Operating Instructions: The Spirituality of Survival

I was feeling horribly on Monday. After an intense week of being up every two hours, I felt like I was done. But I was determined to push through. I mean, did I have a choice? Yes, I guess that’s love – choosing everyday, and even every moment to covenant yourself to the other (or others, in my case). I had an encouraging conversation with a good friend from seminary who suggested I read Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. The next day, on Monday afternoon I gave into Andy’s insistence that I take a break and go to Barnes and Noble for a couple of hours. It was simple, and nothing I hadn’t already done before a few times, but it was such a good breather. I sat and read Lamott and instead of guzzling the coffee, I actually sipped it. And it took about 30 minutes to finish the cup. I can’t remember the last time I hadn’t scalded my mouth to get that quick jolt of caffeine with the babies.

I finished the book a few days later but just ate it up – laughing (and feeling relief) at all her “Bad Mother” descriptions and chewing for a while longer on those pieces about life and faith. Somewhere more than halfway through the book (Kindle – so no page numbers) she writes:

It, my faith, is a great mystery. It has me shaking my head. But I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over in Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, “Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love,” and every time I read that, I always end up thinking that these are the only operating instructions I will ever need.

I thought maybe this would be a satirical book on operating instructions for babies, but it was actually a book about living and loving. There weren’t just stories about Sam, her son, but stories about church, her best friend’s battle with cancer, and her first novel and memories of her dad. It was a perspective I needed – something to pull me out of my myopic spiraling-down into naps and poopy diapers. Even though Sam was definitely central throughout there was still life happening in so many ways…overlapping and interwoven. Since I still have a tendency to compartmentalize my life it makes sense that parenthood is pulling that apart at the seams. Life is bigger than my little boxes, and everything is now connected more than ever.

But I have discovered one thread and lately it revolves around one goal: survival. The babies surviving each day, me and Andy surviving each day, and just me surviving each moment. But the survival ends up being about so much more. I pray now more than I ever have in my life (“God, please help me to stop expecting these babies to fall back asleep in 5 minutes.”) I listen more than I ever have in my life (although Andy might be inclined to disagree – but I really do). I gobble up any moment of quiet, rest, and a chance for reflection. And…I’m slowly anticipating and plotting a chance to get back into acts of compassion and service (I miss miss miss doing some kind of mission-type work). But for now, all that is geared towards the family, particularly the babies.

Who knew survival would be so spiritual? The darkness and difficulties, but then the miracle of each new day, the experience of grace, and moments of gratitude have made this such an experience. And, like Lamott, I hope someday soon (emphasis is mine):

I’m going to have an awards banquet for my body when all of this over.

2 thoughts on “Operating Instructions: The Spirituality of Survival

  • July 31, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I loved that book– I felt like it gave me so much perspective about the work of motherhood, especially after the birth of my first. I also found myself praying more and more– often for patience.
    (I’m Anne-Marie– I followed the link from the cloth diaper blog. 🙂

    • August 22, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Oop sorry for the late-reply. But thank you for the encouragement. Checking out your blog now!

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