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Elle Stone Ink Slingers Saints Spiritual Growth

When Work Sucks  – Bringing St. Augustine into the Workplace

 

October Blues

October has been…a tough month, sisters.  I think it’s awesome that the world is stuffed with tiny gourds, pumpkin spice lattes (pumpkin spice everything, really), and window stickies of witches on broomsticks, because this is such a great escape for me from how tough October really has been.

For us that work on an academic calendar (students, teachers, youth ministers, moms with school-age children), September was magical.  The world was new. I was filled with hope for the new year.  Everything was possible, all doors were open.

By October, the grind got me down.  Reality made an extremely unwelcome appearance.  The challenges are stacking up. Our resolve, although it’s made a good show, is more and more falling short.

Recently I’ve been talking with dear girlfriends of mine, truly holy women of God, who are falling to the October blues.

One’s a third grade teacher, whose students are struggling to learn discipline.  She’s being tough but fair, and…parents are enraged. They’ve basically started a vendetta against her.  That’s…that’s rough.

Another is a family member who works for the church.  Her program is on FIRE. It’s awesome. But she’s surrounded by coworkers who do less than nothing.

A third girlfriend of mine is a mom whose son is exuberant and energetic.  His pre-K classroom is inhibiting, lacking time for play and exploration. His teachers want to get him tested for ADHD because he can’t sit still.

Finally, I have a dear friend who’s lost all motivation in her classes.  She’s just…thrown the towel in. The professors are sending her to the moon and back over things that have little to nothing to do with her path of study.

 

ANGER

One thing that is so interesting about these women is that the October Blues don’t have them sad, miserable, or dejected.

Instead, these things have made them ANGRY.  

I talk with these holy women, and I’m hit by the force and power of their ANGER.

At first, this was odd for me.  Anger doesn’t feel like a holy response.  Anger feels like we’ve taken our calling to bring Christ into the workplace and shoved it into the trash bin.  It feels like the devil has already won, pulling us into these dark places.

Not so!  At least, if we do it right.  

 

Daughters of Hope

I found awesome insight from St. Augustine of Hippo.  He has such a crazy great quote for these workplace dramas.  Take a minute to read it a couple times, let it sink in:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

We come into work in September, full of this HOPE.  This excitement, this joy. Then we’re surprised in October when all we feel is anger.  St. Augustine, man, what a smart guy. This anger is not IN CONTRAST to the hope we felt before.  This anger is A DIRECT RESULT of our hope.  We come in with hope of being a good teacher, of having a strong church staff, of a great school year for our kids, of invigorating classes.  And then we see how flawed things really are—and we are filled with a holy, righteous ANGER.

 

Stuck

Although this anger is good and right, we do risk falling into the devil’s trap when we get stuck in anger.  Hope moves to anger, but if we don’t move out of anger we fall into a cycle of bitterness and resentment.  

St. Augustine calls us to a next step—a really terrifying step, actually.  He calls us to move from anger to COURAGE. We must have the courage to change things.  Instead of just staying angry forever, we have to change what we can.

And whoa man, this is BOLD.  There is so often at work that I try to stay under the radar, not causing waves.  Being the “yes woman” or the “nice girl” on staff. Sometimes this is out of genuine kindness, but TBH, a lot of the time this is because I’m not brave enough to go against how things are.

 

How do?

So, how do we foster this courage, and how do we live out true hope in the workplace?  Here are some ideas. I have very little work experience, but I am blessed to be surrounded by holy and experienced working women.  They have given me these amazing tokens of wisdom that help me navigate the toughest work situations.

1. Pray for discernment.  Get digging!  Before you do anything to change things at work, you need to get to the root of the problem.  Your coworker annoys you—why? But really, why? Don’t just say it’s because they steal the stapler, because that’s not good enough.  A huge part of this is you need to open yourself up to the possibility that you might be the problem. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up for things that aren’t your fault (I feel like us women fall into this ALL THE TIME).

2. Tackle personal failings in confession.  So, some things were your fault.  Take them to confession. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  This Saturday. Go. Make a commitment to change, and pray for God’s grace to do so.

3. Take responsibility.  Although some things might not be your fault, you can still take responsibility for improving the situation.  Your child might have a horrible teacher, which is not your fault. But you can take responsibility—you can make the commitment to supplement your child’s education, you can meet with the teacher, you can request a new teacher.

