Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'm dust.

Sometimes when you meet someone at church, it's impossible to imagine that they have a life anywhere else, or that they ever had a life that wasn't in some way compatible with that pew in which they sit every Sunday.

Last week I was talking with a friend from Church about those bedside table habits that annoy our husbands like stacking too many books on the table and floor, or in my friend's case, bringing glasses of water to bed that somehow never find their way back to the kitchen. It reminded me of one little thing my husband used to do, many moons ago, and I mentioned it to my friend, because we were one-upping each other good-naturedly--and I knew that my anecdote would be the last word.

"My husband used to chew tobacco and he'd take his chaws out at night and leave them on the bedside table." It drew the expected cries of disgust, effectively changing the topic to one I didn't really expect.

"Your husband used tobacco?" my friend said in disbelief. "I cannot imagine you dating or marrying anyone who used tobacco."

How had I managed to pull such a heavy sheath of wool over her eyes? I needed to set the record straight. "That's funny because I used to smoke," I said.

"Really? You were a smoker?"

"It was mostly a social thing in college, but I guess there were times in my life when I smoked every day, multiple times."

"I just cannot picture you and your husband as tobacco users."

And I suppose it's because we have a bunch of kids, and we attend Mass. Do either of those things, and it's pretty easy to convince the general public that you're a saint. Such feats of perception are more difficult to pull off with the people you see every day of your life.

"You're not selfless," my husband noted matter-of-factly this weekend. I had hidden the last dry towel under my bag for if and when I decided to walk out in the cold to the communal shower area of the yurt village. He had just returned from swimming in the ocean--an activity from which I had opted out. It appeared that we were short on linens as he stood there shivering and wet, but I had to confess that we weren't as short as it appeared.

The obvious response would have been to point out that he's not selfless either, as few of us truly are. But he doesn't pretend to be, whereas I love to give the impression that I am selfless, and I love to think of myself as such.

One of the pitfalls of writing about one's spiritual life is that it's tempting to imagine that all the thinking I'm going to do on subject is over once I've written the post on it. I covered selflessness in a post on September 28, 2010. I'm supposed to have mastered it. Except I haven't. Just as I've only begun to chip away at the iceberg of attachment to things and shopping and eating rich foods--all those enemies of poverty I wrote about in my last post--becoming selfless is no one-shot deal.

Caryll Houselander, in "The Reed of God" writes of the seed of God's word growing in us:

"It's not necessary…to speak to others of the mystery of life growing in us. It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are. We must…possess Him secretly and in darkness…"

As soon as you even hint to others that you have uncovered a spiritual truth, that you are interested in changing your life, you are made accountable for that change. People begin to watch you: Miss Poverty is driving around San Francisco in a convertible. Miss Selfless is hoarding the dry towels.

We are accountable for the beliefs we profess--which is why it's probably the more prudent thing to shut up about it when we are trying to shape our lives more like Christ's--otherwise prepare to be misinterpreted, judged, and ultimately dismissed (not a terrible fate for a Christian, assuming she desires growth in humility).

When we talk about the ways in which we'd like to change, we put pressure on ourselves to change at our own pace, or at the world's pace, not God's. And then, it's tempting to change our internal emphasis from growing in holiness, to appearing holy.

For Lent, among other things, I'm giving up my PR campaign. Let the record show, as my husband knows well, I am not yet selfless. I am not yet poor in spirit. I am not yet humble, holy, or even kind. I am not yet generous, or open to life, or faithful in little things. I am a sinner, dust, who contains only a seed, a tiny little hint of God's Word. And the fact that Christ can be formed in my life from such dull material is a miracle, and a mystery, and evidence that He is God. And I'm not.

A blessed forty days to you all!


Living for the Lord in 2011 said...

This one really resonated with me. Over the last few years I have tried to be more hidden and silent and show my love for Christ with deeds over words (a tough assignment for a fast-talking lawyer!) I failed miserably and spectacularly bout 2 weeks ago, but God was still able to use my weakness for an awesome good...

So we keep on the journey knowing the Lord will use ALL to bring ourselves and our loved ones to Him...

Owen said...

Dear Betty,
be consoled. I didn't think *that* highly of you before so nothing has been lost in this your confession. {wink}

BettyDuffy said...

Aw...thank you, Owen.

