Betty Duffy

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Four Walls of Freedom

I have realized on this trip how little actual reading and writing I did when I had “freedom” to do whatever I pleased. Being alone, reading and writing is what I always do at home (just to a chorus of many children), so now I should be doing other things, having experiences. At the end of a week, it was amazing how little I had actually accomplished without my normal parameters. I’m finding new meaning in what Thomas Merton called “the four walls of my new freedom.” For him, the cloister of the monastery permitted him to love God before all the distractions of his former life. For me, the cloister of my home provides not only the freedom to love God first, but also the freedom to live my vocation fully, as a mother, wife, and writer. These ties that “bind” me to my home and family, also enable me to use my time more wisely.

This is why we go away on vacation, to embrace our real life with new fervor—to rededicate ourselves. To give up all over again what we gave up in the beginning. I do it freely. I give it up again, because I remember now how it was never what I wanted.

I’m reminded of a parting exchange with an ex-boyfriend in college. I had just left town for the convent on the pretense of an extended retreat, and he spent a couple of weeks sending daily letters to me in the mail, which I did not return. When we finally spoke he said, “I’m starting to realize that I’m the only participant in this relationship. All I’ve ever needed was to feel needed by you.”

My answer was so obvious to me at the time, “All I’ve ever needed is God.”

Certainly, this all sounds like a bad teen movie in which I now turn dramatically away from him to go running off into the distant sunset. But how true that feeling still is today. I need my marriage, my children, the world, my writing insofar as they bring me closer to the presence of God. At first glance, it seems to negate the importance of those relationships to me, to turn them into stepping stones for my own self-interest. When I realize that I, too, have value to my children and my husband insofar as I lead them closer to God, I realize how transcendent and life giving these relationships, done correctly, really are. They overlook the trivial, don’t get hung up on mistakes and wrongdoings along the way. There is a purpose to these relationships that is ultimate. They are my mission field. I am theirs. There is no more important human relationship than these.

Now, I’m off for some scenic jogging.


JenX67 said...

That was a very enjoyable to read. I don't have a "ministry" per se, because I feel that my family is my industry. They need me so much, and I struggle at times not to fail them. Like you, I have an intellect. It needs feeding and stimulating. But, today, I shrunk my husband's favorite wool shirt. I was mad at him for being mad at me for it. Aren't I a modern woman. How dare he be mad at me for falling down or slipping on some domestic task. I am still mad at him! HA! But, the thing is, we are called to be last, not first. Not as women, but as followers of Christ. I worked full time for 18 years. I passed a woman at church the other day who has been at home raising four children for 17 years. "I feel like life has passed me by," she said. That is a lie. Life has not passed her by. What did she miss? Sexual harassment? Kissing babies good bye on the steps of daycare? Latchkey kids? Ok. I could ramble forever. Loved the post.

JenX67 said...

By industry - I mean ministry.

Elizabeth said...

mothering is that beautiful, radical, daring change. so grateful for your insights on a day i´d rather not have been parenting. tomorrow my heart will be back, thank you.

Pedge said...

This is one of my fav's. I loved the tone. Truly refreshed.