Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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Marriage and the New Evangelization

Marriage and the New Evangelization

Do you ever wonder what this “New Evangelization” is really all about?  I am certainly no expert, but I would say that it is about focusing ourselves more fully on the fact that our faith is fundamentally about a relationship with a person: Jesus. When we have a personal relationship with Jesus, it invites us to something and has implications for our lives. This is what we mean by a life of discipleship.

So, do you think you could describe that relationship to someone in three minutes?

This spring my students and I have been focusing on discipleship as our theme for the semester (using Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell). One of our most challenging activities to break open the book was what we called the “elevator pitch.”

Each student had to craft how they might describe the essential saving work of Jesus and how they see it operative in their own lives in three minutes, and make it sound natural for them. Granted, there may not be anything “natural” about this, especially for Catholics. We often shy away from even using the name “Jesus” conversationally, opting more comfortably for “Christ,” if we use any name at all.

But the idea of the exercise is that we should each, as intentional disciples, be ready and able to describe our relationship with Jesus.  There will be times, like in an airport or at a large family gathering or at a neighborhood barbeque or, yes, in an elevator, when we will be put on the spot. A window of opportunity will be presented to us, and it might be a very short, small window.  With that in mind we need to have a clear articulation of our faith at the ready.

Now, I feel strongly that I cannot ask my students to do something that I, myself, would not do.  So during the week that they prepared pitches, I spent a lot of time thinking of how I would do the same.

For me the hardest part was introducing into polite conversation the “Great Story” of Jesus. One of my students actually had a really lovely, gentle opening (which I will likely steal ever after). Here is the rough sketch of my elevator pitch:

I believe God is a God of love. And that is what is meant by the Kingdom of God—it is a place where love prevails. God sent us Jesus, his Son, to be the face of that kingdom and to show us what love looks like. Jesus did this in word and in deed during his life. Because of sin this was seen as such a threatening possibility, such a potentially revolutionary position, so damaging to the status quo, that he was targeted and ultimately put to death for it.  But that was not the end of the story, because thanks to Jesus, death does not triumph over life.  He rose from the dead.  His example of love in the face of persecution, and ultimate self-sacrifice was met with new and abundant life.  And I see this same pattern in my life as well, which has implications for how I feel called to live my life. When I struggle or experience challenges with others and can find a way to be loving or self-sacrificing, that sacrifice is always met with new and abundant life.

From there I can cite any number of examples from marriage and family life.  For instance, when Joshua and I are disagreeing about something and I completely see his side of it but don’t feel like he is seeing mine, I could remain obstinate. But if I am self-sacrificing enough to acknowledge that I see his side and can name what I understand his perspective to be, often he will thank me and work even harder to understand where I am coming from.  This is the Paschal Mystery: sacrifice met with new and abundant life.

We live the Paschal Mystery everyday in marriage.  Not only is there Good News to share in this, we are passionate about it.  We see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection sets a pattern for our lives – a pattern we adopted at our Baptism. This is the deepest rhythm to our lives, and we experience it every single day in marriage and family life.  Sharing a life together is a continual invitation to live unselfishly, to die to ourselves in love, and to experience the joy of new energy and life.

As Christians, it is not enough to simply understand how our lives conform to Jesus’ Great Story. We participate in this story, and it is such great news that it must be shared. You won’t find me voluntarily striking up conversations in Starbucks with an agenda in mind, but I certainly feel a responsibility to be able to respond when the Spirit is moving and an opportunity presents itself.

 

 

 

 

 


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