As many of you already know from my social media page, my oldest son Samuel (grade four) decided that he was going to be a monk for 24 hours. In history class, he has been learning about St. Benedict and the Benedictine monks. He eagerly took notes on what a monk’s day consisted of and informed me last night before bed that he was going to do this. I was so impressed by his determination that I offered a prize. I told him that if he could successfully complete a day as a Benedictine monk, I would excuse him from all homeschool for the rest of the week! He was up for the challenge!
Well, sure enough, Sam set his alarm for 2 a.m., as monks would have gotten up to pray and sing psalms at this time. He completed task one. His morning followed with a power sleep from about 2:30-6:30am until he finally woke up to “scrub up” before his modest 7am breakfast of four crackers. He took his research seriously and wanted to make it as authentic as possible. I even convinced him to let me shave his head in a Benedictine monk style and his father took our old brown bedsheet and curtain ropes to make him his own little outfit. Now, for those of you who do not know, the Benedictine monks, apart from prayer and singing times, have a vow of silence. They also forsake all personal possessions. Samuel was not allowed to speak the whole day, play with any toys, or even go to his room (lest he be distracted by personal possessions).
He took his monk duties seriously, studying during study hours (doing homeschool work), then meeting me at 10am for confession time (as monks did, or else would be punished), and then spent time to read and study the bible. He even continued on in the afternoon, to clean our monastery and perform more prayers and bible reading. I’ll fast forward to his little afternoon power playdate with a friend in which he needed to continue his vow of silence, so he brought a little white board and marker to communicate (it was the quietest playdate ever! Beautiful!). We proceeded to go to the library and then to his music class. He was only allowed one larger meal (of perogies and sausage…I know…not monk style, but that’s what I had!) at 1:30pm, and that was it. He was to fast for the rest of the day and go to bed at 7pm. That was the monk’s life and his day in a nutshell.
Well, everyone has been asking how the day went. While I briefly recapped his “duties and actions” for the day, something very interesting happened. First of all, as his mother, I know my son. Having him be sleep deprived, be “hangry”…knowing that four meager crackers would not last him until 1:30pm, I knew he would probably be more sensitive today. I tried to limit his interaction with his younger five year old brother, and even lessened a little bit of his home school load.
Sure enough, by about noon, the shoe dropped. My son, who LOVES to sing and hum, especially while practicing piano, was denied this opportunity, as his vow of silence forbade him to. My youngest boy, building Lego in the background starts singing loudly while Sam is playing his piano songs (nothing terribly out of the ordinary though). Well, my sleep deprived, hungry 9 year old boy snapped.
We spent the next 30 minutes having a one sided verbal conversation. He would angrily write on his little white board about how annoying his brother was, and how he wanted to quit this stupid monk day! He continued to write sentence upon sentence as angrily as possible, while erasing and rewriting words he would misspell (which sort of takes away from the drama of his angry sentences), of how this was unfair, of how it was suppose to be fun, but now I’m a mean mom who is making him suffer on purpose. I would verbally try to calm him, encourage him, etc…but to no avail.
Well at 12:46, Samuel lost all his “monkly” composure. He storms downstairs and starts shouting about how miserable Monk Day has become amongst other irrational statements. He continued to rant about how much work I had piled on him, how his brother has it so easy and his life is terrible, how I don’t love him and how I offered a prize that I knew would be unattainable just to make him suffer. Truly, I was torn between being angry with him for his disrespectful tone, and wanting to laugh at the incredulity of the situation, knowing that he’s just so hyper emotional from lack of sleep and lack of food.
After his tirade, I went downstairs, made him his food, brought it upstairs and asked if he was ready to talk. By now he was calm. Also, starting to scarf down his perogies and sausage, I could tell he was already feeling better. Believe me, after his little dramatic breakdown, I spent some time praying myself! I asked God how He wanted me to handle his episode, while understanding the build up events that led to this. When God revealed to me the treasure in this seemingly innocent little experiment, I shared it with Sam while he inhaled his food.
“Samuel, do you really think that I gave you more school work today than any other day?” He shakes his head. “Samuel, do you think that it was fair for me to keep Caleb upstairs most of the day when he wanted to play downstairs just so that I could be sensitive to your lack of sleep and not wanting you to be annoyed?” He shakes his head. “Do you think that I piled anything extra onto your special Monk Day that you would have otherwise had to do?” He shakes his head. “Great. So now that we have cleared up some of the things that you seem to have overacted about, I want to share with you what I have observed.” He slowly makes eye contact with me, with a quizzical look on his face.
