Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness


July 21, 2010

by Josh Noem

One of the constant challenges of family life with small children is trying to get a word in edge-wise.

It is routine to carry on two or three conversations at one time. Stacey and I can be in the middle of discussing a recurring issue, trying to dig in and get to the bottom of something personal and important, when suddenly one child needs help with the toilet, one needs help with homework, and the other needs help with tying a shoe. It is stressful to simply try to keep track of who is saying what to whom.

For me, in particular, it is difficult to stay engaged with the process, when such a conversation requires me to both think and identify how I might be feeling. I think it is like this for many other men—speaking, thinking and feeling seem to be three separate functions, all requiring focus in their own right. (Stacey, like many women, seems to be able to function in all three areas instantaneously.)

Last night, I was bemoaning the challenge of this aspect of family life. This morning and throughout today, I discovered the other side of that equation.

In the span of half an hour this morning, I had a significant exchange with Stacey and with each one of the kids. I went upstairs to retrieve something from my room and side-stepped into the boys’ room to sit next to Oscar for a few minutes. I observed him playing with his Legos and stepped into his shoes for a moment. (How does one create water with square and rectangular shaped Legos?) I gave him some affirmation and we exchanged a hug.

I then joined Stacey on the front porch—she was finishing the chocolate-chip pancakes I had just made her—and watched her joke with Lucy, who was asking for piggy tails to match her mommy. Simon, meanwhile, plopped down in the small rocking chair next to me and explained he was taking a halftime break from an imaginary football game. All of this transpired in the span of 15 miutes in the middle of the first sunny, clear, bright morning we’ve had in several weeks.

A busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can often make my days feel fragmented. But the other side is that a busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can make my days feel richly integrated. I am at my best when I can recognize this harmony and take a deep breath to offer God my gratitude.

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Big Fish

Big Fish

I had a really crappy day last week.  Not a catastrophically crappy day—just a preponderance of small, seemingly simple things going less than smoothly. It was like the slow drip, drip, drip of water—one drop by itself is no big deal, but add them up over time and it really wears on you.

There was some printing trouble that really should have been routine. There was the coffee shop forgetting to put coffee in my coffee. (I wanted a mocha and ended up with a hot chocolate.) There was me choosing to make healthy decisions by venting with Joshua—calling him on his cell, not getting him; calling him at home, not getting him; texting him in caps with exclamation points, not getting him.

When we did get to talk (only two minutes after my texting breakdown) he wisely commented, “You must have a big fish on the line.”

This phrase is one of those marital codes we have developed over the years. It comes from a religious sister who commented that when something goes really wrong before a retreat, it means there must be a “big fish” on the line for the weekend—i.e., God must have something important in store, and this is how other forces are attempting to derail that plan using our most human foibles.

I am highly susceptible to human foibles. So I particularly appreciated Josh’s comment because it was a call back to my center. It was a call to set aside the distractions and focus extra hard on looking for God around me.

And not surprisingly, God was there. God was there when I ran into a former student, now a colleague, who checked in with me about how my day was going. God was there in the sincere, encouraging hug I received from another minister. God was there in the little toddler girl touring campus with her family who stared deeply at me even after she was well past me on the sidewalk. Her sweet innocent eyes just felt like God looking back at me, seeing me, seeing my struggles that day and inviting me in turn to see and know God was there with me, that all I had to do was look.

So did I have a big fish on the line?

Maybe.

We have had an unusually full summer. I avoid using the word “busy” because our pace has been just fine and even relaxing. But there are two particularly big projects that have taken over our time: one that has the capacity to impact a lot of folks for a good while into the future, and another that is just about our family.

In both cases, Joshua and I did not so much decide to take these things on, as much as had the option presented to us and followed those leads.  We feel like our investment in these projects was far less an act of our will and much more an active looking and listening for God’s will.

We had invitations extended to us and—thank goodness—rather than attempt to decide if we felt like doing them or had the time to fit them in or if we would benefit personally and professionally from them, we prayed about them. We took a hard look at the gifts, skills and resources we possess and asked ourselves if we thought God was calling us to apply them in this direction at this time.  In both cases the answer we received was yes, so we took a step forward.

At every frustrated, exhausted, or nervous moment during the summer when we looked back at the choice to say “yes” to the opportunities presented to us, we have found peace in knowing that we did not force these developments. Rather they were the product of sound discernment. We do not have a full sense of how far down these paths we will go, but we rest with confidence that we are on the right track when we are staying in tune with God’s will.

We know that there are forces opposed to goodness, and given the scale of the projects we have been involved in this summer, it is not surprising to find opposition to their development. When the water gets muddied, though, we always find clarity when we return to the source and cling to our trust in God.

That is part of what was so challenging and important in how my crappy day unfolded last week. In our lives there are SO many ways we can be distracted or put off of staying in tune with God. But it is essential to look for God in the little things so that we can see and hear God all the more clearly in the big things.


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