Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Stress is a funny thing. I suppose in the natural, evolutionary, biological, whatever scheme of things it is part of our instinctual mechanism for self preservation: Part of the process leading to fight or flight. But as we are not likely to run into a bear around the corner, I wonder why it is such a very common and overwhelmingly large part of the life of modern man.

What is it that we are preparing to fight or flee? What is it that makes us think we are in danger so much of the time?

I think of the major causes of stress in the lives of those I know. Work is a biggie. I guess this makes sense as our jobs are our bread and butter. Seeing our livelihoods as something to preserve makes sense, but prior to the current economic climate, the stress did not seem to be related to losing one's job but fulfilling it. Was it the desire for preservation of status, respect, power? Is it that we so define ourselves by our work, we fear losing our very selves without it? And so we live in a constant state of stress ready to fight those over whom we have power and flee from those who hold power over us?

Kids are another major source of stress. I think this is in part due to the parent child bond which pushes our self preservation out to include our off spring. We are willing to fight for them or flee with them if we feel they are in danger of any kind. Not just the hungry bear for the modern man, but the demons watching and waiting to steal their innocence are in our sights. The dangers change from a peanut or lego left lying on the ground to a car backing out of a drive or a weak tree branch to the evil lurking yet unseen on the TV and internet or parked in a beat up old truck around the corner. It includes those we know or don't know, those they may like or love. It includes protecting them from their very selves.

I have also seen much stress in the married lives of those around me: Competing interests, jealousies, lack of respect for the contributions of one or the other to the partnership. It can be rooted in deep seeded animosities or simply due to the overwhelming nature of busy, hectic lives. It can result in hostile confrontation or the slow drifting away of a recognized need for the other for one's fulfillment. We are in a constant preparation to fight or flee from he who is central to our own preservation. We are not stressed to fight the enemy, but the friend.

I think that while many of these seem to be a conflict with an outside force or person, modern man's stress is really, in most circumstances, rooted in one singular fear. One thing we are willing to fight or flee to avoid at all cost. It is the desire not to protect our power, livelihood or even those we love. It comes as a shield to protect us from being hurt. And the hurt is not the bleeding wounds of a physical mauling, but the internal wounds of a bruised, broken or shattered heart.

With all of our modern conveniences, our worries would seem simply ludicrous to those who had to fight to stay alive. And too, we fear not just big pain, but little pain. We hope to protect ourselves not just from large scale humiliation, crushing grief and overwhelming evil, but inconvenience, irritation, and interruption.

Our natural instinct for self preservation from the elements and enemies has changed with our cushy pillow life to include an instinct to protect ourselves from dealing with any of life's unpleasantness. We are stressed about putting laundry in a machine, sending a 2 second e-mail, getting the kids' homework finished. We are stressed about putting dinner in the microwave or picking it up from a window, whether our meeting will end soon enough to allow for a round of golf, or how to get two kids to two different places at the same time. We are stressed about having our favorite program interrupted, not having time to get our coffee or being stopped at the water cooler for petty conversation.

I am now, not making accusations, but self reflecting. My stress is really selfishness. My stress is my desire to protect my time, my will, my interests from those around me. It comes from being diverted from what I want to do (important or not) by the needs of another human being: The car in front of me, the infuriating bickering of my children, my husband's travel schedule.

I do not mean to suggest that stress is not real. Ask my body, it will tell you. I do not believe that all our stress revolves around petty things. To desire to protect your heart from being broken or to avoid mass chaos which threatens to engulf your whole world is not a trite endeavour. But the fact remains that love requires pain and sacrifice. If we are to reach our human potential, we must learn to love others more than ourselves. We must be willing to accept pain and suffering. Unfortunately, this means in the biggies and the smalls. We must be willing to suffer heart break and irritation.

Okay great, but how? I keep asking myself this as my stress grows daily to become something too large for my small frame to bear. I could take drugs and function more efficiently, I guess. But it would still be there, silently crushing me, I just wouldn't know it as much.

I didn't know the answer when I started writing, I rarely do. But as I write, I just keep seeing Christ stretched out on His cross. How do I love? How do I love? Where is the Peace? Where is the peace? Is it in our human abilities that were transformed by the Passion and Death of our Savior? Did He change all the rules? Well, not change, but fulfill. Is he saying, "STOP! Do not fight or flee, surrender? Surrender to the daily irritations. Surrender to the daily worries. Surrender the fear of lack of respect, crushing grief, or humiliation."

But to whom, Lord? Where do I wave the white flag? Do I become a doormat, depressed, abused? Do I surrender to those who hold power over me, ignore me, irritate me? Do I surrender to the evil lurking in the darkness waiting to strike?

And then I see myself waving the white flag. Defeated. I can not fight anymore. There is no where left to flee. And the flag swirls from the stick to which it is attached and wraps itself around me as a sparkling garment, and I am raised above the battlefield in a circle of pure light.

