BY ERIC CLAYTON | June 30, 2021
My one-year-old and I were about fifteen minutes into the drive when the phone rang. We were en route to collect my three-year-old from day nine of summer camp.
“She’s sick.” My wife’s voice, unhappy, reverberated through the car’s speakers. “It’s her stomach.”
We were one day short of the ten camp days we’d signed up for. “I’m sure she’ll be able to sleep it off,” I said. “She’ll be back at it tomorrow.” We’d all come to enjoy those two hours of relative quiet in the morning. “I’ll let you know once I pick her up.”
When I got out of the car and saw my daughter—doubled over and pale and huddled next to one of the camp counselors—I knew that tenth day was a bridge too far. Barely two weeks back out and in the world, and germs had already found their way into our home.
If you’ve ever been around a sick, curly-haired toddler, you know it’s both adorable and heartbreaking. My wife and I couldn’t help but jump at her every wish. She was so sad, so tired, so helpless.
But as the hours turned to days, the cuteness was overshadowed by the whining. Our energetic response to her needs became just a bit slower. She wasn’t the only one in the house who needed our attention. We’d given her a solid twenty-four hours of excellent care. Wasn’t that enough?
As I picked up yet another pile of dirty tissues over the weekend, I realized how easy it is to lose vigor in addressing the needs of another, even someone for whom we care deeply. Those first few moments are energizing—this is my time to shine as a parent!—and then we begin to lose steam. Our attention drifts, our enthusiasm wanes, other needs press in.
I don’t think any of this makes me a bad parent. I’ve simply had to redouble my efforts, recommit myself to the needs of my daughter and my family no matter how tired I may be in the morning.
But what about those in need who don’t live in our home, who we can’t hear calling our name from down the hall? Do we find ourselves energized to help those struggling with homelessness, those who are displaced by violence, those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of justice?
How long does that energy last? And what happens when the shine wears off from our good, charitable work? When our attention drifts and other needs press in.
It’s important to know ourselves, to know how we respond in moments such as this. I know that my energy wanes whether I’m caring for my daughter or working on some great feat of justice. And that’s alright. We are called to be patient with ourselves—and then to recommit to the good work God has asked of us.
This piece was originally send as an email by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and U.S. as a part of a weekly series sharing tools and reflection resources in the tradition of Ignatian spirituality. Subscribe to receive these emails here!
Eric Clayton is the deputy communications director at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, responsible for developing and sharing resources and reflections to promote Ignatian spirituality. He is the author of the forthcoming book Ignatian Storytelling (Loyola Press). He and his wife are both graduates of Fairfield University and live in Baltimore, MD, with their two daughters.