Friday, May 26, 2017

The (Bad) Language of Free Will

My 7-year-old daughter came into my bedroom the other night about an hour after I’d put her to bed.  I knew she was upset because she was sucking her fingers, a habit that she has mostly kicked but sometimes creeps up when she is worried or sad. I put my arm around her little nightgown clad body and asked her what was wrong. “Sometimes I say bad words in my head,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks, “and I am afraid that God will be mad at me since he knows what I am thinking.” I hugged her close and dried her tears and asked her if she would ever say those bad words out loud. “No way,” she exclaimed, half-laughing/half-crying. I asked her why. She answered, “because I know they’re bad and I can’t choose what I think but I can choose what I do.”

These kids, right?  Sometimes they can take the most difficult topic, in this case free-will, and make us see it in an entirely new dimension. My daughter’s dilemma is all of ours. All day long we have thoughts that drift in and out of our consciousness, some good, some bad and we have to constantly make decisions about which ones to act upon. As a Christian family, I try to make sure we are rooting our decision making in the teachings of our religion. This does not make life easy.

I often consider myself fortunate that I don’t struggle with the concept of religion. If I believe that there really is a God (I do) who imbued humans with an immortal soul (I do) it only makes sense that God might give us a primer on how to protect that gift. But without our immortal soul  – what are we? We are animals with instincts and desires and an inclination to do whatever it is that we want. Our bodies and our minds are these amazingly complicated tools with great capacities for good and evil. God, with his ultimate understanding of the nature of humanity, gave us the owner’s manual for our bodies and for our soul. That means having to sometimes choose the way that is difficult, but as our parish priest once said, “We should not confuse what is easy with what is true.”


Back in my bedroom, I confessed to my daughter that sometimes I say bad words in my head too. She giggled and used her spitty fingers to wipe away her tears. “What?!” she asked, incredulous. “You think bad things too?” I said I did. “Well, I can imagine that you think bad thoughts, but does Daddy?” I told her that, yes, even her beloved Daddy says bad words in his head sometimes. It’s normal. She hugged me and thanked me for talking to her, but if I’m honest she taught me just as much as I have ever taught her.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Listening to the Voices

While I was growing up, my mom used to tell me that God speaks to you, you only have to be quiet and listen. For the most part, this has served me well. I have listened when That Little Voice has suggested, "tell the truth, even if it's hard," and had faith that the Holy Spirit was indeed guiding me. As I've grown older, my internal dialogue hasn't been so absolutely holy. "You're not smart enough," "You don't write well enough," "You're lazy," "Play the Lottery! You'll win," and many other destructive voices have joined the symphony. I have come to distrust That Little Voice, even downright ignore it.

***

Finding out that I was pregnant with John was one of the most defining moments in my life.  If I am to tell the truth, I felt like we were maxed out. We had five bright, beautiful school-aged children and bringing home a new baby never entered into my personal plans. I don't know how far along I was (several weeks) when I sat praying before Mass with my family and my visiting mother, completely unaware of John's life growing within me. "This is My child," the words pounded through me the way a wave forms in the placidity of the ocean to break with the thundering force of the eternities upon the shore. "This is My child!" I couldn't ignore That Little Voice but years of weary, destructive banter in my head had taught me to discredit it. What child? Wait... When was my last period? I instinctively knew what That Little Voice was trying to tell me but I ignored it. I went home and drank wine with my mom trying to push the message of That Little Voice from my mind but my entire being knew better. A home pregnancy test taken the very next morning confirmed that I was pregnant.

***

By anyone's assessment, I have had a super-human recovery to a spinal fusion surgery. After months of pain, I left the hospital in less that 24 hours, went for a walk 2 days after surgery, wrapped all of our Christmas gifts at 4 days post-op, and have otherwise enjoyed every minute of my life, pain-free, since the surgery. I've had all of my family and friends call to check on me and I've been able to give them the happy news, "I feel great." Every single time the response has been, "I am so thankful. I have been praying for you." Last week I met with a doctor who said she had never seen such a seamless recovery. I told my mom about the accolades and she replied, "Well, I prayed for you as if you were dying."

***

Grant lost his keys this morning. After a few frantic moments of searching, I sent him to work in my car with the promise that I would look for them. "Did you check the key basket," I asked. "Yes. Twice."

Later in the morning I got to work looking for the keys. I looked in the key basket again and searched the cupboard where the basket is kept. Nothing. I looked in John's toy box and in the trunk of his toy car where other misplaced items have been found. Nothing. "Pray." It was That Little Voice. "Pray about it." My whole life, I have always felt guilty about praying for the mundane things in life. I've always felt like I can handle the lost keys, God, you just take care of the sick children, ok? But our God is not one to be bargained with. If we are to trust Him with our life, we must also trust him with our... keys? Ok. Ok. I crossed myself and prayed out loud, "In the Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Lord? If it is your will, please let me find Grant's keys. Saint Anthony, please pray for me to find Grant's keys. Amen." I thought no more of it.

I don't know how long it was before I had a very strong urge to check the key basket again. My first instinct was to resist. "Go back to the basket. You will find the keys because I have put them there." It came from a place outside of my own thought processes. What could it hurt? I went to the kitchen and opened the cupboard where the key basket resides. I picked it up. I took out all of the contents of the basket even though it was visibly clear that the keys weren't in there. As I went to put the basket back in the cabinet, Grant's keys were sitting on the shelf where the basket had been.
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