Betty Duffy

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Only Everything Will Do

In high school and college, each year was so important it had its own name. For 365 days, I was a Sophomore and did sophomoric things like eating marshmallows in Lit class, spreading the white powdery sugar all over my lips, and turning around to whomever was sitting behind me to ask, “Is there something on my lip?”

Junior year was about having a boyfriend. Senior year was about making decisions. Each year had a different flavor, felt like a lifetime, and seemed so exceptionally important.

Having married in the year 2000, it makes it easier to see the indistinct lines between my youth and adult life. My childhood was in another century. And my adult life has gone on now for a decade, each day and each year looking very much like the one before. I take care of children. I do a little cleaning and cooking. I go through cycles of dissatisfaction and supreme happiness, often within the framework of a single day. And so ten years have passed.

Heather King wrote a beautiful reflection recently about going for a walk, wondering if there was more to life, wanting to give herself completely, but being unsure how to go about it.

In the year leading up to the turn of the millennium, that’s where I was. I wanted to give myself completely. I’d given a dozen plus years to my education, a couple of years to a deadbeat boyfriend, my entire life to daydream and self delusion. I wanted to give something to God, but it had to be all or nothing.

I checked out a convent. It wasn’t for me. I got married. I embarked on the most important decade of my life, during which I gave birth to five new souls, and still sometimes it’s unclear for whom I’m living.

I want to give myself completely. No I don’t. Yes I do. Tomorrow. No, now. My completely has not always been complete. It has had reservations like:

-As long as I can see a positive outcome.
-As long as it’s not exhausting and boring.
-As long as I can stay thin and dress well.
-As long as someone remembers to thank me.
-As long as I get a break at 3 p.m to read and eat popcorn.
-As long as I have the right number of kids—not too many, nor too few.

Each day, a new obstacle to complete self-gift crops up, positing itself as a right of being. And when I give into these flights of fancy, my self-giving turns to self-preservation. I have a choice to make during these times: will I turn towards God, the one to whom I gave myself completely? Or will I hoard my rights to myself, trying to stay under the radar, living a quietly average life, none too bad, not too good, obviously Christian, but God and I both know that I’m not doing what I could.

Also, if my goal is to immitate Jesus, it might be worthy of my consideration that Jesus didn't hop off the Cross at three p.m. for a popcorn break.

I’ve been reading through some old journals lately about the time leading up to my reversion of faith. There were pages of preparation, and then I turn a single page, the page on which I had decided to love Jesus, and everything was different. I made a few necessary amends in my life, and all those pages of preparation and suffering were over. One day I didn’t love, the next day I did.

I was new born, but still very much myself. I was in love, and my generosity was overwhelming and complete. I didn’t care what I lost along the way. Of course I had no idea what my trials might be.

This year, no less than six of my friends and acquaintances have ended their marriages. These are people who started their married lives and had their children alongside me. They say they are no longer in love, or that they now love someone else. But for whatever reason, they have retracted their whole, unconditional, gift of self. Maybe they never meant to give themselves completely or maybe little by little over the years they turned away rather than towards the one to whom they gave themselves.

What this tells me, is that when God furthers his process of wringing me out, picking at my reservations and the areas that I have, perhaps unwittingly, withheld—I have to stick it out. This is what I wanted when I was first in love. I have to ask for a renewal of that first love, and renewal of my complete self-gift. Otherwise, I might find myself at a complete loss.


Marcia said...

I just recently found your blog...and todays post. wow. I remember the 7th year of our marriage and the amazing Christian couples that were divorcing. It's so true that the body of Christ feels the pain in the arms where the feet are breaking apart. I pray that the choices of your friends will give you strength to fortify your marriage more deeply in Christ!

Betty Beguiles said...

This is stunningly good writing. You have such a gift, my dear.

The Cottage Child said...

I love this, all of it (a convent, really?).

The divorcing friends situation has been heavy on my heart this year also- we've moved from where most of our long time couples friends are, changed work lives, too, which is how we were connected to many of them, but we hear at least every few months about another break-up, some married years longer than we've been, and it haunts when your contemporaries who seem to live almost identical lives aren't managing to see it through. It's hard not to ask ourselves if we're as happily married as we think we are, or do we just THINK we're happily married? (demonic cackle heard in background)

We find ourselves in the friendship of two couples in our new neighborhood who have nearly a century of marriage between them, and we have been grateful to see that success in the matter amounts to what you described - loving completely, no popcorn breaks. In fact the joke between the older pair is something like "I could fall out of love with you anytime, still might" - kind of a quirky reminder that it's no less than a conscious choice to really love.

I needed to read good writing and a good message tonight - thank you! I will never look at marshmallows the same way again. Peace.

Lizzie said...

Oh my goodness, even as a single mum who's never been married, I get this. I have been really thinking about what my 'giving it all to God' means and spent New Year reflecting on being a mum - what kind of human do I want to raise? And the more I thought about it, all I could think of was raising someone who lives in the light of eternity and doesn't. close. in. It's got to be life life life all the way - and all the vulnerability, opening up and trust that involves...

Thank you again, you talented lady.

Peter and Nancy said...

There aren't many blog posts that make me cry, but here I am crying because I recognize myself. The problem of feeling like my "rights" are more important than my devotion to Christ or my vocation as a wife and mother is a daily occurrence. And it doesn't help that all around are whispers of "you deserve this!", not least of which come from other women.

We are also seeing couples split up, even one husband who wonders if he ever believed in God or Christ at all. It makes my hold even tighter to my husband and to Jesus.

Misha Leigh. said...

This is me laid bare and I don't know whether to thank you or bawl. I was married in 2000, too.

Thank you.

SherryTex said...

Well said. You crystalized what had been a thought in my mind, whenever someone says, "But what about making time for you?" I sit there thinking, you know, Jesus never said, "This is my ME time." We're supposed to pour everything out, to use everything, every gift, every moment and to be utterly empty in the end of ourselves. Thanks for the confirmation.

priest's wife said...


Anonymous said...

3 PM is the hour of Mercy. Have you read Consoling the Heart of Jesus? It's hopelessly simplistic, but humblingly so. A good read to inspire again the will for giving everything to God.

Rachel said...

Perhaps, no, certainly this year will mark how The Lord began producing edible fruits through the ministry of your you continue to, "turn towards God, the one to whom (you) gave yourself completely."