If you’re ever in search of something lighthearted and uplifting to watch that won’t wreak havoc on your sense of inner peace or faith in the goodness of mankind, you can go ahead and cross the first episode of Black Mirror off your list of possibilities.
My husband and I watched it on a Friday night and come Monday morning, I was still despondently texting him about how disgusted and discombobulated I felt about myself, the world, and existence as a whole.
Random images of pigs on leashes and the sound of distraught European accents still pop into my head from time to time and darken my worldview. Lovely.
Anyway, despite the episode’s repugnancy, it was soberingly effective at conveying what I believe was its primary message: Our faces are forever glued to screens, causing us to constantly miss out on things. There are innumerable opportunities, ideas, and connections that I could be seizing, if only I’d look up from my device and notice them.
At the same time, though, there’s no denying that there is a plethora of goodness for us on screens. The internet, as disturbingly bizarro as some of its corners are, is really a phenomenal place, and other things we do through screens are abundantly beneficial.
The problem is not the screens. In and of themselves, the devices in front of our faces are not bad things. The problem is deeper than the screens. The problem, I think, is the obsession we have with ourselves and our own individual, little worlds.
It’s the addictive, sedentary comfort I experience by staying inside my own, egocentric bubble and never reaching outside of it. My phone might feed this comfort at times, but it’s really a state of mind and it doesn’t require a device hovering in front of my face in order to take hold. Here’s how I know:
A couple months ago, I didn’t even have my phone with me. I was in line to pick it up at a repair shop, since I’d finally decided that I should stop accumulating tiny shards of glass in my thumb from caressing a shattered screen all day.
It was late in the day – past dinner time – and I had both the babes with me who, at that time of day, are less babe-like and more wrathful, starving gargoyle-like.
There were two people in line before us, one of whom was at the counter carefully and, might I add, utterly unhurriedly negotiating some deal he’d seen in a flier (which, of course, he’d brought along for demonstrative purposes). He was guilty of nothing. He was simply determined to get the best price possible and ensure a dependable repair for his device, but he was in no rush whatsoever and my blood began to boil as Helga slowly climbed out of her lair. (My husband’s name for my hangry alter ego = Helga.)
Meanwhile, my three-year-old was pelletting me with heartfelt, arbitrary demands (probably to take her shoes off) while the baby, still strapped in his carseat at my feet, angrily berated Sophie the giraffe who humbly accepted her slobber bath sentence.
We were all hungry. We were all tired. I just wanted to get my phone back and get home but this dude was taking for. Ever. All I could think about was how overwhelmed, exhausted and irritated I was. I was pretty content nursing my bitterness in my own self-absorbed little world. So content, in fact, that I had totally disregarded the second person in line in front of me, sitting peacefully awaiting her turn less than two feet away from me.
When I finally made eye contact with her, she smiled and asked how old my kids were. We started chatting and somehow, despite the emphatically babbling babe and requests to Bilbo Baggins feet it in the dead of winter, I managed to try to understand this woman, and asked if she had kids.
She did. Two girls. One was currently planning a wedding and the other had been disabled years ago in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. She was making lots of progress, though, and had recently started driving herself to doctors appointments.
Our exchange was brief but so precious because suddenly, our bubbles began to converge. The demands of my growling belly and fussing offspring momentarily faded, and I was able to zero in on this beautiful individual with a big, buzzing bubble of her own.
In one of Tim Ferris’ eye-opening Tribe of Mentors podcasts, he interviewed Adam Robinson, a brilliant entrepreneur, author, and global finance expert. Although he admitted to a tendency toward introversion, Robinson enthusiastically explained that a habit which has monumentally improved his life has been encountering and connecting with strangers in public. “Now I so eagerly look forward to leaving my home each day wondering what magic I’ll create encountering others that I can scarcely contain myself,” Robinson gushed.
He can scarcely contain himself. Meanwhile, in the midst of a prime opportunity to connect with a new person and create this “magic,” all I could think about was myself and my circumstances and my issues.
Look. I’m not saying that you’re the cancer of society if you opt to check your email in line at Target instead of asking for the life story of the person behind you.
But if you find yourself with an opportunity to reach outside your bubble and into someone else’s, think twice before you pass it up. You never know what kind of magic you might create. What’s the worst that could happen? They tell you to piss off and then you get to recoil back into your own world? Win/win, if you ask me.
My sweet neighbor gave us this granola-ish, little plaque she got while traveling abroad. I totally love it, except for the dog, which reminds me of one we owned briefly during my childhood. He made a career out of defecating on every carpet throughout the house so fairly quickly wound up back at the farm from which he came. (Dog lovers/whisperers/advocates, please refrain from condemnation. I’m sure Simba led a far more satisfactory life on the farm than he would have in our fenceless, suburban home.)
But aside from the dog, I do love this prayer because it addresses one of the main causes – if not THE main cause – of division and pain within relationships: “grant that I may not so much seek … to be understood as to understand.”