4. List five tasks/goals.  Delineate your five central goals or tasks at work (or at school/with your kids).  These are the five things that constitute you doing a good job, the five things that will mark your success.  Have your boss, your spouse, or a college mentor sign off of them. Your hope will THRIVE off of having tangible ways of measuring success.

5. ID Breaking Points.  At the end of the day, there will only be so much in your power to change.  But you need to decide what is going to far. Maybe your boss loads you with more tasks in a week than there are hours in year.  Maybe your professor is genuinely impossible. Maybe a teacher is killing the resolve and the joy of learning in your child. These are breaking points, and you know when these pop up, you need to act.

6. Increase the amount you say “no.”  This ties in directly with points #4 and #5.  Once you have your tasks/goals and breaking points, you need to say no to that which goes beyond them.  Practice saying no, even in silly situations. You’ll find a balance. I feel like we women feel like saying no is unkind—that we’re denying others our help when we say no.  However, if we’re aware of our limits, then there is a humility in accepting our limits and say “no.”

7. Make a plan for honest communication.  Spend a day and listen to how many times you hear yourself say that “everything’s fine” at work when it’s really not.  I do it ALL THE TIME. This is another thing that I need to practice, like #6. When someone asks me if things are fine, and they’re not, I have to work on saying the words to express that.  When someone offers to help, I have to practice accepting that help. I was amazed by how much my workplace changed for me when I started honestly expressing my needs.

8. Kill with kindness.  This one is a bit of an aside, but it has worked for me so well that I have to share it.  That angry parent? That nasty coworker? That inept teacher? Send them a thank-you note.  I’m serious!  Find something honest for which you can thank them (don’t thank them for their smile if all they can do is scowl).  You’d be amazed at how much relationship building you can achieve through a surprise (almost sneak-attack-style) dose of gratitude.

Categories
Devon Wattam Domestic Church Ink Slingers Motherhood Vocations

What Do You Do All Day?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Minutes after we found out we were pregnant with our first baby, Ben looked at me and said, “You’re going to stay home, right?” at which point I gasped in horror! How dare he assume such a thing!

Now that I’ve been home full time for going on three years, I have a fullness in my heart that I’ve never experienced before. Watching my children learn and grow and change firsthand everyday gives me indescribable joy and countless opportunities for self-growth. I have no doubt that this is holy work, as silly as cleaning up Cheerios and block-building may appear.

Despite my own personal fulfillment, the response I’ve gotten from friends, family, and strangers alike about my career choice has overwhelmingly been the same: “So, what do you do all day?” or my other favorite, “Stay-at-home moms have the hardest job,” in that infamous, condescending tone. “Do they even believe what it is they’re saying or are they saying it to make us both feel better?”, I wonder.

The first few times I was asked what I did all day, I was offended. What do these people think I’m doing all day, laying around watching the Price is Right, eating Doritos, letting the kid fend for himself? I would immediately give them a play-by-play of every menial task I did each day, down to eating breakfast and showering. It felt like because I didn’t put on dress pants, drop my kid off at daycare, and use my degree, I had to justify to anyone who would listen that the work I was doing was not only important, but something I enjoyed. No one was making me do it.

Ironically, even though people might ask the question, the second I would start answering them about what it actually was I did, their eyes would glaze over, background noise would come over the phone, and new topics would quickly emerge. Not only did they not know what I did, but they really didn’t care to find out. In their defense, changing diapers, making meals, and running errands aren’t the most glamorous or intriguing of topics.

It wasn’t until our eldest turned two and I was pregnant again that I was able to brush off the chip on my shoulder that being a stay-at-home mom was something that needed to be defended, and that what I did everyday must not only be accounted for, but justified. In part, it was encountering other strong women who were choosing to stay home to raise their own children that gave me a sense of empowerment. Independent, educated, capable women who found value in providing stability, guidance, and compassion in their homes and weren’t apologizing for it. Yes!

In letting go of my little “Well, actually I do a lot every day” speech, I could see what it was that made my job so rewarding and significant. Having the time to sit in the backyard to push dump trucks through the dirt or the freedom to go on an impromptu trip to the park has been a tremendous blessing. All the while, I have the privilege of being the one to wipe my son’s tears when he skins his knee, showing him how to write his name in sidewalk chalk, and watching his eyes light up when he tried frozen yogurt for the first time. Every grocery store run, mountain of laundry needing to be folded, and afternoon spent playing in the dirt become opportunities for listening to his thoughts, teaching him Virtue, and providing memories that bond us together. I’ve learned to appreciate the quantity of time we share as well as the quality time, because without the many hours we spend together every day, the special moments that make the occasional tantrum or sleepless night worth it would not have a chance to take place.

