My Lenten Insight, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

My Lenten Insight


April 15, 2010

I know that for the most part people get pretty focused on “making it a good Lent.”  We “give something up” or “lay something down and take something up” or focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  I feel like it’s not uncommon to give it a really good strong start and maybe not always finish the Lenten fast as well as we might have liked.  The thing is, I went INTO this Lent mindful of that and all focused that this was not going to be the case for me. 

Famous last words, right?  Seriously.  In retrospect I came to a really helpful realization about family life and prayer, though. 

I started out pretty strong.  Not as strong as I would have liked on the discernment end of deciding what I was going to “do.”  I ended up giving up chocolate (so hard) and making a point of having one-on-one time with each of our three children each day.  As the days and weeks got started I was doing pretty well.  On the chocolate front I was SOLID for three good weeks.  And while I wasn’t getting time alone with each of the children every day, I quickly realized that some good time with one of them each day, and in good rotation, was really pretty good.  I was happy with that.

Then we took a family trip.  Spring Break came and we were out of town “feasting” over a wedding weekend.  I really don’t know what kind of switch got thrown in my head but after returning I had nothing in the way of conviction for my fast.  Very strange for me.  I am really not used to my will deserting me so entirely.

Joshua and our co-workers in Campus Ministry, being very well-trained lay and clergy, were quick to point out that falling short on my fast only highlights my need for God.  And isn’t that the point of Lent anyway: acknowledging where and when we fall short and relying on God’s grace?  I’m thinking, “Yes, that is the point – and nice theology at that – but I am a failure over here!” 

So, I was NOT in a good place going into Holy Week and REALLY feeling it: just generally down and regretting my short-comings but feeling helpless about the lost time etc…Then on Wednesday I went to confession.  Talk about relying on God’s grace – SO helpful!   My confessor gently asked one or two clarifying questions that really helped me come to this realization about prayer and family life:

With a busy work and home life, I rely VERY heavily on the liturgical calendar to set a rhythm to my personal prayer.  So when I let Lent “get away from me” I felt it very acutely because, for me, it was a lost opportunity.  An opportunity I couldn’t get back.  Life, very busy family life, was going to keep going and Easter was going to happen whether or not  I had my spiritual life “right” or not.

Isn’t it true how little time we have to really focus our prayer and spiritual lives raising young children and balancing dual work schedules?  I’ve come away from this experience with a renewed gratitude for our liturgical life in the Catholic Church.  Hopefully I have also come away with a renewed focus as well.

Reader Comments (1)

  • When I was a young mother, I often wondered if I spent enough time in prayer, service etc. ..and remember lent; one year; turned into a Holy week of bread and water to make of for not keeping my Lenten “fast”. I have since learned from a very reliable source that each morning as you dress your children; your are clothing the naked: each time you fix those school Lunches you are feeding the hungry, each time you give your child the “last bite of that sweet treat, you are fasting. Wiping away child tears and hugging is comforting the mourning….Awesome to know that God looks at our lives differently than we do. God bless you! Keep up the great work, and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

    Patti

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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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