Every day, I carry a card among the items in my left pocket. I believe it was a gift from my wife, Kira (who has given me similar wonders through the years). It is a prayer card for Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.
In the picture, the Blessed Virgin is surrounded by numerous figures, each holding out tangled balls of twine. She stands in the middle, patiently at work, with a long strand of unknotted string trailing behind her.
I meditate often on this picture. I spent a good deal of my young life ensnared in troubles. I was born into a family that was haunted by old ghosts and everyday violence. Because this is in my history, I am my own worst enemy most days. I was a child plagued by fears and troubles. I find that now, as an adult, my habit is to imagine or invent troubles, even when my circumstances do not directly threaten me. I tangle myself up.
Again and again in the Gospels, our Lord reminds us that we should not be afraid. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells us, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. ”
I admit I have a hard time with those teachings. I rehearse anxiety. I craft it like an artisan shapes metal into an intricate chain. I grow it the way some folks grow tomatoes in the gardenÑwith elaborate wire trellises for the vines to climb, and plenty of sunlight and fertilizer.
Because of my difficult childhood, I learned these habits of anxiety very early. Now that I am a parent, I find that I struggle with them in a new and surprising way.
My Son, My Teacher
My son has difficulty keeping his shoes tied. For a bow knot to work properly, it takes attention. It is all in the details. Over, under, around, and through. Pay attention to the bunny ears. All of this is lost on him. My son likes to think about cars and spaceships. Knots elude him.
That means, most days, I am bending down to work on a snarl of laces that have become bundled from inattention and the tasks of running and jumping and being a kid. My son’s shoes need attention; I work the knots.
You can’t rush through such work, for that would only make things worse. Some knots come loose easily. Other knots are deceptive. As you move to get them loose, they trick you and become tighter. Attention . . . Detail . . . That is the key.
Working the knots on my son’s shoes, I become aware that he is untroubled by them. They bother me. And I wonder: Is part of my job as a parent wrapped up in teaching him to have the anxieties I have? Is making him more caring and careful about the knots what I am supposed to do?
When I bend down, I know he trusts me to make things right. He never doubts that the problem can be fixed. Instead, he plays, and gives up the tension about the knot to me.
This is part of why I carry the card. I am too frazzled to undo my own knots, but also too tied up in them to really play.
Like my son, I am trying to learn to trust that knots can be untied and that I do not always have to be the one to untie them. Trust is hard work. I am not good at it. I am learning it from my children.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.