Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Difference a Year Makes

Since we are around the halfway point of Lent, I thought I would share some thoughts from my reading on Introduction to the Devout Life. Let me amend. Less about the actual content and more about me reading it.

From a practical point of view, all that free time I envisioned by forsaking the bedtime Facebook has only materialized in drips and drops. First, the children's bedtime keeps getting pushed back a few minutes later than it should be and then a few minutes more. Now why might that be happening? Ahem.

Then there is the long shower problem. I don't know how to take a short shower. I try and fail. I don't try and fail worse. I think the base of the problem is that I move slowly when cold and I'm cold when I'm wet. July is the only solution. Also: long curly hair.

Lastly there is Marian. I have heard tell of women who hold or nurse their babies and read. I've never had a baby that allowed such a thing. Anything I hold in my hands becomes the subject of a wrestling match. If she is put in her crib while I read, she objects. If I hold her, there is no reading.

So when all goes right and the bedtime doesn't get pushed back too far and I don't spend all night in the bathroom and Marian falls asleep while rocking with Dave, then I get a few minutes to read.


Since I started to read Introduction last year, the parts I have covered are not new to me, but the difference between me this year and me last year are striking. Last year, I was reading along and came to this bit:
Spend an hour every day, some time before the midday meal, in meditation, and the earlier the better, because your mind will then be less distracted, and fresh after a night's sleep; but do not spend more than an hour unless your spiritual director expressly tells you to do so. If possible, it is best to make your meditation in church, because neither your family nor anyone else is likely to prevent you from staying there for an hour, whereas if you are dependent on others you might not be able to promise yourself an uninterrupted hour at home. (2.1)
The despair I felt at this piece of advice can't really be described. An hour everyday? So, so impossible. "(B)ecause neither your family nor anyone else is likely to prevent you from staying there for an hour." You wanna bet? I cried behind my closed office door, trapped in my dark office which prevented me from doing an hour of anything much less go pray in a church.

I knew very well I didn't have an hour available to me since I had just completed a time study which showed me in black and white that I spent no more than fifteen minutes doing anything during the work week. I had solid evidence that my regular schedule was as constrained as I thought and my time off was as singlemindedly focused on beating back the chaos as I felt, failing to accomplish half of my intended goals.

Even as I continued on in the book that paragraph nagged at me. "Stop pretending," it whispered. "This book is for people who have a modicum over control their lives. It isn't intended for wage slaves like you."

It was also around this time that I first read Anne Kennedy's blog. The very first post I ever read was linked by Kyra on FB and promised to be about the travails of homeschooling. I clicked over because I am a sucker for that kind of thing. I happily read along, laughing at the humor, until I got to take seven:
Pray. Pray all the time. But don't pray scared. Don't not ask for patience because you think God will make your life more frustrating to "teach" you patience. Don't not ask for humility because you think God is waiting to humiliate you. You are already in frustration and humiliation for screaming and yelling and having a filthy house and not meeting your own expectations, let alone the state's or anyone else's. When you are a homeschooler and you pray, God gives you grace. People say this all the time but they never spell it out, which I find extremely frustrating. When you ask God for something, like, say, the ability not to yell at a particular child for a particular offense, and you throw yourself down on your face and beg him to have mercy, he will, when you're sitting in front of that child consider whether or not to yell, remove the desire from you, miraculously. Or, when you can't get the children to spell anything, not even their own names, and you throw yourself on his mercy, he will improve their spelling, or give you some insight into how to make it click. It's not just that he died and rose again, it's not just that his "grace is sufficient for you", is not just that you have to "lean on him". No. He will answer specific prayers for particular problems when you ask him. Because he loves you. He's not going to make it worse by "teaching" you into more suffering. Just ask, and he gives. That, I think, though sometimes I'm not sure, is what Grace means. That when you throw yourself down, God hears you and loves you, even for your children, even when you fail.
Sucker punch. I had to catch my breath and close the office door while I sobbed and railed in prayer. "It must be nice," I silently yelled, "to be a homeschooling mother and have that pipeline to God's ear. To be able to depend on answered prayers. Because I surely know whose prayers He doesn't answer!" I ranted and raged on. "I guess if you start out right, you have a fighting chance of being heard, but if you make a mistake and take the wrong road, there is no going back. Oh sure you can repent and realize your mistake and try to make it right, but to be made whole is entirely too much to ask. I guess that's a privilege reserved for homeschooling mothers. I just get to drag my millstone around forever." It poured a whole container of salt into an open and bleeding wound.

We were in the midst of the long parade of no from perspective employers.