If I could read only one book for the rest of my life, it would be Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey was like a human waterfall of wisdom and fittingly, one of those habits is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
See, we all have this deep-seated desire to be understood. It’s not a bad thing; it just needs to be kept in check, like so many of our innate human desires. “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” Maybe that’s why therapy is such a thriving field. (I’m not bashing therapists. I have one and she’s sensational.)
But because of this inborn yearning we have to be understood, it doesn’t come naturally to attempt to sincerely understand others. It might sound like a simple thing to do but it’s actually surprisingly difficult.
“We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.” Oh, truth. How often, during conversations, do I lose track of what someone is saying because I’m caught up preparing to gush about my experience or douse them with my advice?
Even in arguments with my spouse, I’m so desperate for him to understand where I’m coming from or why I’m pissed off that it rarely occurs to me to seek a deeper understanding of his motives and intentions. But when I do, nine times out of ten I end up falling even more in love with the guy.
Our minds have been so thoroughly saturated in egocentrism that setting ourselves aside for the sake of more intimately knowing another person feels foreign. In truth, though, it can open oh so many beautiful, bountiful doors in relationships.
What’s really sad is a lot of us even do it with our kids. We put very little effort toward understanding them and their delightfully unique personalities but gargantuan efforts toward forcing them to understand and conform to us and our expectations.
I have a sister-in-law who never ceases to impress me with her wealth of knowledge about (well, everything) but specifically about children and their growth and development. When one of her kids is acting peculiarly or unfavorably, she doesn’t immediately crack the whip and turn to discipline, demanding obedience. She seeks to understand. She researches to figure out what’s going on with them at this particular stage of growth and how she can most lovingly and effectively respond and guide them through it. Unfortunately, many parents, including me, seldom do this.
So much of this failure to understand one another has led to painful and horrific division in people’s lives. Many divorces, feuds, grudges and the like exist because our first instinct is to make others understand us while we have zero interest in truly understanding them, their motives and perspectives.
But, like the plaque says, “it is in giving that we receive,” so when we give of our time and attention, we reap remarkable rewards. Give it a try. I’m telling you… people continuously surprise me with how outstanding and fascinating they are when I manage to set myself aside and dig deep to understand them. They fill me with knowledge, ideas, insights, empathy, and so much more.
Just like Matthew Kelly wrote in Perfectly Yourself: “What people do and what people say is interesting. But why people do and say the things they do, is absolutely fascinating.”
Here’s a super simple case in point: there’s a middle aged-couple that frequently sits in the cry room at our church. The room is limited on space and intended for parents and their noisy offspring so for awhile, I found it aggravating that this couple who clearly had no little ones with them, would sit in there taking up space. It was easy to assume they were too lazy to go all the way into the church or wanted to be able to chat with each other so they made themselves comfortable in the back room.
One Sunday, we struck up a conversation with them and found out that the man is hard of hearing and since the speakers in the cry room are of greater quality than those in the church, he’s better able to follow along in there.
My life is chock-full of instances like this in which I ignorantly make assumptions – usually negative ones – about people and their actions. In reality, though, I have no idea why they do what they do and if I did, I’d probably find them pretty interesting, or at least agree that yes, the speakers could use some improvements.
Of course, I have to wrap up with a Covey quote: “When we really, deeply understand each other, we open the door to creative solutions … Our differences are no longer stumbling blocks to communication and progress. Instead, they become the stepping stones to synergy.”
My go-to for a good Netflix binge used to be Grey’s Anatomy. Nowadays, my Netflix sessions are far less poppin’, since I can barely make it through half an episode of Friends before snoring so loudly on my husband’s shoulder that he relies solely on subtitles. (How else would he gather enough intel to decide if Ross and Rachel were really on a break?) But back in the day, I was a Grey’s kind of girl.
For whatever reason, I used to have a girl crush on Christina Yang, played by Sandra Oh. We don’t have much in common as far as beliefs and aspirations but still, I always thought Yang was just the coolest surgeon Seattle Grace hospital ever saw. Sure, she spazzes out here and there (many thanks to the brawny, ginger doctor she canoodles with) but she possesses a certain confidence and poise that earned my admiration. In fact, even to this day, it’s often because of her that I manage to keep my cool when momming gets messy, and here’s why:
At one point in the storyline, Yang, a surgical resident, is working under Teddy, a female cardiac surgeon who isn’t particularly fond of Yang. Consequently, Teddy is giving her a hard time, being overly critical and passive aggressive and such, but somehow, Yang keeps her cool.
Skip to a scene in the cafeteria where the posse of residents is eating lunch and Meredith Grey (the Grey in Grey’s Anatomy) is fussing to the crew about the unfair treatment she’d witnessed from Teddy toward Yang. She’s insisting that Teddy is out of line, acting unprofessionally, and on and on.
