Betty Duffy

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Muddling Through

Last week I checked out a DVD of Pride and Prejudice at the library and watched it over the course of two days. I watched the bonus DVD with actor interviews and details on the making of the movie. I read the included book that chronicled all the same information. And when it came time to return the movie and all its parts, I felt my mood drop from a considerable altitude into a feeling of complete desolation. Suddenly nothing was good. There were no empire waist dresses in my life, no witty communications, and there were certainly no Mr. Darcys.

The feeling was temporary. It lasted a couple of hours, during which time I called my sister to complain that my life was not a Jane Austen novel. She had recently completed another military move, and was struggling to get her footing in a new location with her six children. “Don’t you think that’s a universal feeling?” she said, “I’d just been envying you, being able to put down roots with your little house by Mom and Dad.”

And of course it’s a universal feeling: everyone else is having a good time while I’m not. It’s the chronic existential loneliness that rears its head when I am cut off from the vine. I’ve felt the looming darkness coming on for a long time—I could postpone it by continuing to do enjoyable things, like renting romantic movies. But the movies end, and then I have to deal with the fact that this summer has been a spiritual train wreck for me.

It starts when I don’t have a schedule, no imminent need to get dressed. Noon rolls around and I’m polishing off a carafe of coffee in my nightgown. One can hardly consider going to daily Mass in such a torpor. My Catechism class was on hold for the summer, and weekly meetings I attended for accountability and prayer dissipated in the summer haze. All of my support networks went on vacation, and so did my prayer life. It’s no wonder I found myself in such a muddle when it came time to make a decision about school for my kids.

As Lisa, a commenter on a recent post notes:

It's so hard to know which way we think must be God's plan and which way really is. Since He just will not send us a post card we pray. watch. pray some more. step back and look at the big picture. pray some more. tweak as necessary or about-face when needed.

I want to say that we are all just sort of muddling through life, hoping decisions are inspired, or feeling inspirations of the Holy Spirit and then second guessing them, but my muddle is a little different, because slowly, this summer, my gaze has turned from God towards my naval.

pray. watch. pray some more. step back and look at the big picture. pray some more. tweak as necessary or about-face when needed.

How many times have I been here? How many times have I allowed the outward appearances of my life, as the mother of a large Mass attending Catholic family to mask the ugly truth—that I am running in circles around myself and my desires—not really praying at all? Then, when faced with a larger decision, I systematically choose the most difficult path to compensate for my lack of prayer and discernment.

And so out of the existential abyss, crawls the demon of discouragement.

Commenter, Anonymous II, had a wonderful response to discouragement in living the Christian life:

“I'm allergic to the idea of "religion as hobby". But where I think I went wrong was to think that therefore consolation is only for hobbyists. But consolation is really not optional, even the consolation merely of recognizing that God loves us even if we don't feel His love.

Reverence, not strength, is prized: (Psalm 147) “God’s delight is not in horses / nor his pleasure in warriors’ strength. The Lord delights in those who revere him, in those who wait for his love.”

Anonymous II goes on to quote a Russian martyr of the 20th century, Maria of Gatchina:

"…what a great consolation it is to realize that your discouragement is the unacknowledged fruit of repentance, an unconscious self-chastisement for the absence of the fruits that are demanded...From this thought one should come to contrition, and then the depression gradually melts and the true fruits of repentance will be conceived."”

In the midst of my muddle, I do feel deeply the presence of God’s love in my life, as evidenced in the reflective comments and insights to my question, the living witness of one life to another.

My cousin, a Domenican nun, just sent home a letter in which she detailed highlights from a retreat with Father Giertych, theologian of the papal household:

“Mary’s confusion at the Annunciation reflects her spiritual poverty. We always experience confusion and perplexity when God descends into our lives. These purifications are passive—God is causing the growth by bringing about some crisis in our lives, in the Church, etc. We use these experiences as a trampoline to bounce off of and land in the arms of Jesus.”

“Sanctity is not moral perfection, or success (a heresy of Americanism, he said), or psychic maturity, all of which are focused on the self. Instead, it is the meeting of our weakness with God, who loves us.”

This is not to excuse my spiritual murkiness this summer--but clearly, God has descended into my life, and it's time for another about face.


Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

This is exactly, exactly the way I have been feeling. Here I am, coffee in front of me in my pajamas - with absolutely no intention of going to mass even though I resolved to go to daily mass during the summer.

As much as I love the summer, I look forward to the time when all of those spiritual pieces will come back together - but I also feel a bit discourgaged that I can't(or don't) do it on my own.

Anonymous said...

I can so, so, relate. In my case I muddled on for a year or so, using props (vacations, books, worldly pleasures) to get by and putting the minimum into prayer. And then a crisis hit and suddenly I was on my knees early and often. A wake-up call.

But how to feel that sense of urgency without crisis? Ah but isn't that to focus on self, to put avoiding crisis (or psychic maturity) at the top of the list? To say, "I don't want another crisis so I'm going to pray consistently this time" would seem a form of idol worship, in thinking we can 'control' God by our actions or prayer. The real point is love, "a meeting of our weakness with God, who loves us.” Wonderful quote Betty.

TS said...

I do feel deeply the presence of God’s love in my life, as evidenced in the reflective comments and insights to my question, the living witness of one life to another.

I can feel the presence of God in how providential it was that Mrs. Darwin gave me a link to your blog a couple months ago!

Marie said...

"Some people are kept from grave temptations and yet every day they fall into the same petty faults. God in his merciful goodness permit this to keep them humble, so that they will not trust in themselves, seeing how easily they are daily overcome." Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ

I always hated this quote, but I think it's true. . . I often wonder how I move mountains like X, Y, and Z but can't seem to do easy things like A, B, and getting dressed before noon.

Laura said...

I found your blog via a link you left on babble magazine, in the article about "bumpaholics." I am so, so glad that you left a comment so that now I can follow your blog. I've just spent the last hour reading some old posts -- what wonderful writing, and what a refreshing and honest perspective. (An old one about NFP and your husband trying to seduce you with a backrub had me laughing out loud.) I will be back!

Betty Duffy said...

Sharon, I feel the same way--I need some sort of external to get me up and doing things. Plus, having a couple of kids in school makes Mass attendance a little easier than trying to go it alone with a baby and a toddler, and kids who love playing around when Mom looks busy.

Anonymous, you make a good point about not being able to stave off crisis with good behavior. I've heard that the most saintly among us even ask for affliction rather than trying to avoid it, so that they can feel more deeply the suffering of Jesus. Not something I've ever played around with, but I hear that people do. I would think that rootedness in prayer gives one an anchor and rudder when crises do arise--or maybe not. I'm remembering a quote by someone that abandonment to the will of God is like being a cork floating on the waves. So maybe the "meeting of our weakness with God, who loves us" is about all I'm capable of understanding at the moment.

TS: Thank you. And thank God for the Darwins.

Marie: I was just thinking about how rare it is that big decisions actually arise in our lives, and that the little decisions I make throughout the day probably do more to set the tone for my children than anything else. Yet I give such little thought to the little decisions. I'm glad to revisit that quote.

Laura, Thanks for stopping in. I'm looking forward to perusing your blog as well!

berenike said...

Heheh! I just spent a week doing NOTHING! Well, I did three small loads of laundry, went round to a friend's to help her put three books on a shelf. And did crawl to the evening Mass every day, but was very late every time, even though the parish church is seven minutes' walk away. I'm so glad it's not just me!

Please, more from fr Giertych! I've read a couple of his things, and they are very good!

Katherine said...

Evagrius has been a great help to me when I have been (half the time still am) that sort of muddle. To hear an honest account of it is refreshing and encouraging; thank you.

You might like this from the Women's Guild Blog, as well:

Laura said...

Betty, my blog is little more than a photo diary for far-off relatives -- no obligation to check it out! =) I think from time to time of starting a more personal blog but lack the motivation and am not sure that I'd actually want anyone to read it. Maybe someday... you'll be an inspiration. =)

Pentimento said...

When I started reading this post, I thought I'd leave a comment about the "Eat Pray Love" parody book "Drink Play F@#$," but I ended up crying instead when I read Fr. Giertych's comments on the Annunciation, and I decided not to be so irreverent. I'm also in a huge period of swimming upstream in total darkness right now, and I feel encouraged. Thank you.

y. said...
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