“Sam, you have shown me that being a monk is hard work! It is really hard to be so bored! Really, there’s not many options that you had today. You could either do school work, pray, read the bible, or do house contributions. Ouch. That sucks. I get it. I did not anticipate that it would be such a long and boring day. To top it all off, you couldn’t speak! I’m not sure that I could have done that!
“Son, I think I understand the monk life a little bit more today. I watched as you got more and more frustrated. I watched in your tiredness and hunger how little things started to set you off, but yet you had to be quiet. There were no distractions you could run to. No television, no video games, no toys, not even a room! You couldn’t even eat when I knew you were hungry. Do you know what this reminds me of?” He shakes his head.
“Sam, in Romans chapter 7, Paul talks about his frustration. He talks about doing what he knows he should do, but not doing what he knows he should do! I think that the monk life has shown us in just a short snippit exactly what Paul says is so hard about life! Monks deny themselves luxurious food, personal belongings and talking to avoid things like gluttony, greed, pride, idle words and other sinful temptations! Can you see how hard it was for you to control your tongue when things started bothering you? Well, monks spend months, years even, training themselves to be CONSTANTLY in prayer and CONSTANTLY in the Word, so that WHEN these emotions want to overtake us, you turn right to God!”
I watched Sam’s wheels turn in his head. He was processing what I had just said. With big tears that started streaming from his face, he said, “But Mom, if God knows everything and knows the future, why does He just make us fail all the time? I couldn’t do it. It was just so hard! Caleb is so annoying, and I couldn’t just be quiet. You told me to go upstairs and pray, and I was so mad, I didn’t listen. Then I yelled and got so mad. Why does God just make us fail all the time?”
My heart ached so badly for two reasons – the first was because my son was so discouraged after wanting to do something so badly. The second one was because my son missed out on the heart of the Father. I knew right then that I needed to set something right.
I explained to him that just because God knows what is going to happen, it doesn’t mean He wanted it to happen. He knew that Adam and Eve would sin, but He didn’t WANT that to happen. We had a discussion about how love is only love if it is a choice. I told him that God loves us so much that He would never force anything on us – that He gently waits for us even when His heart breaks in the waiting. That’s the love of the Father.
I told him that I had every confidence in him when he decided to do a monk day, that he would succeed. I did not anticipate a big blow up like this. However, even through his blow up, not all was lost. I wanted to encourage him, help him, support him and see him through to the end. I told him that God is no different! Even when we step away from what HE would ideally like us to do, He doesn’t abandon us or write us off. He stays with us and works all things for good if we turn our hearts toward Him. Nothing is beyond God’s reach.
I gave him the choice after our talk to walk out of our library and choose to be finished and quit, or to continue for the rest of the afternoon and evening and finish Monk Day. We talked about how life will get hard; it always does. When it gets hard, we ALWAYS have a choice – we can choose to quit, or we can choose to persevere. The tests and trials in our life do not teach us faith; they are opportunities for us to see where our faith is at!
This monk day turned into an opportunity for my son to learn some hard truths. He learned that being a monk sucks. He definitely does not want to be one. He learned that sleep and food are important for him to not be grouchy and sensitive (surprise, surprise). He learned that it is hard to control his tongue. He learned that we naturally would rather run from God, then run to God when we are upset. He learned that following through on decisions made are HARD! He learned that his decisions impact his integrity.
However, at the end of the day, when Monk Day was over, and I cuddled with him and tucked him in I heard his greatest revelation. I walked out of his room, walked around the corner and sat down against the wall as I listened to him sing to the Lord. After a few moments, I got up to walk away when I heard, “Thank you for loving me so much that I get to choose, Jesus. Thank you for monk day.”
We work so hard as parents to impart everything we can to our kids. We want so much for them and cram so much in a day in hopes that we are doing right by our babies. I hope that in it all, we celebrate our children’s journeys…even when their choices suck sometimes! I hope that in it all, between teaching them good manners, respectful behavior, and how to do laundry, that we never miss out on the most critical thing of all – the Father’s heart. May we model God the Father for our children and not focus more on their actions than we do their hearts. May we show them their actions are never all or nothing – that we leave room for grace and mercy. May we remind them that in all their imperfections, God is faithful to love them unconditionally. May we remember that God is not out to punish us until we feel worthless and see ourselves as failures. Rather, God is chasing after us with unyielding desire to bless us, to be in relationship with us, and to surround us with His promises.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” – 1 John 3:1
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