But here’s where Yang impressed me: She sat calmly eating her lunch in the midst of Meredith’s rant and stated plainly over and over again, “I can handle it.” She was unphased. Whatever unpleasantry Teddy was going to dish out, Yang had resolved that she was able to take it.
So back to real life: The other night, my husband worked late and after a long day, I was putting the babes to bed on my own. Fast approaching the end of my rope, my patience was running thin and all I wanted to do was get the little ones in bed so I could kick back with a snack that I wouldn’t have to share and start snoring along to some Friends.
I finally got the smaller of the two peacefully in his crib and then went to tuck in my toddler before clocking out for the evening. She, however, had other plans and within a few minutes, was throwing an ugly tantrum that had the baby awake in the next room and screaming right along with her.
I. Was. Pissed. And totally illogically, my anger started seeping in my husband’s direction, like it tends to do when our offspring act up and he’s not around. I mean, how dare he work late in order to provide for our family? The nerve.
Realizing my toddler was too far exhausted to be consoled by reasoning, I finally managed to corral her in her bedroom hoping she’d tantrum herself to sleep. But it was with a wide awake little guy on my hip that I headed downstairs and made an angry beeline for my phone. In my rage, I started typing out a desperate, infuriated, “screw work come home now” text until I remembered Yang calmly and collectedly stating, “I can handle it.”
It was just a much cooler, much maturer manner in which to react to the situation. She wasn’t demanding respect, appreciation, sympathy, or any of those things we tend to pathetically grasp for. She simply decided she was capable of handling the situation with a cool head and that was that.
So I backspaced my sad, angry, “I can’t handle this” cry for help and pity and put on my big girl pants. Eventually, thanks to some desperate pleas for divine intervention, my toddler wore herself out, I got the little guy to sleep, laid him in his crib and tiptoed downstairs to freedom.
When my husband walked through the door shortly thereafter, I listened thoughtfully as he dished about his day and when he asked about mine, I explained the bedtime turmoil. He looked at me sympathetically, and when he said he was sorry I had to deal with it alone, I shrugged and said, “I can handle it.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are days this life delivers that have me feeling anything but able to handle things. I’m very often weak and wind up desperately calling out for help and support from my husband, parents, my husband’s parents, friends, God, and others. I do not think Yang’s declaration of her ability to handle things is always an automatic remedy in the midst of chaos.
But I do think – no, I know – that many of us impulsively unleash a pissed off, overwhelmed, panicked cry for help or attention unnecessarily.
A wise friend once told me that when things go haywire in parenthood, take a mental step back and assess what one thing most needs to be done, then do that one thing. Chances are, it’s neither a text that needs to be sent nor a phone call that needs to be made condemning an absent spouse or searching for sympathy.
More than likely, it’s a little one who could use some attention or a dirty diaper that has no business being worn another second longer. When I simplify a nutty situation like that and decide that, like Yang, I can handle it, I honestly feel pretty damn empowered.
Like good ol’ Henry Ford told us, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
When I first watched the movie Marley and Me years ago, I turned it off as soon as I sensed the dog’s impending death. I’m not really an animal person but dying dog movies have me ugly sobbing harder than Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. (“It’s not your fault, Will.”)
Surprisingly, however, the Marley and Me scenes that most vividly stand out in my memory actually had nothing to do with the dog. Instead, they focused on husband and wife John and Jenny, played by the charming Owen Wilson and America’s neverending is she pregnant?! obsession, Jennifer Aniston.
John is shown pulling into the driveway after a long day at the office and from his car, he can see Jenny through a window of the house, lovingly holding their infant son. When she sees him, she breaks into a grin and points him out to the baby. It’s a reaction meant to indicate the warmth and love that John is enveloped by upon his arrival home.
Conversely, in a subsequent scene, John once again pulls into the driveway but this time, several years have passed and Jenny is flustered. She’s trying to manage multiple little ones now and has clearly been bulldozed by the day. When she sees John sitting in his car, she aggressively gestures for him to hurry inside to help out with the chaos.
I remember feeling sorry for John and it wasn’t just because of Owen Wilson’s exceptional execution of the sad puppydog role. It was because he was a good man working hard to provide for his family and he came home to hostility. At the time, I was in college, so of course it was easy to resolve then and there that if I was ever a mom who stayed home with my kids, my husband would be greeted after work with palpable warmth and joy.
Years later, I’m a mom at home with my kids and, sad to say, I’m second-scene Jenny 99 percent of the time. By the time my husband rolls in from work, I’m exhausted, irritable, overwhelmed, and usually unshowered. I’ve been pulled on, jumped on, sucked on, and puked on since the wee hours of the morning, and my first instinct when my parenting partner walks through the door is to blow off some steam about how I can’t get anything done, he didn’t tell me he’d be late, blah blah, “They’re all yours. I’ll be back later.”
But I’ve learned the hard way that unloading the day’s aggravations onto him when he comes home only builds friction and distance between us, weakening our marriage when we’re far stronger and more capable of handling life’s struggles united as a team.
