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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Action and Reaction

According to Newton’s law of action and reaction, “every action has an opposite and equal reaction.”  Adding to this principal, Newton also added his universal law of gravitation, which explains that “every object in the universe exerts a tug on every other.”  These laws are well known principles in mathematics, physics and nature.

They are also true at home.  My son “acts” and exerts a “tug” on my daughter, who “reacts.”  Basic sibling rivalry can be explained by Newton’s laws.  His laws are also true at schools, marriages, families, workplaces, social clubs, churches, and anywhere that people gather.  We also see it coming into play in world affairs.  One country “acts” in such a way as to “tug” another group of people to “react,” and they in turn prompt the first country to “react” again, and so forth.  Add many countries all “acting” and “reacting” at the same time and the pot boils hot.  Eventually, one leader and group of people need to take a moment to step back, reflect, and ponder how to end the constant “action/reaction” law of physics.  But if leaders and nations are not willing to have enough humility to do so, then the scientific laws will be carried to their natural conclusion of a great explosion.

“Non-actions” that ought to have been actions can also produce “reaction.”  I felt the law at work last night when I reacted to “non-action” that has left my children confused, left out, and hurt.  We live in a small cul-de-sac and have children the same age as two other families, and they play together regularly.  In one of the families, the breadwinner is currently out of work and the other family has both parents working year-round.  Since I am a teacher, in our family, one of us is home for the summer.  Though we were unaware of it, the other two families worked out what was a win-win scenario for them: the employed family is hiring the unemployed one for summer childcare.  Unfortunately for our kids, it became win-win-lose.  Simple communication could have minimized the natural feelings of children when they are repeatedly left out without any clarification as to why. 

After asking for clarification, I've offered the chance to provide either a couple hours a week of volunteer childcare time or pay for it, and we're waiting for what the neighbors decide.  Even after this request a few days later, my children were still left out even during an evening get-together between the other two families.   What had been simmering inside fused into "reaction."  Throwing the dinner pan into the sink, I exclaimed, "We could have had all the kids over here!"   My “reaction” was Newton’s law at work.   

But do we have to surrender to “reaction”?  Is there another way?  Perhaps moving beyond “reaction” is part of what St. Paul was referring to when he said, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2).   The pattern of the world "reacts," but a "renewed" mind "responds."

Carrying a heart of “poverty in spirit” can give one humility to resist “reacting.”  Following James’ advice to be “slow to speak and quick to listen,” can soften the quick “reaction” that builds the intensity of conflict.  Meditative prayer with breathing can help.  It appears that part of living in the kingdom is one’s ability, through divine help, to transcend the “action/reaction” law in relationships.  No longer needing to “react,” we can rely upon the power of Christ to transcend our natural instincts.  Transcending “reaction” leads to something entirely new: “response.”

I took a prayer walk to begin the process of "response," and now (7/21), a few days later, "response" has really been about loving my kids regardless of what the neighbors decide.  I've made some phone calls and set up more get-togethers with friends and their kids and our kids' own friends.  My husband and I also spent some time last night really listening to and talking with our kids about how they feel.  We had already observed with gratitude that our  children -- who have high self-esteem, plenty of good friends, and sufficient naiveté -- have bounced into their usual joyful selves quite quickly after each disappointment.  To our relief, we also learned last night that they are more upset about having so little time to spend with the neighbor kids than they are about the neighbor kids getting so much  of it with each other.  What a blessing.  It is much easier to help them work through that disappointment, especially since I had already arranged and posted on the calendar a couple of fun activities with friends.  

Our conversation also gave us the opportunity to share with our kids the choice we have to love our friends even when they disappoint us.  I admitted to them that it has been hard for me to be left wondering while our own friends (the parents) haven't been talking with us.  "But I can't force them to talk with me, so I've put the ball in their court, and I have to accept what they do with it.  I might not like it, but I need to learn to love them regardless of what they do."  The eyes of both of our children looked deeply into me, as they were really taking in what I was saying.  When we turn "reaction" into "response," we can create a new blessing out of a disappointment. 

Update (posted 9/8)
Our kids were not only invited to join the program, but they were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed in and had an absolutely delightful time.  The family taking care of the children had also been asked by a few other friends to watch their children too.  Even though our neighbors had not advertised or offered a child care service to anyone, many came to them, and then they put together an amazing program complete with weekly field trips and almost daily walks to the park.   The timing for us worked out well, as one family no longer needed the program when our kids were ready to join. Despite my initial "reaction" in the safety of my own home, thank goodness I moved beyond that into "response"!

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