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Ink Slingers

A Deeper Look

My mom and I share an interest in flower gardening. Over the years, she has given me many “starts” from her perennial gardens, and I try my best to keep them alive. Sometimes it works, other times I am forced to take the walk of shame from the flowerbed to the garbage can to toss the feckless, fruitless, failure into the bin.

A few years back she gifted me with one of her “money plants” that grew for years in wispy waves in the flowerbed along her garage. I always admired the cuttings she made from the plants every fall. Delicate, pearlescent silver dollars dangled from tall stems in a vase on her table. No additional flowers were needed to brighten the arrangement— these beauties made a bold enough statement on their own.

With that vision in my head, I planted her silver dollar money plants along my garage too, and took special care not to kill them. Turns out, these plants are hard to kill. In fact, given even slightly reasonable conditions, they will multiply. Massively. Like dirty laundry in the corners of your kids’ rooms. By the following fall, I had more than enough plants to create my own stunning centerpieces.

But there was a problem: My silver dollars weren’t luminous white discs. They were ugly, bumpy and brown! They looked dead. Oh no, I thought. Here comes another shameful trek to the garbage can. Stupid plants. What did I do wrong? I couldn’t figure it out. My money plants all died back over the winter, with no chance to adorn my table.

Calling in the Plant Calvary

The next year, I was determined to do better. The prolific plants doubled in number again! But when the end of summer came along I was in the same frustrating boat, staring with furrowed brow at a sad crop of dry, wrinkly pods. That’s it, I decided. Time to call in the plant cavalry (i.e., my mom).   

What she told me on the phone first made me fall silent. And then it made me smile. And then it made me laugh for a good long time.

I had been missing a very important piece of knowledge. I dashed outside to snag a stem of silver dollars and pinched a pod between my finger and thumb. Then I slid my fingers back and forth, ever so gently, and voila! The unattractive outer layer fell away and revealed the lustrous shiny coin I was yearning for. The ugliness that I had scorned for two seasons was merely a protective covering— a botanical bodyguard— that hid the fragile beauty beneath it.

 

Quick to Judge Instead of Love

Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes, Sistas? I pondered the notion in my prayer journal: We can be so quick to make judgments and come to conclusions that turn out to be so wrong. And I’m not talking just plants here, of course. Whether it’s the mom who is consistently late to her children’s events, or the co-worker who is struggling to stay awake, or the child who is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, we have to remember we are looking only at the unpleasant outer layer. We don’t know if there’s an elderly parent’s care making the mom late, or an abusive spouse situation creating the co-worker’s exhaustion, or a special needs diagnosis causing the child’s behavior. Only the outer layer is visible to us in that moment of time.

God has made us all in his image. We are unique, fabulous creations of His— no two of us are alike! Yet we live in a fallen world with challenges, complexities, and outright sin. These factors can give us an uninviting outer shell and can also hastily cloud our initial perception of others. The foggy glasses of snap judgment can prevent us from seeing the beauty that most certainly exists right below the surface of each one of us. I, for one, don those foggy glasses of snap judgment wayyyy too often.

Saint Mother Teresa teaches us, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So let’s give each other a break, shall we? We all have struggles, we all have faults, we are all sinners. Let’s look beyond the outer layer, avoid snap judgments and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, let’s show some love. Let’s vow to save a seat for that latecomer, bring a cup of coffee to that co-worker, and give an empathetic smile to the frazzled mom in the grocery store.

People, like plants, deserve a deeper look.

Categories
8th Commandment Faith Formation Ink Slingers Martina Ten Commandments

You just. don’t. know.

Have you ever had this happen to you? You sit down in the pew before Mass starts, you pull down the kneeler and begin to say your prayers. When you’re done, you sit back and calmly look at the beauty of the altar and what’s about to transpire in a matter of minutes. Then, you hear people whispering behind you. The whispering turns to low chatter. After several attempts of ignoring, it’s enough to aggravate you and tear you away from mentally and spiritually preparing for the Sacred Mysteries. Your eyes and ears are now fixated on other things going on in church…and not in a good way. Your eyes are drawn to a family that looks like they just walked off the boardwalk. You look away, saying nothing. But the damage is done. The thought that crossed your mind did enough damage by rendering rash judgment of a situation or person.