Truth be told, we at-home moms tend to grow resentful toward our providing husbands because we think they got the better end of the bargain.
Sure, it’s tempting to assume that while I’m at home struggling to find time to pee in solitude, he’s in a big, cushy office with his feet up on the desk enjoying friendly sports banter with coworkers while scantily-clad interns come by to offer gourmet coffee and back rubs.
In actuality, though, for my husband and for most men providing for their families, work is just that: work. It’s stressful, exhausting and often very, very frustrating. It’s difficult to keep up and many of them feel totally out of their element. They want, no, they yearn to retreat at the end of the day to a place of warmth and love, not hostility and bitterness because they couldn’t hop a plane and bypass rush hour traffic.
Now, let me be clear: This does not mean wives need to greet their husbands at the door in heels and lingerie, filet mignon waiting on the table. Let’s be realistic. For many at-home moms, a shower didn’t happen and we’re still in the same clothes we slept in. More than likely, it’s evening – AKA prime whine time – and there are tears being shed somewhere and a sagging diaper pleading to be disposed of. That’s okay. He understands.
Making him want to come home doesn’t require a spotless house and cheerful children. You know what it takes to make him excited to get home from work? A wife who’s happy to see him, and not just relieved so she can hand off the hooligans and jet.
There have been days when my husband comes home to find me in tears, bouncing a fussy baby while our toddler clings to my legs whimpering over fruit snacks and ice cream sandwiches not being a suitable dinner. But if I manage to smile at him through the tears and nonverbally communicate that I’ve missed him and am glad to have him home, he knows he’s in a place where he’s appreciated.
What’s more, it’s out of love and not obligation that he’ll likely tell me to go bathe in solitude while he manages the small menaces for a little while. Teamwork. Couples are so much more effective at parenting, homemaking, and just life in general when they remember that they’re on the same team, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and support each other.
There’s a sadly common tendency for many spouses to compete – for lack of a better word – over who does more to provide for the household. Marriage becomes a competition fueled by grudges and pride because each spouse is sure that they do more and aren’t adequately appreciated. We so easily forget that we’re in this together and it’s not us versus one another but us versus the issues.
So next time you find yourself drowning in desperation around dinnertime, staring a hole through the clock every other minute because you haven’t heard the garage door yet, remember who it is you’re waiting on and love him the way you want to be loved: warmly, receptively, unconditionally. Opt for first-scene Jenny.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot how to love. We forgot how to see the light of God in every single human soul and instead surrendered to our tendency to focus solely on faults and sins, frequently masking our judgment by pleading the second spiritual work of mercy (instruct the ignorant). Don’t mistake me: I’m just as in favor of directing people away from destructive, sinful behavior as the next Catholic school disciplinarian.
But Jesus was very clear in equipping us with the proper weapon for this battle: Love. If we intend to employ judgment, divisiveness, condescension, and resentment, we will experience shameful failure. “Come! Join us as we shine a light on other people’s sins and let our own fester in darkness.” Yeah. Good luck attracting people with that pathetic approach.
In one of Father Larry Richards’ talks about confession, he details his experience with a man who approached him in shame and disclosed that he had just been intimate with two male prostitutes he’d hired. After telling the story, Fr. Larry identified the looks of disgust smeared across his audience’s faces, accompanied by silent relief that they’d never towed such sins to the confessional. Then he declared them no less guilty than the penitent man on account of their immediate condemnation and judgment of him.
Declaring ourselves less flawed and our sins less severe than others’ is in itself a grave sin of pride and that’s the ugliest one of all. Father Larry responded to the man by lovingly putting his hands on him, looking into his eyes, straight to his hungry soul and telling him he had absolutely no idea how much God loved him. The priest remembered first and foremost his call to love.
Of course, as a layperson, people do not frequently approach me in states of shame over their sins. But my opportunities to reflect the love of God are equally as frequent and significant and failing to seize them may be robbing a person of experiencing God’s love.
I attended Catholic school for seven years and although the institutions were respectable places to receive an education, I encountered many teachers who employed methods of teaching and discipline that drove me away from the Church. They were quick to tell me that my skirt was too short, my heels too high, my nail polish too bright. But they never told me how deeply, unfathomably loved I was. They asked why I talked so much in class and fidgeted so much throughout the rosary but never if I had any idea how precious I was to God. They condemned my behavior and enforced their rules but neglected to enforce the notion that we are infinitely valuable creations of a kind and merciful God who will obsessively love and pursue a relationship with us no matter how far we stray. The God they represented was a harsh, demanding disciplinarian and I spent many years wanting nothing to do with him.
We se easily forget that with countless people, we have an opportunity to transform their skewed impressions of Christ. If we have any hope of attracting sinners, like us, and transforming their skewed perceptions of God and his Church, we must first love and later instruct. We are, after all, creatures of emotion, not logic. Informing people of the destructive nature of their behavior is futile if they do not first and foremost feel that they are loved.
