Confrontation at the Post Office, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Confrontation at the Post Office


June 28, 2010

Before I begin sharing a little story, first let me say that I highly respect the Postal Service and am most grateful for the very hard work they do…

I had a time-sensitive package to mail, so I ended up having to take Simon (4) and Lucy (2) to the post office with me.  We ended up stopping at the post office closest to Simon’s Montessori school (a Franciscan Montessori school, how cool is that?).  This particular office is VERY big.  They have lots of post office boxes, mail supplies, a passport station, greeting cards and something like six separate service stations.  Unfortunately, at the very busy noon hour, only two of the stations were servicing the line (even though there were more workers at the other stations NOT servicing the line) and the line was about 10-12 people long when we got in.

I imagine many parents have gone through the same feelings I had when I initially walked in: Thinking, “Hmmm, is this going to be too much with the children?” and then either cutting and running or pushing on through.  Simon and Lu seemed to be in a good place and I had to get this package in the mail, so I pushed on through. 

At first the two of them were staying pretty close to me, asking questions and looking around.  Then Simon asked if he could go look at some of the packing materials.  Lucy followed him over and they gradually moved on to the greeting cards, looking at pictures and chatting in little child talk back and forth.  At this point I am still eight people back in line and the children are probably about three yards away from me.  They would come check in from time to time and then go back to looking.  Then Simon realized Lucy was following him and he didn’t like that, but we managed to turn it into a game where I would hold Lu, he would hide and she would go find him.  Well, when she found him they began chasing each other in a circle around one of the displays. 

Now, I acknowledge whole-heartedly, that I get irked when a parent pays no attention to their children’s behavior in public and their children act like little hellions.  However, Lu and Simon were away from ALL the other patrons and counters, the display was solid and not something that could tip and they were being very quiet even as they chased round and round it.

Then the confrontation:

Postal worker (leaning over the counter, past the patron he is helping): “You are going to have to stop them from doing that. This isn’t a playground.”

Me (embarrassed but also slightly annoyed because the children had held it together admirably for over 15 minutes and deserved props for that):  “With all due respect, if the line wasn’t so long, they wouldn’t need to do that.”

Postal worker (not making eye contact but not backing down):  “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Me (not really capable of backing down where my children are concerned): “Well, they’re children and that’s just the way it is.”

Leaving the post office (after holding the children right next to me and being taken care of by a different postal worker) there was so much going through my head.  Of course I called Joshua immediately and recounted the incident for him.  Happily, he laughed heartily at the exchange…then, he noted that I don’t take guff from anyone. And that got me thinking.

I do take a little bit of pride in being able to stand up for myself, and that is part of what was going on there.

I also recognized soon after becoming a mother that I really stand my ground where my children are concerned (hyper-mother bear instinct), and that was also part of what was going on there. 

The main thing I got to thinking about though, was “What is this like when it’s aimed at  Joshua?  What does Joshua have to put up with or wade through when I feel like I am just standing up for myself?”  When we get into conversations or discussions and I have a ready retort or can’t simply receive his input with some reflective silence?  I’ll have to try to be more conscious of this in those moments with him.  He’s a saint to bear with me…but he clearly gets a kick out of when someone else is on the receiving end!

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?


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