Children, Chaos, and Contemplation

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

There is never a dull moment at our house. My wife and I have four children—amid the flurry of homework assignments, birthday parties, sibling spats, and dinnertime squabbles—there’s a lot of constant noise and movement.

beach-jumpingOne of the delightful things about having young children is their unbridled enthusiasm and overwhelming energy. They are fully present, without a sense that there is anything else to be. They are fully in the moment. This is a gift of being a child, not being weighed down by thoughts of the future, or by a sense of responsibility, or worry. They are right here, right now.

The downside is that everything is so important, and when something doesn’t go their way, right now, it’s reason for complaining, crying, sometimes even—panic. Spilling milk really is something to cry over. A favorite toy breaking feels like the apocalypse. Even as I write this there is fighting in the sandbox. (Don’t worry – we have plenty of moments of calm and laughter as well in our household!)

I long as a parent to be able to maintain an inner calm amid all this outer chaos and confusion. I find that I am very seldom able to cultivate that on the spot. It is something I need to consciously develop in other moments, so that when the chaos comes, I have a reserve of calm from which to draw. It might be a daily time of prayer and silence, a quiet walk outside, Scripture reading, or some other practice. Daily I drive our children to school, about 15 or so minutes through a beautiful, rural landscape. I find this to be a very calming time—at least, the quiet drive home after dropping them off! Soaking in the scenery, I give thanks for the children I have, I look forward to what the day brings, and I have time to connect, in quiet, with God.

Of course the chaos doesn’t wait for me to be contemplatively grounded to begin! As any parent knows—these scenes erupt without a moment’s notice. When this happens, there are times when I haven’t centered myself, and it is only too easy to be caught up in the noise, and even add to it.

“She ate my last French fry!”  

“He always gets to go first!”

“I never get to do anything fun.”

“But I’m not tired!”

At times I’ve given in to the chaos, or even added to it. This not only exacerbates the situation, but it models to the kids that such behavior is OK—not only for them, but even for adults. Here’s where being centered is so crucial. When I’m calm within—I can sense what is happening and allow myself to pull back a moment to seek clarity above the fray. In these moments, the one thing that helps me more than anything is perspective. I try to see the situation from outside it. When I’m able to seek that bit of detachment, things seem to quickly scale to their appropriate place in the scheme of things. Sometimes I just need to remember to breathe, or hold onto a phrase such as “they’re just kids, after all.” Or: “this too shall pass.” Other times I tap into contemplative moments I enjoyed earlier.

Naturally I try to help the child see the larger perspective I’m trying to hold on to. “No more French fries? Well, they’re not that healthy anyway, and maybe we can have a yummy snack later.” But this often only goes so far. “But Dad…!” I can’t remove my child’s sense of imminent frustration, disappointment, or anger. I can’t remove them from the situation. It is a natural desire to help the child see what I see. To help him ‘figure it out.’

Yet what has the most impact, I think, is to simply be that presence of peace. Even if my children don’t understand it, they’ll experience it, and it will register somewhere for them, even if subconsciously. When I remain calm, the equation changes. There is now a presence of peace absorbing the cacophony. There’s a word of encouragement. A hand to hold. A hug to receive. A smile. Peace.

I’m a long, long ways from being a perfect parent, but I love it. I’m grateful for the daily gifts my children bring me—and my prayer is that my presence is also a gift to them.


Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer (and parent of four!) who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @bryberg.

Responsibility & Bliss

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey.

Winsome One,
You, whose very desire is the crucible of creation,
You, who speaks the invitation so alluring,
Let there be-
You, vulnerable and open, enticing yet restrained,
awaiting a response.
I can almost see the gleam in your eye.
We all say, Yes.
Trembling and ablaze,
rising to life.

We are more than friends, you and I.
More than companions,
more than master and humble servant, grateful for your generosity.
We are divine conspirators,
breathing together new life.
You, the beginning and end of all my longing.

This night, as I rise again and again to the cries of my son,
may I know the satisfaction of this liturgy,
The call and response of your hungry love.

May the sun find me with a weary smile upon my face,
drenched in the dew of your desire. 

silhouette-of-carefree-mother-and-daughterI wrote this poem when my son was an infant and the nights felt endless. I originally titled it, “One mother’s prayer at 3:43 am.” It was just the two of us in the house and on that particular night I traipsed repeatedly between the rocker in the nursery and my empty bed. I distinctly remember the conflict within me. I was exhausted and yet wanted to be responsive to this new life entrusted to my care. Somehow in the alchemy of writing, bleary-eyed at that early hour, my feelings found meaning and form. As dawn began to break, I felt renewed warmth in my heart for all that was asked of me. It was the Divine Lover’s voice underneath my son’s cries, longing for my tenderness.

Now, almost seven years later, I realize how often I respond to the people and tasks of my life begrudgingly, as if life itself is an unwelcome imposition on my interior world. I long to bring my contemplation and action into renewed union. I need so keenly to give of my deepest myself, to birth the inner love into form and expression.

Charles de Foucauld, the French Catholic priest and martyr, lived in the desert of Algeria among the nomadic Tuareg people. In 1916 he was assassinated outside the fort he built for their protection. Before his death, he penned this prayer, “Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you…and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence….” (Italics mine)

There can be no greater bliss than to bring delight to the Beloved’s heart. Oh, the joy of receiving and responding in love. In the topsy-turvy beauty of the spiritual life maybe we are given many responsibilities, not as tests of our endurance, but as the natural outcome of God’s yearning within. Maybe there is, woven into our spirits, a divine urgency to give of our deepest selves generously and often. May I be given grace to see each task as an opportunity to surrender into love, boundlessly confident that beneath the immediacy of needs clamoring for my attention there are the gleaming eyes of One who longs for my touch and awaits my response.

Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.