I didn’t blow up the house, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

I didn’t blow up the house


November 17, 2011

I fixed our gas fireplace without incinerating our home.

In my eyes, this was a major accomplishment—worthy of a celebratory end-zone dance in the living room.

The decorative fireplace has a wall switch that ignites the flame. For some still-unknown reason, two weeks ago it ceased to ignite. This caused much worry as I imagined natural gas building up in the glass-enclosure and then suddenly blowing a hole in our home that a Schwan’s truck could drive through.

I called some maintenance and repair companies and we were looking at $150, at least, just for someone to step foot in our house. And they were booked through November.

So, I cracked open our owner’s manual and did some reading. It took several efforts, but after a few hours I had the wiring figured out and I had removed the glass and fake logs and was inspecting the ignition module (“part that starts the fire” in layman’s terms). I was doing what service technicians call “troubleshooting” and, let me tell you, I shot trouble to tarnation.

You are not incorrect if you detect a touch of triumph in my tone. I called Stacey, and, like a good wife, she was impressed. I relished her adulation.

It is curious what a “high” I get from fixing things around the house. Stacey and I typically don’t fall into strict gender roles—I clean and cook and Stacey washes the car, for example—but I really, really, really like to fix things.

It is gratifying to be able to make something work that was not working, to put it very plainly. A gas fireplace that doesn’t work is a waste of space, at best, and an incendiary bomb at worst. I turned that into something that entices my kids to get out of bed on winter mornings and serenely snuggle as they await breakfast. Who wouldn’t gloat at that accomplishment?

I reflected on my playful gloating this week, and it led me to wonder about the power we have to fundamentally shape our lives. In family life with small children, it is easy for me to think that I have very little power to shape my life. Nearly all of my available free time and energy is absorbed into caring for these three young people. Something as simple as getting out for a beer with friends takes an amazing amount of planning.

Yet, when I step back and see the big picture, I realize that I am profoundly free. What an amazing gift to be able to create and shape a life for our family, and Stacey and I get to do that in big ways and small. We get to define how our children ask for a glass of milk, and we get to choose where and how we live. We wield enormous power, and it is terrifying to think of what we’ve missed or the mistakes we’ve made.

The catechism describes how God unites a man and a woman in marriage and enables us to “cooperate in a unique way in the Creator’s work.” This refers to our capacity to participate in the creation of new life, which is a mind-boggling capacity: we have the ability to help bring a new person into the world.

Cooperating with the Creator means participating in this mystery of new life, but in a smaller way, it also means that my work and labor means something, even when I work though a household “to-do” list. Applying my intelligence and energy to a task is also a cooperation with the Creator—it acknowledges and honors the gifts I was created with, and it shapes the world to suit human needs, like snuggling before breakfast.

Reader Comments (1)

  • Very nice reflection. That’s a great way to look at a to do list.

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What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

On the second Sunday of Lent, as we were driving to Mass, we decided to check in as a family on how each of us was doing with the personal disciplines we had chosen for the season. 14-year-old Oscar was working hard at his and was doing well. 7-year-old Lucy was not working hard at all on hers—because it depended more on our not having sweets in the house than on her own effort—but was doing very well. When it was 9-year-old Simon’s turn, he burst into tears and spoke pretty heatedly about how he did not like what he had chosen and wanted to stop it.

Many parts of this situation were troubling.

First, we were almost to the church and he was a mess. Next, he had chosen a really good discipline: giving up one of his precious weekend days of screen time each week. Our children get 30 minutes individual screen time on each day of the weekend and Simon had voluntarily chosen to fast from one of them for Lent. It was a great idea. It was also—unlike Lucy and the candy that was not even in the house—extremely challenging when his sister and brother still got their 30 minutes on a given day, and he got nothing. Finally, what was most troubling to me was this question: “What is our role as his parents in the face of his wanting to give up his Lenten discipline?”

In the moment, we just tried to settle him down and said we can talk more about it later, hoping that after an hour at Mass he would let go of the whole thing. He calmed down as much as he could. But when I would peek at him during Mass and see his still teary eyes, it was obvious he was still thinking about it.

So at roughly homily time I thought, “Okay, what are the possible ways we could handle this situation?” I came up with three:

First, we could listen to how troubled he was and let him drop his Lenten discipline. This would effectively mean he would fail at following through with it. He might experience some guilt about that. We would not lord it over him, of course, but he is sensitive enough that it might bother him. The possible positive side would be that next Lent he would be more discerning in his choices and spend more time examining options and possible implications of those options.

Second, we could talk with him about how important it is to personally observe Lent and allow him some space to think of and then propose an alternative discipline that he would take up for the remainder of Lent. The downside here would be a certain lack of follow through in the face of challenge. What is a “discipline” after all if we don’t stick with it when it is challenging? The upside would be empowering him to take responsibility and think things through.

Third, we could hold him to the discipline and not allow him to drop it or change it. The primary reason for this approach in my mind would be helping him to understand and experience what it takes to have personal discipline. The negatives would be that his experience of his personal observance would be one of heaviness and weight without any of the freedom and generosity that come from personal choice.

Perhaps for folks reading this there is a pretty clear best approach. In truth, I was really pretty conflicted about what the right approach was in our role as parents in this situation.

In the end, when I talked it over with Joshua, it came down to remembering that we show our children the face of God in the way we parent them. So we asked ourselves, what face of God do we want to convey to Simon?

After Mass I walked into Simon’s room and I sat on his bed and talked with him. I told him I felt a bit stuck because it is hard to know how to help him be the best version of himself in this situation. I told him the three options I had come up with. He said he would like to consider changing his Lenten observance and would like to take the day to think of a substitute. “But,” he said, “I won’t do my screen time today until I think of something else that you say is ok.”

In the end, and through his own initiative, Simon decided he would like to give up complaining for the remainder of Lent, which to me was yet another reminder of our God’s abundant sense of humor.

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