"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.
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!