I’m not naïve enough to think that I will never go back to work. Eventually, when my children are older and need my presence at home less, I’m sure that the time will come when I feel drawn back into the workplace, whatever that might look like. I have so much respect and admiration for moms who are able to work and parent little ones simultaneously, especially those who do it well. But I’m grateful to currently be working the hardest job that I never knew I wanted.

I’m thankful to the Holy Spirit for chipping away at my pride and replacing it with my children. Now I look forward to running into peers who always seem to ask with a drop of pity, “What is it you do all day?” and I’m able to answer with sincerity, “Watch my babies grow.”

 

Categories
Current Events Ink Slingers Michelle Prayer Saints

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

blessed are the peacemakers

As this historic election winds down, I am at a loss for words. I can’t articulate the emotions I have felt over the past months and especially in the past few days, as I have watched family, friends, neighbors, online acquaintances, and others butt heads and tear each other apart. The things I have read especially today (the day after the election) have hurt my heart even more. I am truly thankful the election is over and I am praying for everyone in our country.

However, while the election is over, our work has just begun. Regardless of who won, my words would be the same… I pray we will come to understand that we are all called to love and to uplift one another. God does not want to see us divided! It should be our goal and the goal of our nation to make this world a better place for everyone. We have to work together if we want to accomplish anything. We can’t let divisions keep us from what truly matters.

True progress and true peace can only happen if we become peacemakers. And so, I leave you with the words of St. Francis who said what I can’t seem to find the words to say-

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

May God bless you.

May God bless our country.

 

Categories
Faith Formation Liz The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

Rest, Don’t Quit

rest, don't quit

Catholic women work hard. Understatement of the millennium, right? We nourish and nurture relationships, create and raise precious lives, look well to the ways of our households, and bring our feminine genius to endeavors within and outside of the home. We are wives, consecrated religious and singles, mothers and teachers and healers and warriors and executives and intellectuals. We rock the cradle and rule the world.

This work that we do is important and holy. If you’ve ever doubted that, just take a look at Pope St. John Paul II’s words in the encyclical Laborem Exorcens:

“Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”

But many of us do this important work while carrying heavy personal crosses: mental or physical illness, care for an ailing family member, financial strain, or broken relationships lay heavy on our shoulders as we go about our daily business.  Our own personal weaknesses, quirks and sins also add weight—just ask your favorite perfectionist, worrywart, procrastinator or control freak!

help at workSo through the brokenness of the world, others and ourselves, work often morphs from a holy endeavor to a painful drudgery or all-consuming monster. We work and work and go and go until we can go no more. Many times, we ignore our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being until we crash under the weight of illness and sin. This is not healthy or holy behavior. Work is not a god, and martyring ourselves in its name won’t bring us happiness in this world or the next. But what’s the alternative? In our increasingly extreme society, we imagine the opposite of working is quitting. We envision our lack of participation equates to sinful laziness and apathy, our families and finances falling apart.  But there is another way.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.”

This quote, popularly attributed to the famous graffiti artist Banksy, perfectly describes the Catholic counterpart to work. It’s the antidote to the overwork and crash cycle that secular society perpetuates. Rest seems like a stupidly simple idea, almost insulting to suggest. Of course we’ve all tried to rest! We snag minutes on the Internet or the couch, squeeze a date or a girls’ night into our already-crowded calendars, or nervously tap our fingers on the kneelers at Adoration, peeking at the clock to see when our hour is up.

But true, holy rest, like all things Catholic, goes much deeper than meets the eye. Rest from our labors requires practice and focus. Far from being a fall-back or a lame excuse for not working, rest should be an intentional part of our daily lives and yearly calendars, waxing and waning in tune with our personal circumstances. Rest increases our virtue, refreshes our souls, and heals our bodies and minds for another round of holy labor for the Lord.  Below are just a few practical ways we can rest and the fruits we can gather while doing so:

