to persevere is for saints....
~St. Josemaria Escriva
It's been a while since I've written about anything related to the spiritual life. But, the theme of perseverance has been drifting in and out of my attention lately. Perseverance in work, in prayer, in goals and resolutions. (I've just opted for beer and basketball instead of writing.)
Today, I was cleaning up my picture files and I came across this shot of my son, Andrew, from last football season. His perseverance in tackling the ball carrier was amazing - none of us on the sideline could believe it as we watched him leap into the air and pull his opponent to the turf. Our perseverance in the spiritual life is similar, every day as we offer our very best efforts, grace carries us, and amazing things happen. Amazing like heaven.
Yesterday I announced to our son, George, "George, we fell off the wagon today with our gluten-free goals, so tomorrow we have to get back on." To which he replied, "Mom, I didn't know we were on a wagon. When did we get on a wagon?" To which Henry chimed in, "I don't like gluten-three. It's yuck."
I don't like gluten-three either.
Slipping off of the gluten-free wagon wasn't my only short coming yesterday. There was morning prayer - I overslept. Bills to be paid - failed to read the sticky note reminder. Oh, and the calm, kind tone of voice - I'm still trying to find it.
Some days the one thing that doesn't work out or get accomplished turns into two and three and four, and pretty soon all of the dominoes have fallen and the recollection of the day is not one of peaceful order but of ruin. Utter ruin.
A couple of years ago, as we sat on the front steps of our church, my spiritual director shared with me two simple words, words that have resonated with me each and every day since then:
My skull is oh-so-very thick. I should be a stunt woman in my free time. Really. My mind travels down one road, the one paved with good intentions, but my will, my actions sometimes shift into reverse, pulling me in the opposite direction. The inner conflict often leaves me parked in the state of self-pity (inner whining), which is actually fueled by pride. Pride = thick skulled.
Then rise the confessions of St. Paul to my conscious, his words spinning around in my spirit, over and over again: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15)
Personal disappointment, in myself, feels overwhelmingly lonely. I've let my children down, my husband, my friends. I've let you down, too, Lord. Pride can be so gripping, tempting me toward hopelessness and self-pity, to look down, rather than up. But, Christ didn't suffer on the cross so that I can pout and whine and berate myself.
Humility, the antidote for my TSP (thick-skulled pride), isn't always the glamorous road, but it's certainly the higher one. Humility recognizes that all of my efforts, determination and desire for the good in life only have merit when they are acting in cooperation with grace. My will wants a rah-rah squad to cheer me on to heaven - affirmation, accolades, approval, admiration - those things that make us feel our faith, feel good about who we are, feel successful. But, my intellect knows that it's who I am in the presence of ONE that matters most. He's not keeping track of my accomplishments nor my shortcomings. He desires for me to depend on Him rather than myself, to keep going, to not give up, to begin again. And, again. And, again.
At night, after baths and teeth brushing, family prayer and story time, it's time to tuck the boys in. This is my opportunity to go to each one of them and tell them of all the good that I saw in them that day, and the encourage them in their weaknesses and failures. But, it's also time for me to offer my own apologies for a poor temper, lack of cheerfulness, or inattentiveness to their needs. Their response is always the same, always perfect: "It's okay, mom, I forgive you. Tomorrow we begin again."
Tears roll down my flushed cheeks and I exhale, resting in the embrace of their consolations.
Choosing our Lord over and over again, each and every day, in the littlest things is not so easy. Talking to God instead of talking on the phone, embracing the stillness and quiet moments of the day instead of drowning out the demands with i-tunes. Reading scripture instead of Facebook. Finishing the undone tasks around the home in loving service to my family instead of watching movies and eating my preferred buffet of snacks.
It's like rocket science for me, sometimes, to wrap my mind around the truth that the simplest little offerings, like getting up early to pray, arriving at my appointments on time, controlling my tongue, forgiving and letting go of grudges, doing without so that someone else my have, these acts, when lived freely with love, have more merit than any worldly accomplishment I could ever achieve. And, yet, choosing them, acting upon them each and every day, is often more difficult than the tallest goals I have ordered for my life.
Yesterday, and it's ruins, are behind me...
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
Today, because of You, and for the love of You, I will begin again.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12–14