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Ink Slingers Lynette

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsThe days of December marched on, steadfastly moving forward, boldly proclaiming the finality of another year. Even before the day after Christmas had completely dawned, I could feel the annual ritual beginning to stir. I secretly braced myself for the onslaught of questioning that would soon be the unavoidable focus of conversation for several weeks to come. Only hours into my day, my unsuspecting friend with great enthusiasm quipped, “So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” I smiled and politely responded, “I’m not sure yet,” all the while fighting the urge to launch into a long verbal dissertation on my utter disdain for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I chose to excuse her well-intentioned question and listened with sincere interest as she eagerly told me of her plans for the coming year.

The Rub with New Year’s Resolutions

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t make resolutions. I think resolutions to act or not act in a certain way are essential to our growth as individuals. But I also believe our approach is grossly misguided when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t provide any empirical evidence to confirm that belief, but my own experience and observations have led me to question our obsessiveness with this somewhat futile endeavor. For many years, I blindly followed society’s New Year’s insanity without a thought to what I was really doing. I’d conjure up the perfect resolutions and start out on January 1st with vim and vigor, only to fizzle out within weeks. Observations of those around me confirmed the same behavior. And it wasn’t just a behavior change; a significant amount of money was being spent by myself and other individuals trying to achieve these self-imposed feats of willpower and endurance. The question that began to weigh on my mind was twofold: why do we subject ourselves to such torture every year and why do we fail so miserably at staying the course?  

The answers, I feel, are not as complicated as one might assume. Human behavior can be quite complex, but when we view our behavior in light of how and why we were created, the reasoning behind our actions becomes much more clear. I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that it is built into our human nature to strive to improve who we are as individuals. Just look around and the evidence is clear; self-help books and motivational talks, exercise programs and equipment, classes on virtually any topic you want to become more proficient at, etc. At the core of that desire to improve is our God-given call to holiness. Scripture is replete with verses confirming we are to seek holiness above all things: “Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16); “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7); “…offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,..” (Romans 12:1), to name a few. Denying this innate call only serves to undermine our ability to grow to our fullest potential as individuals, for we were created to be images of our Creator Himself.

Our failures to achieve that which we set out to do with such resolve at the onset of a New Year are found, I believe, within that very same calling. Perfection is found only in God, and therefore only God is capable of bringing anything to perfection. As New Year’s Day crept closer and closer, I found myself resisting, even more, the nagging insistence to jump on that bandwagon of resolutions. The stark reality was that change was needed, and not just small, insignificant change. For months, I had known what those changes were, but I also knew, from previous attempts, that those changes were next to impossible for me to implement. It was exactly that mindset, however, that these were changes “I” needed to bring about, that had driven me to failure every time.

New Year's Resolutions“Take Over, Lover of my Soul
Take Control
I surrender, There’s nothing I want more
Than to know you, LordWhat am I supposed to do with all my kingdoms next to you
You’re the Lord, You’re the Lord
I could gain the world and more
It’s all nothing next to you
My reward..”
(Take Over, Shane & Shane)

I was scrambling to get ready to leave for an appointment, but as the music and the words of this unfamiliar song filled my room, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, stunned. Those things I needed to change – those “kingdoms” I had so carefully built with stones of selfishness, pride, and vanity, were nothing. Like a queen desperately trying to defend her king in a losing game of chess, there comes a time when she realizes she is left powerless to protect him. She surrenders, and a new king reigns victorious. At that moment, who did I desire as my king? How many more battles I willing to engage in to try to protect those kingdoms? I let my heart answer; there was only one King I truly desired, the one whose kingdom I knew was everything, and I was done fighting.

Inevitable Surrender

I surrendered that morning. I laid down my weapons and simply asked Him to take over. New Year’s Day came and went and I didn’t make a single resolution. God was already quietly working on my heart in the shadows, stripping me of my kingdoms, one by one. Some I freely let go of, others were taken from me. But through it all, I would play that song and let the words become my prayer. And then, I would surrender again, and again, and again.

The process has not been easy, nor has it been painless. What worthwhile change ever is? I am still a work in progress, but He has accomplished more in me in the last month than I could ever have hoped to achieve on my own. As long as I “show up” everyday willing to answer the call to pursue holiness, He will continue to bring about that perfection in me with His grace and mercy. “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)

The world doesn’t need our New Year’s resolutions, it needs our surrender. A surrender to all those kingdoms that make us less than who we are called to be; beloved kings and queens in the eternal kingdom of our Lord.

