Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One of "Those Days"

It’s been one of those days.

The fact that I can say that and you probably know what I mean brings me comfort. Because, the thing is, we all have “those days”. Days where you
take one step forward to take two steps back. Days where you face problems and stress and issues the size of mountains. But not in a victorious way. Instead, at the end of the day, you found you have lost moments, minutes, hours . . . but to what? It all feels meaningless. It all feels pointless. It all feels hopeless.

“A life that isn’t truly hard is a life that isn’t truly worth living.” Someone, somewhere must have said that once. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if I agree. But it feels right. It feels honest. And, man, it sure feels Catholic.

Because in these days, modern culture tells us the opposite. To take short cuts. To take the easy way. To seek out quick fixes and instant gratification. Alcohol. Sex. Meds. Even drugs. And all kinds of decadence. Decadent homes. Decadent food. Decadent possessions, cars, jewels. Money. Power. Fame. Any issue can be fixed. Every consequence circumvented. Every problem solved. It’s all simple. Divorce. Birth control. Porn. Abortion. Need something? Look for a hand-out. Want to be famous? Go on TV and make a spectacle of yourself. Hard work --- who needs it? Children --- who would want them? A corner office --- only if you don’t have to earn it.

But there is a different way. A harder way. The Catholic way.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost
There is nothing more counter-cultural than the Catholic vocation of marriage, the purpose of which is to love and welcome life. It is a labor of love, and some days the emphasis really is on “labor”. There is nothing easy about it. There are no short-cuts if you are in it for the long haul. There is no easy way, no quick fixes, and no instant gratification in raising up children. And the truth is that every issue cannot be fixed, every consequence cannot be circumvented, and every problem cannot be solved. It’s hard.

The thing about being Catholic is that Catholics readily acknowledge that suffering and sacrifice are a part of life. It is okay to suffer. It is okay to sacrifice. They are not things that can (or should) be avoided. Suffering is not from God, but God can use it for our good. There can be a purpose to it, and we can offer our suffering as a sacrifice for that purpose (and, even if the purpose does not seem to be readily apparent, we can "offer it up" in sacrifice for a greater purpose). After all, look what God did with the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Suffering and sacrifice unites us with Jesus in his final hours, and who wouldn't want that? Er, well, ummm . . . . . I guess . . . Me? Sigh. Because the thing is -- it is not easy to suffer or to sacrifice willingly. Or to be open to and welcome suffering and sacrifice. At least not for me. I am human. I don't want to suffer. I don't want to sacrifice. Even if it is for a greater good. I resist. Can you blame me?

For me, today was one of those days of resistance. Work was hard. And frustrating. And stressful. I had taken yesterday as a vacation day. Per normal, a major work crisis arose, and I wasn’t there to help navigate it. Then, I overslept this morning. I arrived at work feeling guilty and stressed and overwhelmed. I had to deal with the fall-out of the crisis. And then everything else on my “to do” list just overwhelmed me. And it paralyzed me for much of the day, preventing me from working effectively. Meaning I wasted time, lost billable hours I desperately need (especially in this short month), fretted and stressed over unimportant emails and nothing at all. Basically, I was just a hot mess of ineffectiveness. I came home, and I just wanted to give up. Crawl in bed. Stare at the ceiling for awhile. Curl up with a good book. And shut the world out.

Now, most of the time on days like today (or some version of a day like today), I can dig deep, put a smile on, buck up, and be a mom. I can choose joy. I pride myself on that ability. Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. But don't let that fool you --- it is a choice. Joy is not instant happiness or fulfillment. It may bring happiness, but often you have to choose to be joyful before that happiness comes. On some days, it is easier to choose joy than others. (And, on the really awesome days --- praise God for them ---- the choice is easy and choosing joy multiplies your joy. Contentment. Giddiness. Laughter. Euphoria. Happiness. LOVE those days!)

Today, I just couldn’t dig down that far. So, I just kind of idly functioned. I didn't choose joy. I wasn’t a good mom. I was physically present, but mentally absent.

Now, I love my children with all that I am. I want to be present for them. I want to give them 110%. All the time. They deserve it. But it is hard. There are a million ways I get side-tracked, distracted, and pulled off course. And I struggle. There are times that just getting from one moment to the next is a struggle. Add in the tantrums, diapers, and endless evening routines of dinner, clean-up, baths, bedtime, and packing tomorrow's bottles/snacks/lunches, and it can seem insurmountable. It shouldn’t be so hard, or so I think. And when I really do think about it and break it down, it isn’t that hard. But then I get caught in a funk of distraction and stress, and it suddenly is.

I’m not proud of these feelings. I pride myself (I think that's the second time in this post I've used that construction --- "I pride myself" --- sigh . . . the sin of pride; it's a tough one for me) on being able to handle it all, balance it all. And 80-90% of the time, I figure out a way. But that other 10-20% . . . well, it is rough. On those days, I really feel the suffering and sacrifice of the Catholic life I have chosen. The vocation of marriage. The children that come with it. And the employment that is essential to support them.

The thing is --- these struggles feel so mundane. They are mundane. So unimportant in the grand scheme of things. There are so many that struggle so much harder and have it so much worse than I do. They would be grateful for my small struggles. So, I tell myself that I need to be grateful, beat myself over the head with it, but the selfish part of me doesn’t care. And longs for something else.

But what is that something else? I look at all of the promises that our modern culture extends. The glitter, the glamour of them. I look at all of them, but somehow . . . they just seems so empty to me. Hollow. Meaningless. Unfulfilling.

Then, I come back to my faith. And my vocation. Yes, I struggle. I suffer. I sacrifice. Yes, it is hard. But there is meaning there. The toils matter. There may be days when I have a hard time seeing it. But they do matter, and they offer meaning and fulfillment. In a way that the empty void (concealed behind a screen of glitter and glam) of modern culture cannot. May God help me remember that in the tough moments. Like today.

May He continue to encourage me. Strengthen me.

And believe in me. For the battles ahead.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I look forward to it.

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