Post 116

Fear Not: Reflections on Worry

I am posting now something I wrote in early February. I wrote it to encourage a group of mothers whom I admired (a group of homeschooling mothers I once knew). I got positive feedback, so I thought I should adapt it for this here blog. But now, upon reviewing it, I’ve decided to leave it almost entirely as I first composed it, and let you take from it whatever you find useful.

It is strange for me to re-read it now. In the first place, the writing style is different than the way I sometimes write on my blog now.

Early February seems to me like a lifetime ago.

Actually, more.

Feels like a thousand years ago.

How does Job count time?

I called it:

“Encouragement for Those Who Sometimes Worry” by Mena J.

It seems to me that there are three kinds of worries about the future.

The first kind is a worry about the world. What is the world coming to? is the question asked through the ages. Christians who read certain websites or books believe that they know, because they compare what is written in Revelations with what are obviously ‘the signs of the times.’

And there are a lot of signs.

The defeat or impending suffering of Christians is a prominent theme among Christians. As a matter of fact, perhaps it is even safe to say that Christians are the main ones believing and telling such stories.

The Christian studies the world around and sees how Christians have been increasingly marginalized, how the mass media is feeling quite free to ridicule Christian beliefs and customs, how the average person is distancing himself from the label ‘Christian,’ how children and youth are turning their back on what their parents have taught, how the legal system is changing to destroy traditional laws which upheld a Christian ethic towards our neighbour. The Christian sees all this. The Christian realizes that, in theory, things could get a lot worse. We hear about cruel armed persecutors of Christianity gaining ground with nothing but “air strikes” (Striking of air? Striking by air? Striking using air? Striking using bombs? Striking exactly what by air? Striking exactly whom by air?) in place as a response. We don’t know the numbers involved, but we are given many stories of defeat, and few, if any, stories of miraculous rescues or victories. We see the attacks against the children in the school system, and we see these things close to home. It’s become pointless to go to the local library because they’ve removed almost all the wholesome books from the shelves, and going to the store to find modest clothing is like a scavenger hunt. For that matter, it’s difficult to drive one’s car on the street without seeing abundant evidence that our world is changing very quickly.

Of course, there’s more happening and changing than can be expressed in one paragraph. Euthanasia, abortion, new ideas about things that we didn’t think there could be new ideas about, new governments with ideas about removing tax-exempt status for Christian institutions and land, the dismantling of the Catholic school system, new evidence that within the Catholic Church there are groups working to lead the Church where they want it to go – things have gone really quite far.

G.K. Chesterton said that one way of predicting the future is to take the current set of circumstances and then say that they will keep going and keep going.

It seems so right, to predict the future in this way.

It’s a natural and human tendency.

Human beings operate by observing patterns and we tend to expect repetition of noted patterns.

Some say, well, if this keeps up, before you know it, all the Christians will be rounded up on trains and sent to camps all over the United States. All the names and data will be and is being collected, so the story goes. These nightmarish predictions must be true! People have had dreams, so we hear.

(The truth is that a true mystic distinguishes between nightmares and dreams. Nightmares should not be interpreted. Mysticism 101.)

You see, nowadays it’s not enough for the Christian to worry about people dying of starvation all over the world, in the great numbers that we have been given. In order to worry really thoroughly, people turn to their favorite ‘unbiased’ news sources and bloggers. These bloggers have discovered, to their great satisfaction, a ‘captive audience.’

Well, those fear-mongering bloggers are wrong. Dead wrong.

[The only thing to fear is that you haven’t been as good as you could to the people you know, especially the ones that you rather dislike. Yes, you know yourself whom I’m speaking about — consider how you’ve been to so-and-so; how have you treated the person who makes you as angry as hell? Start by going to Confession, today.]

And people believe all the stories and hope to prepare themselves. What shall we do first? Don’t panic, but quick, drop everything you’re doing and be penitential! Now! You! Start praying, really hard! Get out the hair shirts! One woman tells of how she slept uncomfortably on the floor, for the sake of penance. The take-home message is, you and your family might yet be spared if you do things right!

