The Agony and Awe of Parenting

An article by on January 19, 2018

The Agony and Awe of Parenting

This week I had a sacred exchange of texts with my sister-in-law, Jean, about the blessed agony a parent experiences when her child is hurting and struggling. It is one thing to welcome the meannesses to the inner home of the heart when the surprise guest is personal. It is quite another matter when the sojourner makes the visit to one’s child.

My children are indelibly etched into my heart and soul – the three who gestated in my body, each for nine long months, and the one for whom we journeyed to the other side of the world to birth into our family. So it follows that their soul-guests would be mine, as well.

Most demanding our attention – I’m not sure what to call this guest – was sent at the behest of the education system and a society that expects our young people to pursue higher education, yet without the promise of viable job possibilities, though the assurance of immoral, dumbfounding debt on the other side.

When I met with the school counselor to discuss ways we might help my son finish high school (my brilliant child was considering dropping out), the school was reeling from the news of a brilliant young woman, a sophomore there, who had just taken her own life the weekend before. Of course, we all know there are myriad reasons someone comes to that desperate space of utter despair. But it is difficult not to wonder what kind of pressure our kids undergo in an educational system that starts to “prepare” them for college while still in elementary school, while still locked into a teaching style that honors only a particular learner (in mode and means).

Though, headway is being made by some – like my awe-inspiring cousin, Matinga – to change things, these changes will not impact my youngest two still in public school.

So, how do I welcome this guest? I am reminded of a poem that I will use in a workshop next week, by the astrophysicist Rebecca Elson. It is a purpose statement, of sorts, for astronomers of their responsibility to awe. And it seems productive way to meet this interloper – if for no other reason then that I cannot conjure anything else! To be in awe of my son, of all the beautiful, brilliant, quirky gifts and talents that are not valued by the current iteration of standardized assessments.


Here’s the poem:


We astronomers are nomads,

Merchants, circus people,

All the earth our tent.


We are industrious.

We breed enthusiasms,

Hounour our responsibility to awe.


But the universe has moved a long way off.

Sometimes, I confess,

Starlight seems too short,


And like the moon

I bend my face to the ground,

To the small patch where each foot falls,


Before it falls,

And I forget to ask questions,

And only count things.


I would like to practice my responsibility to awe. If other elements of my son’s life insist on looking down and counting, assessing, rather that asking about all the amazing things (and the many mundane) I will notice, and ask, and live into the questions, see into him all that is divine, and help my son live into the questions.

Perhaps, you would like to practice with me by choosing a person (your child? another’s?) with whom you would like to co-host a surprise visitor. And notice. consider. Be in awe. It is our responsibility – not just astronomers – as human beings.

I’ll begin to get us started. Then strike the singing bowl.

His curiosity.

His initiative to seek answers – and persistence in the search when they are not immediately apparent.

His ability to use three distinct languages to speak a single sentence.




His ability to see the goodness into everyone. And be in wonder of complex mathematical equations.




Might you write your noticings in a note or text or poem and perhaps send it to this soul-companion?

And let us commit to practicing our responsibility to awe today and the next . . .


As always, you can find a transcript of this podcast and resources on my website,

And today, may you walk at the pace of grace.

Music: Jon Foreman’s 23rd Psalm, performed by, Samantha Nicole Snyder

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About Nicole

Nicole Oliver Snyder’s expertise lies in the areas of leadership, gender issues, and mindfulness practice as it affects both. Leadership, particularly in an urban setting, requires community-relations skills, and an ability to clearly convey justice issues as they relate to felt, spiritual ones. Dr. Snyder is author of Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone, and specializes in teaching mindfulness leadership development, formative spirituality, counseling, and Old Testament theology (emphasis on justice issues). She has a diverse background in international community-relations work combined with volunteer work in multi-ethnic communities, and with local institutions. She is an ordained Clergy; holds a BS in Human Development and Family Studies, w/Education Certificate, an MA-Counseling, MDiv Equiv., holds a Doctor of Ministry and Advanced Certification in Formative Spiritual Direction, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (MI).

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