Tag Archives: Grace

Christ Does Not Call Us To Be June Cleaver

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On a perfect day, I would get up well before my family to get dressed and prepare a delicious hot breakfast. I would spend my free time putting the finishing touches on my living room that bears a striking similarity to the one in the latest Martha Stewart magazine, update my personal blog, and finish a sewing project or two. Lunch and dinner would be made entirely from scratch, and exactly as I had planned them out earlier in the week, along with a homemade peach pie for dessert. My “regular” daily routine would not be impeded by these lofty projects; I would still manage a 30-minute workout, a trip to the park, and an art project with the children that is both entertaining and educational. On the spiritual front, I would attend daily Mass (during which my children would sit quietly and be entertained by religious books), and pray the rosary with little to no distractions, internal or external. I would fall into bed at night, tired but fulfilled, with a perfectly clean house and joy in my heart at what the next day will bring.

A far cry from that idealism is a day that involves scrounging through the bare pantry for meals, spending half the morning in pajamas, piles of dirty clothes to wash and clean laundry to fold, dishes piled high in the kitchen, and a few distracted prayers tossed up. There may also be periodic check-ins to favorite home decorating blogs and wistful longings for the day my home will look like theirs.

To be fair, most of our days will end up somewhere in the middle of those two examples. But I still find myself feeling guilty if my day doesn’t more closely resemble the first – a mixture of June Cleaver and St. Therese. Why?

Perfectionism. Like many women, I have high expectations of myself, often unrealistic. And like many, I have subconsciously bought into the worldly idea of what a perfect mother looks like: always perfectly dressed and groomed, beautiful and organized home, excellent cooking, fantastically creative and crafty, ever-ready to volunteer.

But perfectionism is a GOOD thing, right!? After all, didn’t Jesus say “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48) It seems as though we SHOULD be striving for perfection. But what does Christ mean by “perfect”? From the Haydock Bible Commentary:

“Seeing then that we are thus blessed as to be called, and to be the children of so excellent a Father, we should endeavor, like Him, to excel in goodness, meekness, and charity; but above all in humility, which will secure to us the merit of good works, through the infinite merits of our divine Redeemer, Master, and model, Christ Jesus the Lord.” Haydock Bible Commentary on Matt. 5:48

So striving to be perfect means that we strive to be good, meek, charitable, humble: a spiritual kind of perfection. That’s a far cry from the “perfect” that the world calls us to.

We can often fool ourselves into thinking worldly “perfectionism” is virtuous. But perfectionism is a false humility. In true humility, we recognize the limits of our talents and abilities. In the false humility of perfectionism, we believe we should be able to do everything “just so,” that we can do it all ourselves, and we beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to achieve our lofty goals. Perfectionism causes us to do things for our own glory, rather than for the glory of God. With perfectionism, the end is the only thing that matters, and the path we take to get to that end is meaningless. However, if instead we do our actions for God’s glory, then the effort that we put into our work does matter, rather than simply just the finished product. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, “It is only necessary to say energetically ‘I will,’ and all will go well.” The path to our goal is as important, if not more important, that the achievement of that goal.

So how can we deal with the perfectionism that creeps into our daily lives, causing us stress and unhappiness, and thwarting our desire to do good?

Prayer. We must avoid worldly perfectionism in prayer; perfectionism is the antithesis of humility, and our prayers must spring from humility in our heart. We must not worry about saying the perfect rosary, completely free from internal distraction. Instead, when our mind wanders, we should gently redirect our thoughts back to our prayer. We should not avoid Mass because we fear our children will distract us and we won’t “get anything out of it.” God will supply where our human efforts fail, as long as we make the effort.

We should also not be discouraged if we cannot spend as much time in prayer as we would like. We are all busy women, many of us wives and mothers, and have many duties to attend to. St. Frances of Rome said,

 “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must not forget that she is a housewife; and sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.”

We can sanctify our souls through our works as well as our prayers. If we say the Morning Offering each day, we offer God all our “works, prayers, joys, and sufferings”; this encompasses everything we will do throughout the day, and thus, all of our works will be offered for God’s glory.

Reflect on the saints and model our lives after them. What were their goals? How did they achieve spiritual perfection, while abandoning the perfectionism of the world? Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” She teaches us to not be frustrated by our inability to do great things, but to embrace the small things we can do. She also says, more specifically, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Baby Steps. On a practical level, many times we procrastinate and put off important things because we can’t get it all done – if it won’t be perfect, why bother? We must abandon that mentality, and realize that the small things DO matter, a lot. Our path to eternity is not one long paved road, but many small pebbles that build upon each other, each of those pebbles being our small daily efforts. Just because we’re too tired or busy to do a complicated art project with our children doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything with them – read a short story, or spend just a few minutes on the floor, playing with them. No time to clean the bathroom? Take 2 minutes to clear off the counter, pick the dirty clothes off the floor, and change the toilet paper. If we do each of these small things out of love for God, He will give us grace with each small effort. God doesn’t ask the impossible of us, He asks us to do what we can, when we can.

