Naked Communication, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Naked Communication


June 15, 2010

Communicating well is difficult enough on its own. Throw in a busy schedule and three young children and it is amazing it happens at all.

It will often happen that Stacey and I have a disagreement or a difference of opinions on a matter and we’ll begin to talk it out. This “talk it out” phase can take place at any given time during the day: making dinner or cleaning up after it, making lunches, driving in the car, taking a shower, checking homework. Rarely does it happen that all three children are asleep or occupied and Stacey and I can pour a cup of tea and sit at the table to talk about our differences. It usually happens in the middle of something, and often at the worst possible moment.

The result is a very fragmented conversation.

For example, this morning, as we were getting ready to go to Sunday Mass, Stacey and our oldest child were having a disagreement while Stacey was getting ready for the day in the bathroom. I could see it coming, and removed him from the situation in the middle of the conflict.

She indicated to me that she was very hurt and frustrated. I had effectively usurped her parenthood at that moment—preventing her from seeing her conflict through. I was frustrated that the conflict had happened in the first place when I could see it coming and tried to prevent it. In that moment, we were broken—we were not in the same relational space. We were in two different worlds.

Well, the day had to progress—kids were ready for Mass and Father John was not going to wait for us to have a conversation before starting the opening procession. We both had to take showers, so while the kids were wrestling downstairs, we found ourselves having a conversation about parenthood standing in the bathroom, both stark naked.

Talk about being honest with one another.

In our best moments, we seize what time and space we can to be able to get on the same page with one another. Sometimes, that means telling our children that they’ll have to find some way to keep busy until we’re done. Often, it means being able to talk and work at the same time.

At our worst, we get impatient, overwhelmed, and crabby with each other and with the kids. At our best, we both commit to communicating honestly with one another, knowing that we’ll get to the other side of it if we both dive in and make an effort to see things form the other’s perspective.

Once in a while, we’ll both see that we don’t have the time and space to get through an issue, and we’ll identify a time later in that same day when we will be able to talk it through. This is a good approach, as it gives us space to think through what happened and why. When we come back together, we are usually more level-headed.

So this morning, standing naked with one another in a small bathroom, we talked it out. We heard each other out, and got to the heart of the matter quickly. I was able to apologize to Stacey for stepping into her conflict in a troublesome way, and she was quick to accept my apology and move on. While we were getting dressed, she kissed me and we went to Mass in a much better mood.

There are Sunday mornings when the sign of peace carries more meaning than others.

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Three Ways to Pray

Three Ways to Pray

I love the Jesuits! Actually that is fairly imprecise…I have had very little direct formation from Jesuits. More accurately I should say: I love Ignatian spirituality!

As I mentioned a few months ago, we had a pretty busy summer (see “Big Fish”). One of our big projects was assisting the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in re-writing their domestic Orientation program for new volunteers. It was a fairly intense process, but also very fruitful. The greatest personal fruit for me was getting to immerse myself more deeply in Ignatian spirituality.

[Quick cliff notes background: St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), developed the well-known Spiritual Exercises. The exercises and the prayer practices within them form the cornerstone of Ignatian Spirituality. For more, narrated by James Martin, SJ, watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZLuk_X8u0 ]

What I love about Ignatian spirituality is how it offers some clear structure to prayer. A priest friend of mine observed that in ministry we often tell people they need to pray. However, we infrequently TEACH them how to pray. This was not the case with Ignatius. He was very clear on how he encouraged his brothers in the Society to pray.

Here are some of the Ignatian practices Josh and I have found particularly useful in our family life of prayer:

The Examen – This is not the same thing as an “examination of conscience” one might do prior to confession. Rather it is a roughly five-step process to review the content of the day. It moves through stages of looking for moments of gratitude; to reviewing the events of the day; to calling to mind anything we regret or are sorry for; to deciding if we need to reconcile with anyone; to asking God to be present and give us the grace necessary for the next day.

I have heard the Examen described as “inviting God into our story” – consciously looking for God’s presence in the moments of the day and paying attention to them in a particular way. Joshua and I sometimes pray the Examen together after the children have gone to bed. One of us cues the stages of the reflections and then we share the fruit of our individual prayer with one another at the end.

Consolations and Desolations – We believe in a fundamentally incarnate God. The Jesuits further their awareness of this reality by “finding God in all things.” One way to do this is through identifying consolations and desolations. A consolation is any experience in which we feel consoled by God’s presence. These would be moments in the day when we feel particularly peaceful, joy-filled, hopeful, loving. A desolation is an experience in which we feel distanced from God. These would be moments of confusion, fear, or loneliness.

Consolations and desolations are not as simple as saying when you were happy and sad in a day—this is a deeper reflection than that. These are the times that we felt closest to God and farthest from God. Josh and I have been doing this exercise with the children for years. When Oscar was about five we started doing it as part of our family night prayer. However, we discontinued it there when Simon and Lucy came along, as they were too little to contribute to or really appreciate it. Then a few years ago we revived it at the dinner table as part of our family conversation. The practice helps us re-enter one another’s day and hold our experiences in common.

Imaginative Contemplation – This is a method of praying with Scripture in which we use our imagination to enter into the passage. Most often it is prayed with a Gospel passage that moves us toward an encounter with Jesus. In preparation we read the passage once or twice. Then, often with eyes closed, we use our senses to begin to enter into the scene described in the passage: what it must have sounded like, smelled like, felt like; what the people look like, wear, and how they sound; where we feel drawn to stand or sit, and how we participate in or observe the scene unfold before us…all leading up to a personal conversation with Jesus.

Contrastingly to the Examen where we “invite God into our story,” I have heard imaginative contemplation described as “entering into God’s story.” I am deeply drawn to prayer with Scripture and would like for our family to do more of it together now that the children are getting older. I have introduced this prayer exercise into our Sunday night family prayer using the Gospel passage from that day’s Mass. So far it has met with varying amounts of success. The children are not yet familiar enough with the process to enter into it easily. But I know that this is not a reason to give it up as much as be gentle with them as we slowly incorporate it into our routine.

It is often quoted that the “family that prays together, stays together.” Our hope is that in sharing a bit of the wealth of the deep Catholic Tradition of prayer, our children might discover the ways they communicate most easily with God.

 


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