 The eighth commandment is one that seems fairly simple to follow…but is it? On the surface it reads very straight forward –

 thou shalt not lie

{read with ominous voice}

What does that encompass, exactly? According to the Baltimore Catechism, it outlines the eighth commandment as one that commands truth and forbids lying. {Incidentally, I find the irony too delicious to keep to myself. While writing this, I had my oldest bring me the catechism. She quickly located the 8th commandment and then handed it to me, using an examination of conscience brochure as her “bookmarker” – is she trying to tell me something??} I have to say I really like the Baltimore Catechism because it doesn’t mince words and uses fancy words to describe sins, making it easy for me to not only identify what my faults are but say exactly what they are to the priest…I can also give the illusion of being smart, too, while repenting. It’s win-win! There are several sins that fall under the category of lying – rash judgment, detraction, calumny, and telling secrets we are bound to keep. We will spend future articles addressing the other sins so I will focus on rash judgment for today’s entry.

I want to start with rash judgment because thoughts typically infiltrate our minds first. We don’t often say something without first thinking it. A person commits the sin of rash judgment when, without sufficient reason, he believes something harmful to another’s character.

The problem with rash judgment is it appears innocent enough…oh, it was just a thought {if you’re lucky enough that it didn’t escape your mouth!}. It can be easy to justify or brush off as “it wasn’t that bad” but the effects are very real. I heard it best said once, “the best way to kill your conscience is to ignore it.”

If you find yourself criticizing someone who is wearing a veil to Mass because she must be “holier than thou” or thinking to yourself that the family next to you with only one or two children must contracept, keep in mind those thoughts are where it starts.

It’s a mentality that plagues all of us at one point or another, myself included.

 

Myself especially.

 

It is something that really drives me in my faith because I detest what it does to myself, I detest what it does to my friends, I detest what it does to strangers when I see it happen. It makes me cringe to think this is something we do by default, when we lack true charity in our hearts.

So, how can we combat this all-too-easy-to-fall-into-the-trap sin? Well, I’m a huge advocate for piquing awareness, or the constant realization of our wrong doings. Let’s call it an ongoing daily examination of conscience. We can first start by recognizing on our own when we first formulate those thoughts. One way I personally combat this is to actively come up with a list of plausible antidotes to my flawed thinking. So, when an ugly thought crosses my mind, I automatically force myself into a “what if” scenario and then make myself reflect on the damage my initial thought causes others…and especially myself if I dwell on it too long.

Let’s go back to the family with two children I described above. The first thought that could pop into my head about making assumptions about family size, or worse, accusing them {if only through my thoughts} of not being open to life…my immediate thought process in order to combat this could be the following:

  1. Would God be pleased with this thinking of mine in judgment of others?”
  2. Place myself in their situation. This family may have struggled with primary or secondary infertility. They may have a unique medical situation that precludes them from having the large family they thought they would have. There could be a myriad of reasons that aren’t known to me…nor should it be.
  3. And lastly, considering I am sitting in Mass while having this thought, shouldn’t my attention be on Christ anyway? This distraction, and certainly the negativity of it does not come from God.

We are called to lift each other up, not tear each other down.

Our homework from now until the next time we meet to continue discussing the 8th commandment* and all the fun new words for sins is to pique that awareness when we are headed down the road of rash judgment. Do your best to pinpoint those flaws because your best weapon against overcoming rash judgment is to know when it happens.

*I had been wanting to write something about rash judgment for such a long time that when I finally did, the obvious next thought came to mind – too late. It would be PERFECT to start a Ten Commandments series! Of course, this would ideally start with the 1st commandment, not the 8th. So for that, I apologize that it will appear choppy as we start going through each of the commandments. Mea culpa.