Her follow-up post convinced me I wasn't insane for feeling the way I did:
But the Christian knows that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces strength and strength produces love or something, and we know that God brings suffering so that we will grow strong and lean on him. And sometimes, woe is me, when the Christian prays for humility or patience, God answers that prayer with a nice big dose of suffering so that the prayer is really truly answered. You end up humble and patient. And grateful for Jesus. But also not wanting any more of either of those things.
She won me over with that post and that's how I came to read Anne Kennedy.

A year ago, I was in a pretty dark place and when St. Francis suggested a general confession, I spun my wheels and then spun out. I didn't need much prompting to be sorry for everything I had ever done, but the light at the end of the tunnel of repentance looked mostly like an oncoming train. I was pretty sure I was being ignored at best and punished at worse.

As the year progressed, we never got that clear cut answer we were looking for. Every reasonable opportunity for standard employment evaporated one after another. We were forced to make different plans. Plans that played to Dave's strengths instead of relying on an employer to overlook an incomplete resume. We have been forced to assertively make happen what we want to happen instead of passively waiting. To demand the crumbs from the Master's table.

With these plans comes the enthusiasm of hope. Not just the intellectual acknowledgement that hope exists, but the *feeling* of hope. Hope which makes enduring the present possible with a sweet patience instead of soul-crushingly bitter.

These new plans also offer benefits which were not possible with a standard job. Dave gets to work in an area in which he has always had enthusiasm and gets to channel that enthusiasm into supporting our family. It is an everchanging type of career which helps satisfy the itch of his restlessness at sameness and desire to start new projects. He has the opportunity to continue working and managing the local farmers' market, which seemed like a lost dream if he had a regular job. The prospect of having enough income to be able to someday purchase land is real instead of the withered expectation from my dead-end career. He will be around the house, in and out, instead of gone miles away for eleven hours a day so my fear at being overwhelmed with all the duties of home is nearly gone, although I still need to learn how to use a kitchen knife. It seems that this new, scary, unforeseen plan might work better for our family than any job that had been possible.

We only have to wait for the structure to be strongly built before we can remove the safety net of my job. It takes time and patience. It isn't a hopeless wait, but a time of eager expectation, a time to make my own plans and dream about the future.

And as I wait, here at work I notice that it seems likely that my exit will closely coincide with the mothballing of the system I have worked in for over eight years. In my own fantasy, I would one day announce that they could take this job and shove it. I would gleefully leave them in the lurch and then they would see and understand how much of their work depends on me doing my work well. They would know that I mattered. Yet it doesn't look like it will work out that way. I will one day quietly slip away, the old server retired, and the person who is doing now what I will be doing then will resume his work from me and they will hardly notice my absence. They will not be left high and dry. And I am okay with that.

As this year has unfolded, it seems that maybe I wasn't being ignored or punished. Perhaps the wait had more to do with the circumstances of other people. Maybe Dave had to get to a place where he would walk the path we needed instead of accepting a stopgap measure in service to my desperation. Maybe my bosses didn't need the added stress of my quick and unexpected absence. Maybe this hasn't been about me at all. Hard to believe, I know.

So I come back around to Introduction to the Devout Life again and instead of finding condemnation in my lack of time, I find this sentiment instead:
True devotion never causes harm, but rather perfects everything we do; a devotion which conflicts with anyone's state of life is undoubtedly false. (1.4)
This wisdom was in the book last year, but I couldn't see it. And now as I read again that it is recommended that I pray for an hour in a church every morning, I quietly acknowledge this piece of advice does not apply to my state in life right now and I move on.


bearing said...


Literacy-chic said...

Some of the same "you can do this" advice makes me angry and indignant, because I, too, feel it coming from people who are where I am not. And will never be. And sometimes--don't want to be. And I definitely do what this author warns against--I hesitate being made more patient by hardship. Because, of course, we are told that our hardships do strengthen us so... the logic is hard to escape. I'm glad that this year finds you in a better place. And I know what you mean about the proactive steps, and needing to be ready for them. As it turns out, we are stronger.

The Sojourner said...

I think I needed this post, though it makes me grumpy precisely because I need it.

My husband has been spending several months trying to work out an escape strategy from *his* soul-crushing IT job. I finished a novena to St. Joseph on Wednesday. On Friday night my husband came home despairing because he'd tried to work out some things (I'm being intentionally vague here) and gotten doors slammed firmly in his face. And I wonder if maybe that's God's answer to our prayers, that we should stop trying, and I wonder if I want to believe in a God who would keep us miserable like this forever.

Jenny said...

I have complete empathy with feeling grumpy. There were times when people would announce how everything in their lives worked out just so after they prayed about it and I wanted to chew nails.

The best thing I did was to pray the Psalms. There is some serious railing at God in them. I figure if yelling at God made the Bible, it must be okay for me to do it too. But the best thing about them is that they channel your grief and anger into a productive direction instead of just leaving you to stew.

Joy said...

Well, you could see your long showers as daily relaxation therapy.