down from the Cross before bowing His head to the ultimate sacrifice. He gave Himself completely to us. He was faithful–faithful to God and faithful in His commitment of love to His children. He fulfilled the prophecy of His death and perfectly obeyed His Father’s will. And the hour Jesus died, the Church was established, allowing a fruitfulness like none other to flourish.
Free, Total, Faithful, Fruitful–all indispensable ways of authentic love that Jesus tried to teach us through parables, lessons, and even miracles, but all lessons that we only truly learned when He bowed His head in silence on the Cross.
As He hung on that Cross, a part of Him must have wanted to scream, “Can you hear me now? Can you finally hear how much I love you by what you see before you?” But He knew it was His actions, His image, His authentic portrayal of real love that would speak the loudest by whispering in our ears the Truths that would set our hearts free.
So, too, do our children learn the lessons of love by what we live with our bodies–and that’s a language that can be heard in even the noisiest of households.
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”–Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider