Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Invitation to Participate in the Divine

In survival courses for elite Army Special Forces, soldiers are subjected to a special type of mental torture. These soldiers are dropped off in the middle of the woods with little more than the clothes on their backs and a knife. Yet, such sparse conditions are not what cause soldiers to quit, but rather, the indefinite duration of the course. That's right, every course is a different length -- so soldiers have no idea when the torture will be over, when the proverbial light at the end of their tunnel will shine. The psychological maxim behind such a course design is that humans can tolerate anything if they know it is finite: "well, this is truly awful, but I know by tomorrow afternoon it will be over." etc.

Unfortunately, our convenience culture has applied this human need for finite answers to the family. Most young parents love having chemical or mechanical birth control that enables them to have "finite families." One girl, follows one boy three to four years later and then, "screeech, off goes the fertility faucet." Then a smiling cascade of such platitudes as, "you must be all done" and "now you have the perfect, all-American, family" flow forth from the public. Birth-controlling parents know just how many years they will be changing diapers, they can make neat spreadsheets of how they will fund two college educations, they can look forward to traveling together in Europe in x many years.

I - as half of a Catholic marriage open to life - have realized that it takes a great deal of God's grace to overcome the innate human desire to know how large one's family will become and, instead, embrace God's plan for me to be part of his infinite plan. I think I have truly turned a corner because now, when I look at my baby in my arms, I am filled with wonder and gratitude when I think about him becoming a middle child rather than the baby. I am not full of trepidation or concern that a new child will interfere with our college savings trajectory or current Subaru hatchback family car. And, mind you, this is not because these finite dilemmas do not exist - just that I have realized their smallness.

Right now, in this moment (Lord, please inspire someone to pull this from the archives and resend it to me when I backslide in the future), I have been granted the grace to acknowledge my young, fertile state and healthy marriage as God's invitation to participate in the infinite. These children will come into our lives and we are entrusted with the health of each eternal soul. Eternal, eternal, a synonym for infinite. So really, what is a smelly bag of cloth diapers, or an indefinitely postponed trip to Greece, or several years of junior college for each child in comparison with the enormity of throwing our arms open wide and accepting God's invitation for us to participate in the Divine.


Kat said...

This is a beautiful reflection, AWOL Mommy, and I appreciate the invitation to do some reflecting of my own about my openness to participating in God's Divine Plan at this moment in time.

Many of us are planners, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, often times it is essential to have a plan in order to maintain the sanity and well-being of our families! Others of us are more comfortable with "letting things happen as they may" and are not as inclined to plan for the future...Sometimes husband and wife can be in different categories, which can be good and bad. Good in the sense that they balance each other out, difficult in the sense that the spouses need to work harder to understand and be patient with each other! I would say that my husband is a "future planner" while I fall more into the latter category. Sometimes it seems to him that I do not think enough about the future, and this bothers him. Sometimes it seems to me that he over-analyzes everything and that I wish he could relax and enjoy the present moment :) In our moments of grace, we are able to have calm, honest conversations that bear much fruit! In our less grace-filled moments, we lose patience with each other much more quickly and our conversations are not so fruitful!

I apologize for the digression, but you really made me think, AWOL! :)

Juris Mater said...

AWOL, this is beautiful. Thanks!! What a wonderful adventure Catholic marriage is! I think the parents who have it all totally planned out never really enter into this adventure in the first place. The unpredictability and abandonment to God is what makes this frightening and delightful at the same time--drowning in housework, surrounded by a noisy home full of happy children, flirting with your spouse and laughing in spite of yourselves in the evenings amid the chaos... and knowing that there's probably no end to this in sight. I think the lack of a predictable end makes us really have to acknowledge this as our life and not just grin and get through it... but rather live in it, in the moment, and embrace it.

Right Said Red said...


This is beautiful, thanks for sharing. It always drives me a little crazy when people ask me how many children I am going to have. I say--we are taking it one child at a time. This answer drives the questioner crazy! But the truth of it is, we just don't know how many children God will call us to have. And I'm not saying this in a providentialist sort of way. I fully believe that for just reasons we are permitted to use NFP to space/avoid pregnancy (heck I teach the course!), but I caution myself, and my students, not to have an "I'm done" attitude. We always advise couples to take family planning one month at a time. What is God asking us to do right now? I think this is a good way to live life.

Mary Alice said...

I met a woman this morning who is due to have her seventh baby this week. Like me, around baby #5 she has started a pattern of labor that begins with irregular contractions and slowly builds up for about a week until the baby is born. When I told my new doctor that I had been in labor for a week he laughed, but then agreed that this is one way that some bodies respond to many pregnancies -- the blessed other way is to get in the shower one morning and realize that you are crowning!

On reflection, as I prepare for my next labor (please God), I know that not having a time line will be the hardest part -- when the contractions start, I may still be several days from real labor and delivery.

The wise woman I met in church is praying for patience, and we all need this.

The thing is, AWOL Mommy, the child bearing years ARE finite, whether we like it or not. Whether you have 2 children or 12, the day will come when they are all grown.

As Kat said, if we are planners, we want to know when this time will come so that we can be ready for it, but for others it is better not to know. My mom put baby clothes in the basement after my brothers were born and wound up pulling them out for a grandson 21 years later. Maybe if she had put them away knowing that she would never have another baby she would have been sad, but God let her adjust to that idea a little bit at a time.

I have not met very many couples who set out to have large families (I'm sure there are some, I just don't know them). For us, openess to life was something that God unfolded in our hearts over time, if you have told me when Peter was a baby that I would have six some day I would have run away screaming! Now, I feel comfortable knowing that six may be all, or there may be six more to come! You may not keep our pace, but it sounds like the Lord is working on your heart in the same way, giving you the patience, the trust, and the grace to open your heart to children.

My last thought is that we cannot control our children or their futures, in loving them all mothers are making their hearts as vulnerable as the Virgin Mother did. That "perfect American family" of a boy and a girl will have its own share of unplanned events, and I think that we as a society could be much happier if we would realize that we are not going to have a Norman Rockwell christmas every year, nobody does.

Kat said...

Wise words, MA, I agree with you whole-heartedly. It's always a temptation to look at someone else's family and say "I wish we had this or that" or "I with that my child was this way or that way," but the truth is that every family has its own set of trials along with its strengths. I've often thought, "Wow, that family has it made!" and then I get to know the mom and we start having playdates, and I realize that this is far from the truth...The daughter melts down at 4 p.m. every day, or their 5 year-old son still won't poop on the potty and it is a constant source of frustration for the family, or whatever!

Courtney said...

As a person who often likes control (I honestly have been diagnosed with Obesseisve-Compulsive Disorder), any recommendation for letting go of the need for planning more...I try to make those excel spreadsheets and just get anxious everytime?! And to touch on AWOL mommy's comment about sending the kids to community college...I struggle with wanting to send my children to a Catholic school, but fear with multiple children we might not be able to afford it. I know the example I lead is more important, but it's hard not to want it all! Does anyone else feel this struggle?

Anonymous said...

My first pregnancy ended in an miscarriage and that immediately changed everything for me. Though I always had thought myself open to life, the fragility of conceiving and then carrying a baby to term and then having a healthy child in the end suddenly overwhelmed me. The recognition of how out of control my husband and I are in all of this and how in control God is has been predominant since then. Yes, there are times when parenthood--and the resulting responsibilities--is overwhelming, but then I remember the child we lost and beg for him/her to intercede on our behalf that we may never lose perspective of the big (infinite!) picture.

Also, it seems I've met more and more 50-60 year olds, my parents included, whose biggest regret is not having had more children. In some cases it's because they tragically lost the one (or one of the two) child they did have-- in others because their children have "produced" few or no children-- in most just because they recognize that their children (and grandchildren) are their most prized "possessions" and in hindsight they would have rather forsaken the trips to Greece or new cars to have a larger family now.

May God grant us all the grace to know and trust His will in our lives and never impose our own judgments on the decisions others make in this regard.

texas mommy said...

Thank you, AWOL Mommy. I can definitely lose an eternal perspective when I'm in the thick of the "daily grind". We are not called to just get through a day, week or year, but to live each moment as the gift that it is, yet how often I lose sight of this!

"H" said...

This is totally off-topic, but I wanted to get the Builders' thoughts on something, and AWOL Mommy in particular because you've mentioned before you got married in the Diocese of Arlington.

You may know that the Diocese of Arlington was one of the last hold-outs against female altar servers, but a couple of years ago the Bishop decided to let each parish make the decision for itself. About half of the local parishes now have girl altar servers and the other half still don't. We go to a moderately-conservative parish, with good priests, nothing unorthodox, mostly traditional music, and a lot of parish activities such as Knights of Columbus, bible studies, pro-life groups, mom's group, etc. But no Latin Masses like some of the area parishes (it drives me nuts not to understand what the priest is saying) and a significant minority of parishioners don't dress appropriately. A couple of weeks ago, the pastor (who has only been there one year) explained in the bulletin that the parish will now allow girls to be altar servers. My husband is beside himself with anger about this, because he sees girl altar servers as being liberalism's camel's nose under the tent. He was so angry about it that he didn't participate in Mass last Sunday -- he just sat there and focused on keeping our baby quiet, without singing, speaking responses, or receiving communion.

I'm pretty distressed about this. I understand the arguments against girl altar servers, but since it's okay by the Pope I don't think it's right to get angry about it. I've told him that repeatedly (and so has his brother), but he's convinced there's conspiracy afoot and is being stubborn about his attitude. I'm praying for him about this. For now I just want him to come to peace with this and get his heart back into Masses. And I pray our daughter never wants to become an altar server because I'm afraid his reaction will damage her faith!

Any other thoughts or suggestions?

Jeanne Stark said...
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Jeanne Stark said...
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Mary Alice said...

Hey, I don't know the diocese at all, but I will tell you that when I am really upset about some odd thing that has happened (a nun giving the homily at one parish, for example), it has really helped me to talk to a priest of Opus Dei. They don't give you liberal spin, they are totally loyal to the magisterium but they have also helped me to understand obedience to the pastor as well, or, in one particular case, to understand that it was okay to leave that parish.

For a while, before I was married, I couldn't understand why it was okay to use NFP at all, and a priest of Opus Dei really helped me with that. I am sorry to say that if my parish priest had said all the same things I am not sure I would have trusted him.

Since you live in Arlington, he might try going to the Catholic Information Center in DC, or calling there, to make an appointment to talk to someone.

"H" said...

Good idea, Mary Alice. I know CIC well -- when I converted I received instruction in the faith from the priest who was there at the time (who is now keeping an eye on me from heaven). Unfortunately, we live further out in the burbs so it's not convenient for my husband to go there. But the principle is a good one. Maybe I can convince him to talk with one of the traditionalist priests closer to us who he knows and trusts.

Kat said...

H, I was also going to suggest that your husband might talk with someone whom he trusts to be traditional and unwavering in adhering to church teaching. I also like Mary Alice's point about obedience to a pastor...

Jeanne Stark said...

One question now that you took out my post...


I made you think. I don't have to worry about NFP and the same stuff you all worry about.

I have no worries. You do.

Why remove this one?

Nice thing about this is that I don't have to impress anyone and I stay young.