We possess the uniquely human ability to set aside our inclination to zero in on the weaknesses and flaws of those we encounter and instead focus on what there is to love and admire about them. Father John Riccardo urges, “When you find something good in someone, pull it out and hold it up in front of them.”
We can build people up, revealing to them their boundless beauty in the eyes of God and the passion with which they are loved, appreciated and thirsted for, simply by finding something to like about them.
We can offer sincere greetings, compliments, or even simple smiles, of which Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” Refuse to fuel the fire of hatred by shining an instant spotlight on a person’s faults and instead reach out in love. We will be amazed at the doors that open and the bridges that are built simply by extending love instead of criticism.
I am in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye to immorality. But a key phrase to bear in evangelization efforts is: attract, not attack.
If a child ran through his house in search of his mother, leaving muddy prints all over the floor but bursting with excitement to disclose that he’d scored a goal, a loving parent’s initial reaction would be to express great excitement for his accomplishment, praising him and feeding his hunger for approval. Only later, when the time is right and with utmost patience and kindness should his attention be turned to his error of leaving a trail of dirt.
Similarly, we can first express admiration for the worthy qualities of God’s children. We can see past the mud and first and foremost, give of our love. That’s how his kingdom will be built here on earth.
Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Pardi
Something’s been nudging me to reveal some truths about our honeymoon ever since I posted a picture from it for our two-year anniversary this past February. I wish I could ignore the prodding and just leave people to assume that we enjoyed the most perfect honeymoon full of only romance and carefree bliss. However, leaving people under those assumptions wouldn’t just be boring and unbeneficial; it would be downright deceptive.
Instead, I’m going to use our honeymoon as an example of how misleading social media can be because in all likelihood, if I came across some of the images we managed to get of ourselves on someone else’s account, I’d likely get sucked into the comparison game, wasting precious time convinced that her life, marriage and emotional state are all superior to mine and so somehow, her worth as a person outweighs my own. It’s all a dirty little mind trick that social media can expertly execute by allowing us to conceal our flaws and vulnerability behind a screen.
It might seem that by allowing us to exhibit only the aspects of our lives that we’re proud of, social media serves to increase our self confidence or even acceptance of and respect for one another. However, as I’ve been learning more and more recently, it’s through admitting our vulnerability, faults and failures that we are united with one another and reassured that, “we’re all broken but we’re all in this together,” as Matt Maher reminds us.
Social media, however, encourages the sharing of anything but our brokenness. For example, a struggling new mom will likely post darling pictures of her brand new bundle and insist-agram that motherhood fits her like a glove. Meanwhile, behind the screen, she’s so exhausted she can barely hold the cereal box to pour herself some dinner; she’s in tears every time she nurses her baby because breastfeeding feels like nipple crucifixion; and she’s struggling to distinguish the faint line between baby blues (hang in there, lady) and postpartum depression (you need help).
Don’t get me wrong: I melt over newborn pictures just as quickly as the next girl (or adorably sensitive guy) and keeping friends and family members connected is one of the major pros of social media. The problem is when these carefully selected glimpses into other people’s lives tempt us to question our own worth and abilities.
As blogger Cheryl Zelenka explains, “Suffering unites us all. Each person has experienced pain. Therefore, we can compassionately connect with others through this common bond.” Of course, times of joy can also serve to bring us closer to one another and should absolutely not be discounted as meaningless. We were created for joy, which is why we find ourselves constantly chasing and grasping at those things we believe will bring it to us.
The tough times, however, are what ultimately give way to our experiences of happiness. If all our days were joyful, none of them would be. The deeper our capacity for pain, the more expansive our experience of joy.
So in light of putting an end to pretending that everything is always picture perfect, and with the permission of my exceptionally easygoing spouse, here are some untold truths about our honeymoon. Although it was an absolutely phenomenal nine days, like everything else in this life, it fell short of perfection.
We spent an entire afternoon fighting.
Looking back, it’s funny but, like most fights, it was deeply painful at the time. We ignored each other for hours, both refusing to swallow our own pride and approach one another in openness to hear the other’s version of what had happened. When we did finally speak to each other, we used cruel words, intentionally cutting one another down because like many newlyweds, we hadn’t yet learned how to argue productively. Like I said, deeply painful. But you don’t see the remnants of that pain in the picture.
We spent lots of futile hours looking for a lost necklace we never found.
My husband’s grandmother had given him a gold chain and we tore our room apart looking for it. To make things more complicated, we both possessed extremely amateur Spanish skills and since we were honeymooning in the Dominican Republic, communicating the situation to the hotel staff and asking for help was no easy undertaking.
This picture is posed. I know. Shocking.
Justin case you were thinking we spent hours upon hours in these Disney prince and princess poses and some admiring, peeping Tom happened to snap a pic and send it to us for keepsake purposes, think again. It was more like, “Excuse me, senior? Can you, um, photo, por favor? Gracias! Okay, what are we going to do? We have too many of us just smiling…”
I got in the pool once the entire trip.