How are you surrendering to our Lord this year?
Categories
Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

Striving, Growing, Rejoicing: Be Your Own Holy Family

A few weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Family. It is a beautiful celebration of the Blessed Mother, Joseph, and the Christ Child. Unfortunately, in the past few years since becoming a single mother, it has become a solemnity of bitterness and disdain for me. Deep inside I saw it as nothing but a feast to enhance my shortcomings. A reminder of how he left us and continues to destroy my Catholic vision of family life.

Fortunately, this year there was a change in my thinking, a shift in my heart that encouraged me to celebrate the solemnity as the paramount liturgical celebration that it is meant to be.

In the Gospel for the day, one hears the customs of the time – Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, as was the tradition – and it may seem like an easily forgettable passage. However in Luke 2:40 it states, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him”.

Growth. From verse 40 it screams to me. I think about the growth I have experienced in the past three years. I think about the growth of my children and how they are thriving. I think about the wisdom I have gained. I think about how we may not have the look of the Holy Family in our living room, yet in our home, we are growing closer to God each day.

Coupled with the Gospel, I heard an exceptional homily on that day as well. It is was one of those moments where the priest was speaking directly to me. He said, “Our own families truly can be holy families. All we need to do is strive. To grow ourselves. One step at a time. And to rejoice when we see growth.”

Striving. Growing. Rejoicing. How beautiful is this message of the Holy Family? How important is it to teach our children that no matter the situation we must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in the Lord?

No family can compare to the Holy Family. It is laughable for me to think that I can. And, for me to focus on the shortcomings of my own beautiful family is detrimental. Instead, I must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in our faith-filled life no matter the circumstances.   

Categories
Ink Slingers Lynne

Ordinary Girl’s Guide to Abandonment

For at least a year now I have been slowly, slowly reading my way through Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence.  It is the most simple-yet-profound spiritual book I have ever read.  It is about (surprise!) abandoning self-will and embracing God’s will alone.

As I read, I picture myself clinging sweetly to Jesus, saying things like, “Your will be done, Lord!” and “Be it done to me according to your word!”

That’s me, kneeling at the right.

Then I am awakened from my dreamlike state to the sound of someone screaming.  It’s the five-year-old.  The twelve-year-old has taken his toy sword.  From the sound of it, the plastic weapon must have then been used to cut off the five-year-old’s left arm.  About this time the phone rings.  Would I care to take a survey about my TV viewing habits?  It will only take five minutes of my time.  Just then, the 18-month-old toddles in without a diaper…and what is that she is holding out to me in her dirty palm?  The sixteen-year-old, meanwhile, desperately needs help with an advanced math problem, but the nine-year-old has already staked her claim on me and is waiting impatiently with her spelling words.  The doorbell rings.  It’s my father-in-law.  I hope he doesn’t mind seeing me in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair.  Then again, it won’t be the first time and it will provide him with fodder for entertaining all the extended family who live nearby.

As I try to sort out the press of people and things vying for my attention, my blood pressure rises.  I find an ugly snarl has replaced the radiant smile so recently beamed upon Jesus.  If only I could get away, even just into my closet, and finish my prayer time in peace!  If only my family were better behaved, I wouldn’t have to resort to anger and unpleasantness!  If only my father-in-law would quit showing up at my door when I’m least prepared to welcome visitors!  I should have been a nun.

So it was a miracle when, one day, in the midst of some storm of emotion, I had the thought, “Abandonment!” And I paused.  “Wait a minute.  So you mean that when I burn the toast for the 417th time, the proper response is not rage or despair…but abandonment?”

Thoughtful-toe-tapping and chin-scratching ensued.

“You mean, when my husband calls to say we’re going to the 8 a.m Sunday Mass after I’ve already gotten everyone dressed for the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass, the proper response is not muttering and slamming…but abandonment?”

Arms crossed.  One hip cocked out to the side.

“Are you telling me that when the airline closes the jetway and won’t let me get on the plane because I arrived two minutes late due to security delaying me for a hour, and I’m carrying a baby and the next flight isn’t for two hours and I’ll be late to my grandmother’s wake, the proper response is…abandonment?!?”

Big eye-roll.

Abandonment is not part of my nature.  I want what I want when I want it.  But the more I read this book, the more I know with deadly certainty that it is right.  I have to lay myself down.

