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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Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

One of our favorite summer family activities—or anytime activities, really—is going to the movies. Because they have such consistently good storytelling, we rarely miss a new Pixar movie—they never fail to give both parents and kids something to think and smile about.

So, we went to see Inside Out as a family during its opening weekend, and were not disappointed. It is an interesting story (if a bit far-fetched) and led to some interesting conversation in the car ride home. It won’t spoil things to share some of the fruit of our discussion.

The idea behind the film is to personify the emotions inside our brains. Everyone has five core emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. In the movie, these emotions look like fuzzy muppets pushing buttons on a control panel inside our brains, which drives our behavior.

It is never explicitly pointed out in the film, but our family noticed that for every human character, one emotion is in charge. All emotions have their say, and their own moments to shine, but it is clear that in every brain there is one emotion that calls the shots and has authority.

The main human protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Riley, and Joy is her defining emotion. Riley plays hockey and loves to be goofy and has a loving family. The story revolves around the family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, which threatens Riley’s joie-de-vivre.

I was surprised to see the emotions the writers placed in charge of the mother and the father in the film. The mother was driven by Sadness, and the father by Anger. Their interplay is captured in a brilliant scene that is used in the film’s trailer—very insightful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRUAzGQ3nSY

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how nuanced the writers had been—these emotions do make sense in my experience of parenting. For a mother to be driven by Sadness does not mean that she is depressed or always mopey. It means that her first, instinctive response to situations comes from compassion. That word, compassion, literally means “suffering with,” and Sadness is the emotion that capacitates us for suffering with others. I’ve seen Stacey shine in responding to our kids by first stepping into their shoes to feel with them whatever pain they might be experiencing. I’m not incapable of compassion—it is just that I’ve seen it more consistently and instinctively from Stacey.

Likewise, for a father to be driven by Anger does not mean that he is abusive or violent. It means that his first, instinctive response to situations comes from action. Whenever Anger is involved in the film, things happen—Anger catalyzes action. Again, I’m not saying that Stacey is not a capable person—there is not much that could be farther from the truth. It is just that I’ve noticed that my first, gut-level response to a situation often comes from a motivation to do something about it.

Healthy adult living requires a balance in emotions—as in all things. I don’t think it is a disadvantage or denigration to see myself in the Anger-driven father. That same emotion helps me respond quickly to threats to the safety and well-being of the family—from attacking the poison ivy springing up in the back corner of the yard to advocating for our children at school.

I am grateful, however, to have a partner who has a different emotion in charge. While our differences sometimes produce friction, they also enrich our family. One of the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage is the harmony produced by complementary gifts—it is one of the ways we have found God providing for our family.

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