"You surrender to me, my child. I am not defeat, I am victory. I make all things new. I turned death into life. Do you not think I can take stress and make it peace? Have more faith in Me."

And so my energy diverts. I will not work on managing, avoiding, anesthetizing the stress, the pain. I will work on having faith. I will not work on pulling myself up and out, but on believing I can be pulled up and out.

Lord, today I ask only one thing, help my unbelief.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I'm Bored!

I am in the process of making the "I'm Bored Box." I would like to take credit for the idea, but it was my husband's.

I am writing things on little cards to put in a box to have my children pick when I get the daily "I'm Bored" whine.

Write a letter.
Read a book.
Vacuum the stairs.
Clean the first floor toilet.
Make a card.
Do a Math Page.
Clean the blinds.
Mop the hard woods.
Play the piano for fifteen minutes.
Make a list of ten things you are grateful for.
Say a Decade of the Rosary.
Do fifty push ups.
Sort socks.
Clean muddy shoes.
You get a Second Chance...This time.

If you have any ideas to add to the mix, I would love to hear them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Meaning of Life

At a team building conference, my husband picked out of a hat the question: What is the best advice you have ever been given. With out hesitation he answered: At the age of eleven or so my father told me, the most important decision you will ever make in your life is the choice of your bride.

The answer seemed to have made an impact on at least a few people. One woman asked during the conference if he really meant it as if it seemed a bit of silly advice in the world of a corporate litigator. Another remembered it and told it as a character statement months later when introducing my husband to a client.

My husband was astonished by the first response. He mused, that even if you had made a bad choice, the enormity of that choice should be fairly clear in your level of happiness.

I don't remember ever being given similar advice. I knew inherently that the choice of my husband would be momentous. As a teenager, it helped to keep me chaste. I had very romantic notions about marriage and a high level of self esteem (even if unwarranted). I did not think anyone was worthy of my gift of self. A bit egotistical, I admit, but even at that young age, I somehow knew it was a total gift of self worth saving.

As a high school teacher at an all girls' school, I was asked to give a talk on chastity. As I thought about what I would say, I realized how much chastity had formed my own character. I recalled my first year in college when my high school boyfriend would drive eight hundred miles to visit me. He joked that his friends thought he was nuts for driving all that way "to get nothing in return." We both loved being together and enjoyed the times when he would visit. Neither of us felt that some sort of payment was required on either side.

It made me think about the girlfriends of his friends. When they were taken to a movie or out to dinner did they get a message from these boys that payment was due? Did they think the gift of spending time together with someone you enjoyed required physical payment? My physical relationships that distinguished a friend from a date were representations of how I felt differently about that person in my life in comparison to others. It had never crossed my mind to feel I owed anyone anything (probably my egotism again.) But in part, I think it was the message I got from the boys I dated. They seemed honored to be with me, and I in turn felt secure being with them.

Not sure if it was the chicken or the egg. Did they feel my self confidence and respond or did I feel their chivalry and respond? Or was it that my dad was incredibly imposing and no one wanted to cross paths with him for fear he would send them to jail with one look? Who knows? I just know that my virginity and self esteem, my confidence and relationships were all intertwined in some dramatic way and played an enormous part in creating the person I would be.

Similarly, I have found my husband's choice of his bride (and my acceptance of his offer of love) to be the single most important factor to my happiness. I was told that marriage is work, and of course I understand what this means, but really, I feel daily that to NOT be married to this man would require far more work.

And it is not just in those things "Marriagey". My confidence and self esteem that in the past hinged on previous relationships is now completely centered in him. I am who I am because of him and without him, I would not be the same person. It is love that allows me to be a mother and a friend. Even relationships I had before, like that of a sister and daughter, are impacted by his love for me. He is the glue that holds me together whether he is present or not.

I have contemplated sex, marriage and love many times over the years. I knew as a young girl, young wife, young mother and happily married middle aged (ooh ugh) woman that sex was more than sex and that marriage was more than marriage and have always believed the meaning of life was found in our ability to love God and others. However, I have just read the most amazing book that explains all this. It is Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West.

West has taken the late John Paul II's momentous work and made it accessible to the layman. I implore you to read it. The radically new and different approach of Pope John Paul II to the mystery and meaning of the human body and the meaning of life is too beautiful for words.

We all know how the Sexual Revolution of the 1960's has impacted nearly every aspect of modern culture. We all know the enormous power that sex can have in our own lives. But do we know why?

Theology of the Body is not a work to rehabilitate bad marriage or define the good. It is not a how to for those in the dating scene or for those who have chosen a celibate life. It is a book for every human, in any vocation, at any stage of life. It is a book about what it means to be a human being with a body and a soul. It is about the mystery of love and the meaning of life.

Thank you God for the mind and heart of our late great Pope. Thank you Christopher West for making this accesible to everyone. May your life be transformed by this 'Basic Introduction to John Paul II's Sexual Revolution.'