Times of Joy, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Times of Joy


August 26, 2010

We have had a “helluva” summer.  What was supposed to be three and a half months of down time at home and at the office – kicked off with a fun vacation at the beach – turned into multiple funerals and cross country trips by car and by plane. And it probably goes without saying that trips of that magnitude didn’t result in a lot of downtime at the office.  We seemed to be endlessly returning from a trip or getting everything in order to leave for a trip. 

I actually remember a moment back in early June, sitting on our front porch on a heavenly Saturday afternoon.  I mean it was completely idyllic.  Kids playing in the yard.  Flowers we planted blooming.  Perfect 70-degree weather, sunshine and not a cloud in sight.  It was just one of those moments when you are completely…complete.  At peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  I remember that moment, because it was the last time I remember feeling that way for the last two and a half months.

Until last weekend.

A friend and co-worker offered us her timeshare at a beach condo out of nowhere.  She had it booked and ended up not being able to use it and figured we could use a getaway. She just gave it to us.  Free.  A completely gratuitous gift.  So we packed up the family, sand toys, rubber boots and jackets (this is Oregon, not Florida) and headed to the coast for some family time–something we just haven’t had in a couple months. 

After driving for a few hours, we arrived in the mid-afternoon, and settled in quickly.  Then we headed straight for the beach.  Now, I had never been to this beach.  And, I come from a land (Florida) of magnificent beaches.  But I had simply never seen anything like the beach at Newport, Oregon.  After parking on a bluff, descending several sea stairs, and climbing over an enormous dune, you are faced with a landscape of 3-4 feet high mini-dunes rolling (is that the right verb to describe dunes?) down to the Pacific.  It looked like a half or quarter scale Tatooine desert (Star Wars reference for those who have no 30-50 year-old men or Lego-addicted little boys around).

We plodded through the warm sand over the ridges of one dune after another until we chose our spot in the middle of nowhere.  We were surrounded by nothing but sand and water. (Seriously, there were so few people, it was amazing to feel so alone on a public beach!) The children were as completely fascinated with the landscape as we were.  Oscar started exploring, Simon was discovering how to slide and jump down little dunes, and little Lucy treated them like rock walls she wanted to climb. 

Which left us with very little to do besides Joshua laying his head in my lap as I sat on our blanket.  There we were: watching our children, marveling at the beautiful late afternoon light, the piercingly clear day, the soft warmth of the sand through our toes, the relentless waves of the Pacific, the complete and utterly gratuitous gift of it all. 

It was one of those moments: at peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  In the face of such an abundance of grace, could a person want anything more?  Then I realized, in addition to all the blessings of nature, a healthy happy family, a surprise getaway, and remarkable weather in Oregon…I get to share it all with Joshua, the love of my life.

Some people search and search for love, for someone with whom they can share life.  I was given Joshua at a relatively early age and we share so much that it is almost easy to take it for granted. But not in a moment like this. I can sigh in contented wonder at this utter gift of a moment, and he can touch my leg to let me know he knows.  Without a word from him, I am no longer a solitary being in my reverie, but part of an indwelling community of love.  I am known.  And the only response to that is gratitude.

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?


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