But wait, you say, I’m a mother. I have children to feed and laundry to do. And what about homeschooling? If the world is going to end or if Christ is coming again, does that mean I don’t have to do math this week? [Yes, that’s what it would mean, but the problem is, how can you tell? Ah, I know: how about splitting the difference? If balmy sunshiney weather beckons you outdoors, don’t do the math.] Or does math count as penance? [Answer: Yes, and physics is double. Calculus must be triple, unless you enjoy it, in which case, head calmly to the nearest walk-in medical clinic.]

And then there’s the next set of worries. The second set.

The truth is that a parent worries about a different world, and this is the world of his own family. He worries about the world ‘out there’ because of how it will affect his own family, the world right here, under his roof. He looks at his children and says, what kind of place will our children grow up in? What future will be available to them?

And a mother who homeschools her children often feels these worries more acutely. She has given up a great deal, in many cases, in order to protect her children from spiritually-damaging influences, and she has tried to preserve their innocence in an increasingly vulgar and corrupt culture.

(At least, that’s one of the reasons many parents homeschool. Those who are grooming their children to become the Leaders of Tomorrow or the Most Noteworthy and Stunning Children Ever Raised by Human Parents have an entirely different set of concerns, and I won’t presume to speak to them.)

The ordinary homeschooling mother wonders how the world ‘out there’ will impact the world of her children. She thinks about such things while she picks up the eraser from the floor and wipes the oatmeal out of her daughter’s hair.

Penance? Fasting?

She isn’t sure how to work these things into her day.

The world out there might be ‘falling apart’ but she’s got supper to make and a world inside the home to keep together.

And she’s right.

The truth is, there are no pursuits that should take precedence over family life. Family life is a parent’s calling, and all these tiny details of a parent’s life are more important than out-of-the-home endeavors, noble though they may be. These child-sized concerns are more important even than fighting all of the evil Goliaths of the world (though we do thank those people who have given of their time to fight them), and they are more important than evening meetings about becoming a better Christian.

Far better to stay home and tuck in your children or help wash out the bathtub to make it all perfect and glossy before the child steps into it than to run to yet another evening meeting.

The good and holy things in life were never meant to over-shadow our daily duties. Our spiritual life and devotions can fit into the little spaces of our life. Aside from a few minutes of personal daily prayer, Sunday Mass and Confession at regular intervals, the rest is extra – gems that we add as we can.

It is not right to leave the 3-year old crying with a baby-sitter because you have to run off to your book club get-together where you talk about that latest inspiring book by that latest inspiring priest. It is not right to leave your teenager to forage for his own supper while you go upstairs to do devotions by yourself for an hour.

The world of the family is not, as a matter of fact, in second place. You are not turning your backs on God or the world when you cherish, nurture and feed your families. You are doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If you have children, or are married, you’re not called to religious life. You’ve been called to (or perhaps you’ve nevertheless chosen) married and family life – and that is full of its own penitential practices and very hidden sacrifices.

And a word about penance.

If you read the lives of the saints, you’ll quickly see a few things about penance. In the first place, it’s hidden. That means that if you decide you are going to wear a hair-shirt, you wear it UNDER your clothing, not on top. It is always very dangerous to talk about one’s penitential or devotional practices. There’s always the temptation to make them seem better than they are. You go around saying that “the whole family does the rosary” when in fact each family member is in their own bedroom with a closed door using the latest ‘rosary app’ on their iphone – at least, the parents want to think that’s what everyone is doing on their phone right now.

(The only time to reveal to anyone that you’re praying, says WiseOne, is when you are responding to their request for prayers or when they are revealing to you that they need your support. And it goes without saying that you then have to, in fact, pray for them. Otherwise, please don’t mention that you’re doing the chaplet or the daily rosary et cetera and so on.)

In the second place, the saints repeatedly say that the sacrifices which you bring upon yourself after consultation with, um, yourself, are not nearly as valuable as the sacrifices that you didn’t seek out, or which are imposed upon you by a spiritual director (spiritual directors are not a requirement of Catholicism, but if you want one, then a good and worthy priest is the way to go, as opposed to an unordained lay-person). That means, in other words, that a mother will have many opportunities for gold-star penance. Consider these:

cleaning up after the children ‘help’ making pancakes
running to get a glass of water because your child’s feet ‘feel really achy’
putting the blankets back on your child when you see they’ve slid onto the floor
putting a band-aid on the ‘owie’ that didn’t even break the skin
listening to the details of the “really exciting” dream they had last night
listening to the details of the “really exciting” game they invented, just now
listening to the details of the “really exciting” new recipe they invented, just now
fixing a hair-do
helping find a lost comb
fishing out, using some long and skinny plastic toy or a long wooden spoon, the Most Precious Marble in the Entire Universe, from under the stove

The list of penitential practices for a mother who homeschools her children would be even longer.