I’m not a pool person. Call me crazy but the idea of submerging myself into water harvesting strangers’ urine, perspiration, and any other bodily fluid they choose to discard just doesn’t sit well with me. Saying that chlorine kills it is, to me, like putting antibacterial gel on a turd. It still a turd, my friend. It’s still a turd.
On top of that, I hate being cold so needless to say, pools and I generally agree to disagree. The pool at our resort was fantasy fabulous, complete with a swim up bar. Still I managed to get in only once the entire time and that was only after my husband spent the morning patronizing my repugnance of pools.
So there you have it… proof that one romantic picture of a couple honeymooners can be pretty deceptive. Next time you find yourself scrolling through your newsfeed feeling like other people are undoubtedly happier than you, remember that a single picture shows you less than a second of their life. There are countless other, far less glamorous seconds that don’t get posted, and those are what make us so beautifully human.
I distinctly remember the moment that my perspective of time and its passage was transformed. It was a little over a year ago, the day after Christmas, when my husband and I first brought our new daughter home from the hospital. The three of us were cuddled up on the couch, the baby asleep warm and peaceful in the middle and without looking up from her, my husband said quietly, “I’m in love.”
It was remarkably beautiful – this breathtaking moment in which the man I love professed his affection for the tiny human being we’d just been blessed with – and just like that, it was gone. The seconds ticked by silently and I tried desperately to somehow grasp that seamless sense of peace that had embraced me only an instant earlier as those words left his lips; but it was futile. It was gone – vanished with the passage of time that incessantly tick tick ticks by, dragging with it so many magnificent moments and emotional highs.
My only reaction to this strange failure to grasp a point in time was despair and of course my body’s response to feelings of despair is to cry. It wasn’t a sweet, sentimental cry with gentle tears streaming serenely down my cheeks and tender sniffles decorating the room’s silence. No, it was a fit of deep blubbering and hiccup sprinkled sobs that eradicating the peaceful occasion as my sleeve promptly converted itself into a Kleenex.
I tried to explain to my husband what was happening in my mind and of course, he successfully calmed me down and reassured me that the best was yet to come. The seed, however, had been planted and a bitter grudge against the rapid passage of time was officially growing in my soul. I slowly developed an awareness of how fast the days were over and no matter how wonderful one might be, it would promptly be coming to a close and before I knew it, another one would be upon us. It became exceedingly difficult for me to enjoy a single moment because in the back of my mind lurked the knowledge that it would soon be behind me.
It was maddening. Why can’t the joyful little pieces of the day – endorphins, baby smiles and cuddles, butterflies from flirting with a husband (mine, I mean) or side-splitting laughter – be carried into tomorrow and leave us high on life then, too?
For months this bitterness sat in me, untouched but lurking infuriatingly all the more like Clark Griswold’s unwelcome cousin Eddie and his mobile home. To make matters worse, as a new parent, I was constantly being reminded, “Enjoy it while she’s young because it’ll be over before you know it!” and other such depressing shards of what people consider advice.
It wasn’t until recently, several days after I’d completely weaned the baby, that something was finally done about my morbid perception of time. The baby fell asleep in my arms one day and I found myself grieving the fact that our days of nursing were behind us. I stared at her sweet, innocent little rose lips as tiny, feathery snores rolled forth and before I knew it, I was the same sobbing, blubbering wreck I’d been that day on the couch after Christmas.
Through some miracle, she didn’t wake up from my crying so I didn’t put her down. I just held her warm, sleeping, one-year-old body and wept for longer than I care to admit. I grieved the end of nursing this baby and wondered why time must present us with such beautiful moments and then snatch them away.
Finally, after I’d laid her down and composed myself, I found myself on the phone with an old friend who somehow has a knack for saying exactly what I need to hear. I could tell she was fighting a cold and rolling a cough drop around in her mouth, but she didn’t miss a beat though. When I described to her how disturbing it was to me that moments of joy are so fleeting, she calmly replied, “They’re supposed to be that way. They’re meant to remind us that perfect happiness isn’t here and to give a preview of the ecstacy that awaits after death.”
Suddenly the pieces began to fall into place and I felt myself forgiving Father Time for all those stolen moments of bliss that I couldn’t hold onto. For the past year, I’d been resenting his incessant presence in my life that seemed to ruin every good instant by bringing it to an end. What I needed was a change of perspective and to realize that time is simply a traveling companion on this journey, whisking me through the trials while frequently providing beautiful glimpses of what awaits at the end of the road.
We can’t stop it from passing when we find ourselves in ecstasy and we can’t speed it up when the going gets tough. We can only roll with it, not against it, and be thankful for the strange, incomprehensible gift that it is.
There will be moments in this life, countless moments, that deeply arouse our rejoicing hearts and have our souls singing for glory. All we can do is allow them to come, thank time’s great creator for sending them our way, and then rest in the faith that one day they will return to us and remain for all eternity.
