Close to Home:
When it’s freezing outside and money is scarce, we hit the library. The three of us: my sister-in-law, Paige, our friend Kris and I, huddled around a child sized table piled messily with stickers, crayons, and paper. It was unusually crowded, unusually noisy; static haired kids ran largely unsupervised while their moms flipped through magazines and occasionally tossed out verbal reprimands for particularly aggressive behavior. “Share, please, Ethan. No running, Lucy.” Admittedly, I too, kept a distant eye on my own rowdy charges so interesting to me was the conversation at hand. Kris had been reading a book about a woman who claimed she had “found herself” by way of a divorce and some global traveling. Depression had been oppressing her, making more and more obvious her discontentment with marriage and the overall life she was immersed in. Courageously, she cut the ties that were binding her to an unsatisfactory existence and became proactive in achieving her own sense of worth and fulfillment.
Her story has inspired women everywhere to step up and reclaim their dreams- desires too often smothered by busyness and responsibility. I understand why the author of this very popular memoir has been embraced with open arms by the overworked and under appreciated masses because I, too, tend to burn with motivation when self-help cheerleaders spread their “the sky is the limit” mantra. “I am more than this!” I begin thinking to myself, which is accurate but also tricky. How I interpret that statement is of utmost importance, lest I sprint around in circles chasing hopes that pop like bubbles once you touch them.
Every morning I awake to very visible, audible, un-ignorable boundaries. My role as a stay-at-home mother limits quite severely any opportunities for being recognized as something other than an enforcer of rules, a provider of meals, a stereotype of societal irrelevance. For the most part I am fine with this, I can take it all in stride: the demands, repetition, lack of praise, until, that is, a longing to be referred to by my given name (as opposed to “Mommy, can I…?”) swells so suddenly within me I fear I’ll crack in two from all the strain. I spare myself the guilt of treating such a reflexive impulse as sinful, ungrateful, or selfish; I have no more control over these periodic flare-ups than I do over hunger or exhaustion. It is the crucial minutes following, when I decide what to do or where to go with the restlessness that reveals everything.
If there were a way to live effectively for Christ and your own happiness I for sure would have found it by now. The amount of man-hours I’ve spent testing that possibility make me pretty much an expert in the field of wishy-washyness so please, just trust me on this one. What never works, upon reaching the end of oneself, is stoking outlandish “what-ifs” until the fantasy of a better job, a better spouse, a better income, etc becomes in your mind the only viable option for relief from the constriction of your current circumstances. What I’ve been known to do is mix a little bit of faith with a whole lot of assumptions about what would be best for me at any given moment. I’d toss out a prayer for guidance boomerang style, letting go of my will for just a second before reaching right out to grab it back again. “Here’s what I propose, please make it happen. Amen.” From there I would force a change in the name of God, or question His goodness when my best-laid plans fell through. Either way, I lost the point entirely; I lost my sense of direction by running both to Jesus and from Him simultaneously.
It was through Orthodoxy that I learned to be still, and that is no small statement considering my propensity to wander. In this apostolic Church where Sacraments and Liturgy can through real, non-symbolic miracles, tame a girl’s obsession with herself, as in unraveling completely the surprisingly ineffectual theory that being catered to, entertained, released from trials, brings satiety. It turns out that the receiving of holy chrism at one’s baptism or chrismation, the regular partaking of the actual body and blood of Christ, absolution through Confession, joining with martyrs and saints in the worship of the Holy Trinity can transform an individual from within. Such established Traditions take into account that I am human and weak and foolish. These enduring and consecrated gifts have overridden my faulty preferences and after ten years time finally penetrated my thick soul with the only Truth that matters: I am more than this in that I, we , were created to serve, praise, be filled with Christ Jesus.
“O Lord,” we plead with Metropolitan Philaret, “I do not know what to ask of you. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I dare not ask for either a cross or consolation. I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Visit and help me, for the sake of your great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to you. I have no other desire than to fulfill your will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me.
Its nuts around here – I’ve had four hours of sleep, the children are bickering, no one is pleased about my dinner plans and there is a fork in the road, two paths to choose from: resentment or the illogical thankfulness found only in relation to the Kingdom of Heaven. Spiritually, emotionally, physically I stay in the thick of it, and find Christ – custom designing the daily ups and downs that will most effectively strip me of the longing to be anywhere but in His presence. It’s not always pretty but today I’ll take authentic purpose over fleeting glamour and pray tomorrow for the strength to do the same.
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