  1. Ask for help: If you’re overwhelmed with the tasks on your to-do list, ask a friend, family member or co-worker to help you carry your cross. More often than you might imagine, people are happy to help with an hour of babysitting, a hot meal, or a housekeeping project. Admitting that you can’t do it all grows you in humility and reaching out in your time of need requires courage.
  2. Start from the beginning: The very, very beginning, like Genesis. God showed us the perfect way by resting from all his good work on the Sabbath, so imitate his holy relaxation by taking time out from your labor on the Lord’s Day. Your email and laundry can wait, and heeding the Scriptural mandates of our faith is a great way to practice holy obedience.
  3. Be intentional: There’s a good reason so many monks eat and work in silence: they’re giving their full attention to whatever God has called them to do at that exact moment in time. Imitate their focus and intentionality by hallowing your times for relaxation. Whether you’ve got fifteen minutes or a whole week, don’t waste it by dwelling on the job you’re going to do next or worrying about the future. Cultivate diligence in your leisure and time with the Lord, and you’ll be all the more rested when it’s time to get back to the grindstone.
  4. Go with the flow: On the flip side, most of us aren’t in a cloister. No matter how much we’d like to focus on our times of rest, urgent phone calls, children with boo-boos, and unexpected obligations are a part of life in the world. Putting aside rest temporarily, and picking it back up gracefully (over and over and over again!) helps us grow in patience, perseverance and inner peace.
  5. Counter the culture: Rest doesn’t necessarily mean a fun social activity, a pricey vacation or a self-indulgent Netflix binge (although there’s a place for all these in a well-balanced life)! Much of the time, rest is simply about ceasing our labors in order to honor the Lord, our loved ones, and ourselves. What that looks like varies according to your own personal devotions and family, but choosing our ways of rest, and lessening our dependence on the world’s definition of leisure takes both bravery and wisdom.

Catholic women work hard, of that there’s no doubt. But let it be said not only that we rock the cradle and rule the world, but that we refresh and repair a tired and jaded society by our holy rest in the Lord.

Categories
Conversion Discipleship Mindy Ten Commandments

Our Rest from the Toil

While reading Genesis recently, I started pondering my family’s level of busyness and the copious amount of activity being undertaken recently. The children are exceedingly busy with the demands of their rigorous Catholic school…demands which, lately, cause me to question whether I’m only burdening them, rather than blessing them. I’ve found myself in the habit of adding on work hours for financial gain, which seems reasonable at the time of scheduling; then, when the time comes to apply myself to those hours, I see them as possibly mistaken priorities. There are myriad examples of this in our lives right now. There is not a lot of rest.

Is busyness a sin? Not necessarily. It is a curse, a “human condition,” a state over which we have some control and an obligation to discern. However, it seems presumptuous to think we can or should seek to escape it entirely, as God does not tell us in Scriptures that we are to kick back from the rigors of our responsibilities and let someone else shoulder our burdens on earth.

God made a mandate that we rest once a week, just as He did in creation. He not only created; He stopped and admired and appreciated all that had happened by His Mighty Arm. He did not make man for the Sabbath, but He made Sabbath for man, a merciful mandate which looked to our fallen state when He unfortunately had to tell Adam:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

While we might find ourselves burdened with the work involved in our day to day lives, the sin is not in the busyness and the tending to these responsibilities, but rather, the failure to stop for a while, giving to God some time each week to be replenished spiritually and physically.

In my recent re-reading of Genesis, a thread appeared to me which I had overlooked before. In Genesis 5:28, we read of Lamech, father of Noah:

“When Lamech had lived a hundred and eighty-two years, he became the father of a son, and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.”

From this survivor of the flood would come the generations leading to the birth of our Savior, within Whom we find eternal peace and true rest.

Ultimately, God has given us the greatest gift of all: His Son, Jesus Christ, Who “immediately on the Sabbath…entered the synagogue and taught.” (Mark 1:21) He IS the Sabbath. And look how amazing this is…

Jesus Himself gives us the Bread from Heaven. He feeds us the Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist, and we do not have to work for this at all. From sin we are cursed to eat bread in the sweat of our face; in Jesus Christ, we are fed with the very Sabbath Rest Himself, Who takes away the sins of the world, has mercy on us, receives our prayers, and feeds us personally. WHOA.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener… ~John 20:15 (It was!)

Sometimes, I wake up on Sunday mornings wishing I could just sleep in. Getting all our kids out the door seems like work, not rest. I confess to having done my share of grumbling. But look what happens so humbly and miraculously each and every Sunday. Jesus feeds us with His Body and Blood, giving us Bread from Heaven as the antidote to our cursed humanity. There is salvation one-on-one by the Gardener Himself.