(For practical household tips, I highly recommend Flylady. She is a huge help for perfectionists, procrastinators, and those who just have trouble keeping a clean and organized house.)

Be realistic. We should have a realistic view about our talents. We shouldn’t compare our homes to those in magazines, especially if we don’t have an eye for interior decorating. If we do our best to make our homes comfortable and inviting, we are serving our family well. If we are not a great cook, then we should concentrate on making something that is healthy and filling, not 5-star restaurant quality, and we should be satisfied with it. That’s not to say we should do the bare minimum: we should certainly strive for excellence. But as the acclaimed P90X trainer Tony Horton says, “Do your best and forget the rest.”

We must remember that at the end of our life, we won’t be judged on how organized our house was, how delicious our meals were, or even how many perfect rosaries we prayed – we will be judged on whether we performed the daily duties of our vocation with love.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Procrastination? How do you “let go and let God” in your day-to-day life?

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On my knees

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Do you ever feel like God is testing your faith? I know God doesn’t test us, but there are times when I feel so strong in my faith that there is NOTHING that could shake it. These are the times when I am the weakest, I believe. And, typically, these are the times when I mess up royally.

Recently, we had family members and friends receive horrible medical diagnoses. I was able to remain positive. I was able to turn to God and focus on Him. I felt like these were tests of my faith, and I passed. Praying that the Lord would be with them and help them. (Is there “passing” in faith – and is that my place to decide? The answer is truly NO.)

Well, in the middle of patting myself on the back for my “strong” faith, my daddy had a stress test. Just a “baseline”-because-it-had-been-a-while-since-his-last-test test. He didn’t “pass.” He was scheduled for a cath procedure where they checked for blocks and placed stents. My world shook a little. This is my daddy, the one we all turn to for just about anything. My husband tried to point out that we needed to pray, but I wasn’t ready. I started to fall apart and went through that first evening feeling just a little “off,” needing to turn to the Lord, but not doing so just yet.

Thinking and talking about it later, I realized that when I try to stand strong, I am the weakest.  I really need to get down on my knees. The times when I feel so strong are when I am most vulnerable. These are the times when I need to turn to God first, get down on my knees and give Him my heart one more time. God is my strength and my courage. He is my rock. In Him I place my trust.

Out of time?

Pray first.

So many things going “wrong?”

Pray first.  

Are things going well?

Pray first. 🙂

“But He said to me,‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Dear Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.

Amen.

How Marriage Will Get Us To Heaven – or, Why I Change the Toilet Paper Roll

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“What was the best day of your life?”

It’s a common question that has become a bit of a cliche, used as an “icebreaker” for the first day of class or for “get-to-know-your-coworkers” meetings, and a question for which, for many years, I never had a satisfactory answer. Sure, there was that fun vacation, or the day I graduated from high school, but none of them seemed important enough to qualify for “BEST DAY EVER!” status.

But three years ago, I figured out the answer to that question. And like many women, my “best day ever” involves flowers, a white dress, a new ring, beautiful music, and a handsome guy standing at the foot of the altar watching me as I walked down the aisle. For many couples, their wedding day is a representation of their love and dedication to each other, a day in which they pledge to remain together for the rest of their days, no matter what troubles come their way. But for a Catholic couple, it is all these things and SO MUCH MORE.

Christ raised marriage from a natural bond to a supernatural bond, a sacrament. We know that a sacrament is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give us grace.” So not only do we get all the natural benefits of marriage on our wedding day, but, through the sacrament, we also get the supernatural benefit of sanctifying grace: that beautiful gift from God which purifies our souls and makes them holy; sanctifying grace is what helps us obtain eternal life in heaven. And while my wedding day from a strictly natural perspective was the “best day ever” – I now get to spend the rest of my life with the person I love the most, and to have cute children with him – it was likely also supernaturally my “best day ever.” The Sacrament my husband and I received that day opened up the floodgates of God’s grace for us as a couple, and gave us a specific path to lead us to heaven, as long as we cooperate with those graces.

In marriage, while our first physical gift to each other is the gift of our bodies, our first spiritual gift to each other is the gift of sanctifying grace. Physically, we become sharers in God’s creative power through the marital act, in which a new soul has the potential to be created. Spiritually, we become sharers in God’s sanctifying power through our ability to give supernatural life to our spouse through sanctifying grace. This supernatural life – sanctifying grace – is our share in God’s life. Therefore, in every sacramental marriage, the husband can say that his wife is a means by which he returns to God. The wife can say that her husband is a means by which she returns to God.