While I’m underlining and making notes in my book, it all sounds so simple—even romantic!  I can be the next Mother Teresa, the next Father Damien…a hero of the faith!  All I have to do is submit my own will to God’s!  I have found the express train to holiness!  Until the gas man shows up with a past-due notice and is prepared to terminate my service.

So how do I practice abandonment in the middle of 21st century America?  What should abandonment look like in my life?

As far as I can tell, Fr. de Caussade’s ideas on abandonment can be summed up thus:

  1. The first priority is to be faithful to the duties of Christianity and of my state in life— or said another way, I must do the things that God and my vocation require. Fr. de Caussade says, “The will of God gives to all things a supernatural and divine value for the soul submitting to it.”  Translation: folding a mountain of laundry with the right attitude has as much value as climbing Mt.Calvary.
  1. The second thing I must do is accept everything (good and bad) as God’s gift in that moment—and suffer all these things with gratitude, sweetness and humility.  Fr. de Caussade says, “Each present moment contains what is best for you, and as such must be loved and esteemed.”  Translation: when I’m at Mass and my child vomits all over the man in front of me, I must gently apologize to the ungracious man whose new leather jacket is busily absorbing permanent odors, hurry the offender out of church and miss Holy Communion while washing out her hair—all the while thanking God for loving me this much.

There is also a corollary to the above:

  1. I must let go of my attachment to things and embrace God alone.  Fr. de Caussade says my prayer should be, “Lord, I sacrifice all this; I give up all my miserable interests to you. ”  Translation: If my daughter accidentally drops my brand-new camera while its zoom lens is extended, thus cracking small internal parts whose cost of repair is more than a new camera, I must breathe deeply and force a smile, realizing that any created thing, idea, or plan of mine is subject to recall by God at any moment, and that sudden and total recall of any and all things should be expected, and greeted with the cheery phrase, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Fr. de Caussade emphasizes that God expressly wills or permits everything that happens to me.  Therefore, anything that happens in my life—good or bad—is exactly what I need at that moment to grow in holiness.  When things happen that do not coincide with my own plans, then I must set my preferences aside with the knowledge that God will guide me along a path more perfect than any I could make for myself.

Personally, I like the notion of living a life like Gladys Aylward in “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”.  She travels by train to China, becomes an esteemed and revered member of the community, and radiates Christ love to those who have never heard the gospel.  She also gets played by Ingrid Bergman.

Now there’s a saintly woman!

Mediating with machete-wielding criminals in a Chinese prison riot and taking fifty children on a hundred-mile hike over the mountain never looked so inviting!  Fr. de Caussade uncannily anticipates my noble desires and remarks:

  “You say you would be delighted to find an opportunity of dying for God, and would be completely satisfied with some such action, or with a life leading to the same result.  To lose all, to die forsaken, to sacrifice your life for others, these are indeed charming ideas!”

The good news is that these romantically noble desires are dismissed by something more realistic and attainable.  He laments:

“If they could realize the merit concealed in the actions of each moment of the day; I mean in each of the daily duties of their state of life, and if they could be persuaded that sanctity is founded on that to which they give no heed as being altogether irrelevant, they would indeed by happy.”

This, then, is path to sainthood for me.  It is most likely to be one of obscurity, and will be found in letting go of thousands of little things rather than moving to darkest Africa.  It might be called, “dying by degrees”.  My holiness will be found in humbly throwing the burned toast in the trash and preparing a new batch with more care; or by helping everyone change out of their church clothes while thanking God that my husband has a good job and that he wants to go to Mass; or by saying a prayer for the airline workers who callously turn me away while I quietly vow never to fly with them again.  It will be a life-long task to internalize the fact that “[e]verything is a help to [the soul], and is, without exception an instrument of sanctity”—even airline employees.

I will not always be able to let go of my will immediately or entirely.  Even if I try to accept God’s will for me, it may be with regret and bitterness, apprehension or fear.  My goal is to “be content with being discontented, for as long as God wills or permits.”  Fortunately, God is prepared to grant me the graces I need to do everything he asks of me, at the moment he asks it.

If I practice really hard, maybe someday I will be able to say, “I agree to all, Lord, I wish what you wish, I resign myself entirely to your will.”  Pray for me!

Abandonment to Divine Providence is available through Ignatius Press.