I guess the Rolling Stones were onto something: “Time is on my side.” Yes, it is.
One of the fascinating things about becoming a parent has been the experiences that open my eyes more so to God the Father. Frank Sheed wrote, “God’s dealings with mankind may often be seen more clearly by some comparison drawn from the material universe, because both human beings and the material universe are creatures of the same God, and there are all kinds of family resemblances between the various works of the one master.”
So it is through interactions with my daughter that I find myself coming to a greater understanding and appreciation of the depths of God’s love and work in my life. A few weeks ago, however, it was my friend, Rachel, whose daughter gave me a profound glimpse into the Lord’s burning desire for prosperity in our lives.
Rachel and I were enjoying a rare, uninterrupted visit when her four-year-old daughter trudged over to us in exasperation. She was holding a red crayon and a facial expression of clear irritation. “Mo-om,” she groaned, tacking on a second syllable to indicate her intense grief. Rachel didn’t respond verbally, only raising her eyebrows to imply a listening ear that wasn’t too eager to hear the complaint. “Molly’s coloring outside the lines.”
The three of us turned to look at two-year-old Molly, gripping her crayon in a tight fist and scribbling so ferociously that I wondered if she was trying to complete two pictures at once by forcing the color straight through onto the next page. She looked up at us and broke into a huge grin, innocently unaware that the chaos of color on her paper would be so easily tidied and brought to life if she adhered to the guidance of the lines.
For some reason, staring at Molly’s pandemonium made me recall a recent moment with the second graders at our church’s public school religion class. They were learning the Ten Commandments and I couldn’t help but notice how bland and authoritarian the list appeared on the board, as if it contained no more depth or purpose than a no diving sign over the toilet in a public restroom. (Those exist.)
I wondered how many years it would be before some of these kids stumbled upon the mindset that rules are meant to be broken and started embracing the “Only the Good Die Young” lifestyle I ran blindly with for too long. (Forever branded in my memory is my mother’s facial expression upon discovering that my ringtone was Billy Joel melodically requesting a Catholic girl’s virginity.)
So what does the monotonous list of the Commandments have to do with the colorful discombobulation Molly had created? In that moment, those lines resembled the often overlooked guidance that the commandments provide for us. The disorder that was being produced as a result of Molly’s ignorance of those lines was the turmoil that our lives tumble into when we ignore the Commandments’ wisdom.
Often, when I take a step back and make an honest assessment of my life, the situations and relationships that are causing me the most grief are those where I’m failing to conduct myself in accordance with the guidance contained in those timeless commandments. Dishonesty, jealousy, absolute devotion to the wrong things… The further I stray from the lines, the uglier my picture appears.
After all, we stay within the lines on the road to avoid disaster, right? They’re not there to take away our freedom. They’re there to keep us existing harmoniously among one another.
So it is with the commandments. If only there was an easy way to communicate to a seven-year-old that this is not a list of musts and must nots from a rigid disciplinarian seeking to suck the fun out of life. Au contraire! This is instead a deeply precious set of instructions from the very creator of mankind who knows us through and through and designed us to function – no, to thrive – according to these principles.
Sadly, since our human nature is tainted, we have an inborn tendency to question authority. But there’s a difference between authority and tyranny. One uplifts, the other suppresses. One strengthens, the other squelches. One awakens greatness, the other forces servitude.
Look, God is not a tyrant at work to oppose us, no matter how difficult it can be to understand his work or how tempting it is to assume that we’d do a better job in his position. We’re His creation and he wants nothing other than for us to flourish. He longs to take the blank page of our lives and infuse into it the richest, most vibrantly ordered colors we can imagine.
But if we refuse to cooperate and instead roam around on our own juvenile, shortsighted terms, attempting to plow our own paths, the effects will be unfortunate.
On the other hand, if I seek the truth and search with an open heart for answers to the deepest questions being called out by my soul, there is no doubt that peace and order will reign in my endeavors. Because when we begin to act in accordance with our deepest purpose, we become free.
A few months ago, my daughter was working on her pincer grasp (the ability to pick things up with her thumb and pointer finger) which takes a lot of practice so watching her acquire the skill with tiny things like raisins could be pretty painful. She would stare at it, then reach out and plop her whole hand on top of it, clasping her chubby little fingers around it and on maybe every third or fourth try she would actually be successful in picking it up. That’s just the first step, though. Keeping it in her hand and transferring it without dropping it or missing her mouth completely was a whole different process. Like I said, very frustrating to watch. I can’t tell you how tempting it was to walk over, pick it up myself and stick it in her mouth. But I had to resist because otherwise she’d never develop the valuable dexterity.