When we stop to dwell on this for a moment, we realize how absolutely incredible and unique the marriage bond is. Not only in the physical sense, in that we can become co-creators with God in bringing new life into the world, but also in the spiritual sense, in that our actions have a direct correlation with our spouse’s eternal salvation. How awe-inspiring, and what a precious gift those of us with a vocation to marriage have been given! We aren’t in this alone; we can rely upon each other to achieve sanctity. This is the only relationship in which our actions are directly responsible for the other person to receive grace! God truly wishes us to be sanctified through our marriages.

So how can we best make use of this awesome benefit of the Sacrament of Matrimony? How can we direct the channel of grace towards our spouse? We have the grace available to us; we simply need to ask for it, not only through prayer, but also through our works. When we do something kind for our husband, he receives grace for it along with us. Each time our husband does something kind for us, we, along with him, are also receiving grace from that kind act.

So do something kind. Prepare your husband’s favorite dinner. Iron his pants for him. Get up a few minutes before him and make his coffee. Do a small chore that he especially dislikes. If he has a preference that something be done a certain way, do it out of love for him. In our house, that particular thing is the perpetually empty toilet paper roll (the TP is usually 6 inches away on the counter). It’s a very minute detail, but something that bothers my husband. So I try to make the effort to change the roll when it’s empty, even though it’s something that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. For others, it might be making the bed or having clean t-shirts in the drawer without having to dig through the dryer. Whatever it is, perform that selfless act out of love for your husband, for that selfless act will not only bring peace and joy to your marriage, but also be spiritually rewarding for both of you, as you “store up treasures for yourselves in heaven.” (Matt. 6:20) Little acts of grace, all the time – and marriage is full of these opportunities!

In a culture that is so immersed in self-gratification and self-sufficiency, even a small sacrifice for our spouse flies in the face of modern advice on marriage. We are told to make ourselves happy first, then to worry about others. But for us to reap the true spiritual benefits of marriage, we must be willing to sacrifice, and to sacrifice GENEROUSLY. A sacrifice done begrudgingly will have little merit; a sacrifice done willingly and generously will reap great rewards, for “God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7) We can and must be sanctified through our marriage. None of our earthly pursuits matter if we fail in our heavenly goal.

In the words of the Hungarian Bishop Tihamer Toth, in his early 20th century work entitled “The Christian Family”:

“It is a great joy if a wife can say to her husband: ‘I can thank you that I have such strong support in life, that I have such good children.’
It is a great joy if a husband can say to his wife: ‘I can thank you that I have such an understanding life companion, such a peaceful home.’
But the greatest joy of all will be if someday they can say to each other: ‘I can thank you that I have attained eternal life.’”

Let us be inspired to work towards that “greatest joy”!

If only he’d gone about things differently…

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As I nervously sat down in my first RCIA (Roman Catholic Instruction for Adults) session, the last thing I expected to hear from one of the sponsors was, “That Martin Luther, if only he’d gone about things differently he’d be a saint by now.”

“Excuse Me?” I thought. “Didn’t I just introduce myself as a former Lutheran in a Catholic Church?”  I thought for sure Catholics as a group must have it out for those big bad Lutherans! It turns out that while some Catholics are very against all things Luther, many are graciously accepting of his human nature. I have found most Catholics are actually fairly indifferent and know very little about him at all.  For many years I had been selling Catholics short.

It took time for me to come to terms with the fact that no one looked down on me as a former Lutheran. The truth is I had to rectify this discovery with my former image of the fuddy-duddy old Catholics who thought they were better than everyone else.  I had a problem though… I couldn’t stubbornly resist an attitude towards me that didn’t exist. It turned out that the Catholics weren’t going to put me down.  Teach the Truth of the Catholic Church and instruct me when I was wrong or misinformed, yes.  But treat me as less of a person or less of a Christian because I wasn’t one of them?  Not once.

I have thought about that day many times as my family completed our journey into the Church.  I have gotten to know the sponsor who made such a shocking statement to me quite well.  She is a person who perpetually sees the good in a person’s actions.  She accepts their human nature and looks beyond that to how she can serve their needs.  Legally blind, she comes to mass with a giant magnifying glass so she can witness the consecration in colors and blurs each week.  She regularly organizes teams to cook for our weekly dinner following evening mass on Sunday.  When my boys told her she was like a rhino because they can’t see so well either, she laughed and thanked them for sharing.  She told them to always come and say hello when they see her so that she can learn their shapes and voices.  She has every reason to be bitter and cold, not to see the best in people and situations.

So what’s my excuse?

I don’t need a 500-1,000 year wait like Luther to know that I could be going about things differently.  Every day is a new opportunity to treat people with dignity, compassion, and respect.  Every day is a new opportunity to be a vessel of grace to those who surround me.  I’ve been a confirmed Catholic for 6 days and received Holy Communion exactly once.  It is probably time for me to start doing things differently.