The point is, such mortifications are extra-valuable, in Catholic theology, because they come upon you when you aren’t seeking them and usually they come when you least expect them. They are far more valuable than the mortifications or sacrifices that people can impose upon themselves.

As a matter of fact, the parent who dresses up and goes to an evening bible study meeting will earn, in almost all cases, far less supernatural merit than the parent who stays home and makes home-made french fries for one or more children. If the ketchup explodes at the kitchen counter, that’s even more merit, especially if some of the ketchup manages to splatter onto the backsplash or the underside of the upper kitchen cabinets.

At the risk of being repetitive, one of the main reason these kitchen sacrifices are so precious to God is because they are hidden. The women at Edifying Movie Night will be remembered and noticed but the mother in the kitchen (or the dad at the laundry machine trying to figure out if the pink towel can go in with the whites) is forgotten.

God sees all things.

He sees that the mother in the home is juggling the worries for the welfare of the home with worry for the people in Iraq or Malaysia or North Korea and He sees that she feels guilty for not worrying adequately about the rest of the world. To her, the problems under her own roof seem as important as the problems that are ‘out there.’ But He says to her, “I am pleased with your concern for your own little family, the family that I have given to you.”

I don’t mean to sound irreverent, but it’s almost as if He says, “You worry well.”

In other words, it’s fine that you worry about your families just as much as, or more than, the world outside your door. Indeed, if you have a family, you are SUPPOSED to prioritize your family and think about the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health of your spouse and children.

It’s a legitimate kind of worry, and more valid than is often acknowledged.

And then there’s one more thing. In addition to 1) worries about the world, and 2) worries about one’s family, there is 3) that other kind of worry.

People have a hidden area of worry that they barely allow themselves to think about. They think it’s good and lofty to worry about The World and The Universe, and perhaps they’ll allow themselves to worry about The Family and The Children, but then there’s that other category.

There’s that tiny secret kind of worry, and it’s called, 3) worry about “Me.”

We are almost embarrassed to admit it, but we’ve got a few of those – all of us do.

We call them “silly.”

We worry about being overweight. We worry about looking overweight. We worry about becoming overweight. We worry about being old, about looking old, about becoming old. We worry about being unhealthy or becoming unhealthy or being poor or looking poor or becoming poor. We worry about seeming disorganized or being disorganized, about looking ugly or being ugly, about appearing inept or unintelligent, or about losing our intelligence or our abilities. We worry about keeping our friends or not having them or not having true friends. We worry we’ve said the wrong thing or written the wrong thing or said too much that one time, or said too little, or offended or didn’t take a chance or took too great a chance. We worry that we’ve made the wrong choices or wrongly-motivated ones or ones motivated by too many things at once.

We worry.

We worry about the world, we worry about not worrying about the world, we worry about our family, we worry about not worrying about our families sufficiently, we worry about ourselves, we worry that we are worrying about ourselves too much.

God understands.

He understands.

He says, “Come to me, rest in me.”

He says, “I will take care of you. Don’t believe these lies about the future. The future is in my hands. The war has already been won. My Son has already paid the price.”

Through the ages, the Church has always said the same thing, “Be not afraid.”

When St. Faustina revealed the message of the Christ, it was a message of mercy.

Jesus told her to remind everyone to say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

(That’s a really short prayer, isn’t it? It’s short enough that you can use it as a weapon against any worries that surface. Against any worries that cause you fear, anger, discouragement or anxiety of any kind, you can use those five words. If you have extra time and you want to do the Chaplet, that’s fine, but these words, said with a desire to trust, will be enough.)

The Year of Mercy has already begun, and that’s very good news. An abundant out-pouring of his grace has already begun.

Such good news deserves a celebration.

Party, anyone?

Ah yes, the party has already begun.

Can’t you tell?