NoraB said...

I can so relate to what you're saying. We've been in the same parish for nearly 20 years - I don't need to say "You should have known me when." They all know me well enough now to know I have a ways to go on this path.

I also agree with the challenge of putting oneself out there. And yakking about how holy we've become would make us a joke to those around us. But here's where I may disagree.

For most of us, part of our calling is to part of a community. We belong to each other. That makes us accountable, for good and for ill, when that makes us comfy and when it doesn't. We're on a journey, they're on a journey. We excell heroically, we fail spectacularly. Same for everyone in our big christian family.

Being somewhat transparent with those around us should do just one thing. It should say that I'm a traveller too. I skrewed this up, but I actually succeeded here, where I failed before.

There's a chance we end up looking like posers - either cause we got off track, or because people take our lives for something they are not. But the greater reward of encouraging each other is worth it.

Most of us are thankful for those who have been a little more open than not. (like some of our greatest saints) I'm thankful for you, for instance.

If you think you're dust,that proves you aren't all dust, you aspire to be more. It also proves you're in good company.

Anonymous said...

'Tobacco users!'

Honey hush!

The chaw thing would shock me though just cause it gross to leave it out like that. But simply being a (former) tobacco user is a one, if even that, on the shock scale.

Being the mom of 7 kids and homeschooling etc... I get a lot of 'oh you must be so patient' or 'oh you must be a saint!' comments. I think, "Lady if you only knew..." and then I am tempted to just stand there and confess all of my realness and sinfulness to this stranger.

Am I a fraud if I just shrug and say "no not really?" I don't truly think so.

But there are days when a full on ramble of "You think I'm a saint, really? Bc just a few minutes ago in the car I about damaged my voice box screaming at the kids to be quiet and not two hours ago I ......." is just on the tip of my tongue.

BettyDuffy said...

I have to admit, I didn't think tobacco use was that shocking either--which is why I was shocked that someone would consider me above using it. Of all the things in my life that might scandalize someone--I would have thought tobacco use would be the least.

Anyway, I agree Nora, I think there is a time and a place to share. I've obviously done my share of sharing here on this blog. I think sometimes it's easier to share with those who don't know you well, though. At home, sharing my spiritual journey seems somehow out of place--because it should be obvious to people with whom I live--and if it's not, I've got a problem.

Kimberlie said...

Definitely resonated in my heart today.

Why in the world do people have to risk hearing the awful truth when they make comments about what a saintly person I must be (because we have adopted four children - phfsh, as if)? Maybe what they are really looking for from you is to say, "Oh no, not me. Look at all the wonderful/saintly things you do!"

Erin said...

This is why I hate the idea of professing a new year resolution...

mrsdarwin said...

Whoa! You mean that there might be more to a person than the image projected on a blog? You shock me! :)

Actually, if I have a problem with blogging, it's that it's so hard to give a rounded picture of oneself. Writing is by definition a distilled reality, and so there are always little details and tidbits that slip through the literary cracks.

But why would someone be so shocked at smoking? I guess the Surgeon General won that PR battle.

Peter and Nancy said...

On a tangential note -- I read an article last year that pointed out that smoking is now as taboo as p*rnography used to be 40 years ago. Those two vices have switched places; it's now perfectly fine to be openly rude or disdainful to a smoker, but p*rn is constant fodder for opening monologues on late-night shows, sitcoms, etc.

I do appreciate knowing about people's stories, even the "ugly" parts -- and I'm glad to share mine, in the proper context. It gives me evidence that I'm not beyond redemption on my worst days, and shows me how merciful and forgiving God is, every day.

Julia said...

Former smoker here, too. Dust... and ashes.

BettyDuffy said...

Mrs. D, I sort of like the idea of keeping secrets from my blog. Because then I don't feel so out there--but i'm a little torn about the Holy Father's comments on social media and being who you present yourself to be. And I don't think he's suggesting we let it all hang out--but i wonder about the need for people to protect their privacy online, and still give a clear picture of where they're coming from.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for you thoughts. What came to mind was what the Priest said last Sunday, the First Sunday of lent.

"We are all God's beloved sinners."

So after being distracted during the Consecration part of mass, I approached the Eucharist saying, "here comes your Beloved sinner." I think I saw Him smile.