Witnessing this one day made me think of the times that I’ve endured trials and gotten extremely fed up with God, thinking, “I know you can fix this. Why won’t you? Why are you letting me suffer?” Well, the answer is that there was a greater purpose to the tribulation. God is always molding us into the best versions of ourselves and suffering is one of the most effective means of doing so. It takes patience and yes, sometimes (probably a lot more often than we realize) he will intervene and fix things just like every once in awhile I’d stick the raisin in Mia’s mouth for her. But for those times when the Lord decides to let me sit in the pain for a while, it is always for a greater purpose and I have to have faith that the good it yields will far outweigh the struggle.
What I was most struck by was the fact that I’m the one who experienced the most frustration while watching Mia and her raisins. It is essential for us during our difficulties to remember that God is right there next to us, sorrowing over our sorrow, wishing he could endure the trial for us like he did on the cross. But ultimately, he allows us to undergo it for one reason and one reason only: Freedom. Ah, what a beautiful concept and yet so seldom do people associate it with suffering. But we’re told in James 1:2-4 to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That last portion, lacking in nothing, is what echoes freedom to me. If I do not allow Mia to endure the trouble of fine-tuning her pincer grasp, she will be in bondage to her dependence on me for picking things up (whether it’s raisins, dust bunnies, dead stinkbugs) for her to eat. Similarly, if God always swoops in to snatch away my suffering, I will never grow in strength and endurance, but instead will be in bondage to my own weakness and incapability of dealing with difficulty.
On the other hand, whenever Mia was successful in the transferal chain from tray to hand to mouth, I was the more ecstatic of the two of us, squealing with pride and repeatedly praising and encouraging her. I can only imagine the delight that God experiences when we finally emerge from the darkness of anguish as stronger, better individuals.
Food (or raisins) for thought: What circumstances in my life right now am I waiting for God to take away that might actually be necessary for the shedding of my weakness and the perfection of my strength? How can I change my perception of it from an inconvenience to an opportunity for growth?
Several months ago, I had a scary thought: Am I in the process of losing my identity to motherhood? Have the past six months as a new mom done nothing more for my character than add little bits of mom-ish information like why baby onesies are designed with the overlapping shoulder seams and how a blow dryer can instantly shut off a screaming newborn? Am I even capable of carrying on a conversation anymore without hearing that someone has children and snatching the opportunity to ask when they started them on solid foods? What’s happening to me?! I used to be someone. I used to have dreams and goals and a purpose and now I have a baby who drools like a St. Bernard and screeches so ear-piercingly that people peek around shelves at the grocery store to see who brought their pterodactyl to the cereal aisle.
I remember once promising myself that when I had children I would absolutely not surrender my own identity for the sake of caring for them. I would have my own life and continue to progress as myself on my own… and a whole lot more I’s, my’s and me’s. And then, this past Christmas Eve, me became Mia and time that had once passively allowed me to bask in selfishness suddenly demanded a frightening degree of selflessness.
I am in no way implying that people who don’t have children are fundamentally selfish. Far from it. Some of the most self-giving people have not been parents. For others, like me, it takes a radical change like motherhood to snatch them out of the I, me, my bubble and plop them into a realm of genuine purpose.
In the midst of all this change – as my entire world was shifting amidst a muddle of days, each one seeming to drag by and yet simultaneously be gone before I had time to begin it – I started wondering what was becoming of me and this identity I had been so desperate to preserve. What identity? The better question is, what is an identity anyway? Eventually I came to the realization that even before Mia, I really didn’t have any idea who me was. I ultimately just clung to attributes that were encouraged or favored by the outside world (sense of humor, vibrancy, productivity) while attempting to shed those that were not (insecurity, monotony, laziness).
At some point during this post partum identity crisis, I came across this quote by Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Not long after, I flipped through Jesus-Shock by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft and was hit with his line, “This is the secret of life: the self lives only by dying, finds its identity (and its happiness) only by self-forgetfulness, self-giving, self-sacrifice [.]” If these two great men from different eras and with such dramatically different worldviews both taught that the route to self-discovery lies in giving of oneself, then there must be a truth to it that spans time and religion. It began to dawn on me that this baby I had thought was going to be a hindrance to the preservation of my identity was actually an opportunity to finally establish it!
I sat with this for awhile, stopping myself from getting angry when a screaming infant interrupted my “me time” and instead reminding myself that through the seeming inconveniences of motherhood, God is helping me shed my selfish nature to reveal a better, stronger, happier me. And now, after roughly eight months of service for an entirely dependent, ungrateful, but completely innocent little human, I’m actually more comfortable and at peace with who I am and where I am than I’ve ever been. Joy is a far more frequent companion these days and along my twisted search for an identity, I realize that’s all I was really pursuing: real, authentic joy.
Our brilliant Creator designed a world where we are all in search of joy for ourselves but the key to attaining it is giving to others, whether they are our own children or perfect strangers. We will not discover who we truly are or the joyfulness we were made for unless we share ourselves with others. As one of my favorite priests, Father John Riccardo, once said, “Give. That’s how you find happiness. Give. Pour out your life. Give. That’s the only way.”