Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Two Steps Back

 One effect of pandemic at our house is that it moved many children into more online activities, whether it be classes or socializing, while impeding the use of the family desktop in the library where Darwin now needs to be closeted working from home. As a result, my laptop has become the primary family computer, not just during business hours, but for people doing homework in their bedrooms in the evening, or chatting with chums after school. I do not see my computer for days on end, and when I see I am generally not the one using it. 

In related news, my writing output has dropped to only what I can tap out with a thumb on my phone. And my motivation to compose any more than that has similarly plummeted.

This is not solely, I think, assignable to the upheaval of the past year, although that time of change has opened a door. For the past while, I have had a very direct sense -- perhaps I would even go so far as to say that it is a divinely infused message -- that I need to put myself forward less. This cuts across many forums. Put my opinions forward less on social media. Put myself forward less in volunteering to take over some function because I think I can do it better than someone else. Put myself forward less in solving other people's problems. 

Not only this, but on the occasions lately when I have chosen to put myself forward, often against the direct prompting of my conscience, I have had the grace of being almost instantly mortified by discovering that I've misunderstood a situation or have made things worse by my interference. I call this a grace because it leads to instant change. How often in life do we bumble along, going even years without realizing that some behavior or other is destructive until the cumulative effects of it are well beyond our repair? To be able to change instantly, to back down right away instead of becoming entrenched, to make amends as soon as possible -- this is a grace, and must be received with gratitude.

This does not mean that I don't pitch in when I'm asked to help out with something, or to give my opinion if I'm asked for it, or refuse to step up to do the work that needs to be done without a formal invitation or schedule. But there is a difference between these basic elements of maturity, and putting oneself forward. And I'm working on discerning that boundary, every day.

One incentive to develop this basic humility is the behavior of public (or aspirationally public) Catholics, who are devoted to selling the image of a particular lifestyle for which Catholicism is a kind of spiritual window dressing and mental furniture, without laying a true foundation of dying to self. This "putting forward" -- when the product being sold, at root, is oneself -- has underscored my sense of being called to move away from this behavior. It is a hypocrisy that can bear only the most ephemeral kind of fruit, as if Jesus needed us to build him a brand or sell him to souls. 

Jesus, in fact, needs nothing from us, and all that we have from him will go back to him, for nothing the Father has given him will be lost. But whether we will cooperate with that grace enough to build on the talents he has given us -- that is indeed the challenge of the Christian life, and that building is not done so much by adopting the trappings of some kind of professional Catholicism as it is by stripping away everything that inhibits our cooperation with his grace. And this growth is often painful -- not necessarily a cruel painful, but the kind of stretching that comes with exercise or any change. 

The question, then, becomes how to build without laying a false foundation of self. There is no question that we are called to build. The parables insist on it. But they are also equally clear that he is the vine and we are the branches and we bear no fruit apart from him, and unless the Lord builds a house, in vain do the laborers labor. (That's the psalms, not the parables, but it's all the word of the Lord.) And I do not want to spend my limited human energies laboring in vain. 


mandamum said...

I am very grateful for your sharing here - I feel like it is a bit of a virtual kitchen table, where I can hear how things are going with your family, just a shade ahead of mine (my oldest, a senior, is agonizing between several very good college options this month) and be inspired by your work living a good, virtuous, but real (not "10 steps to a great ___") life in a large homeschooling family. I want to make music and live theater of various sorts part of my life, and you inspire me there too. All this to say - please keep building here :-)

MrsDarwin said...

Thanks, Mandamum. I don't think I'll ever stop writing here, although we do seem to get slower and slower as time goes on. I think some of this is a function of getting older and wiser -- one realizes that one doesn't have to opine on every issue that comes down the pike. And then there's time! But it is so nice to have this increasingly smaller forum to work through ideas and problems.