Spiritual Fitness: Setting the Pace

Today, the feast day of my favorite saint Teresa of Avila, I got a letter from Joanna Davis, a grad student and SPO missionary from my church. Joanna is living and working with a group of college students to help them grow strong in the faith. Although she is not married and has no children, in a sense she too is an “Extraordinary Mom,” for she is using her spiritual gifts to raise up spiritual children.

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"Don’t Be Weird, Mom!"

(This is a continuation of the series of articles reflecting on Come Be My Light and the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, patron of adoptive and foster families, which I began earlier this year. For the original post, click the title.)

Sarah is an extraordinary walking paradox. She will parade around the house (and in public as often as I let her) with a mind-blowing array of fashion statements:
I applaud her budding confidence (insofar as it does not exceed the bounds of propriety). What puzzles me is that if I do anything the least bit unconventional … breaking into an impromptu chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” and a little softshoe while I’m washing dishes, say, Sarah will invariably give me her stock response:
“Don’t be weird, Mom! People will think you’re weird!”

To which I respond, “Let them! The only thing that really matters is what God thinks of me, what I think of myself … and, to a different degree, what my family thinks about me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who typically flouts social convention on a whim. I love high teas and ballroom dancing and all manner of things traditional (it’s part of why I’m Catholic!). But when it comes to deciding standards of personal conduct, I learned a long time ago that “going with the crowd” is not always the wisest course of action.

This has a particular application to foster and adoptive parents. More than most parents, our children are going to have special emotional and other challenges that are going to make other people’s eyebrows go up with alarming frequency, especially in the beginning.

It happened the time my son punched the priest in the breadbasket for reaching out to bless him at Mass. And the following week, when my son (who had been hearing about his friend “Father Will” all week) greeted the elderly priest by patting the front of the man’s vestments as high as his two-year-old hands could reach. Come to think of it, it was right around the time of the scandals, too…

It happened the time my daughter drew a picture of her daddy in bed with her for the counselor (Craig has a nightly ritual of laying down next to her to read a bedtime story; the book was strangely absent in the picture). The next time it was a picture of mommy and daddy brandishing a L-O-O-N-G a whip (I still don’t know where that one came from, except maybe a horse scene in “Beauty and the Beast”).

It happened when my son’s first preschool teacher informed me that I was obviously neglecting my 4-year-old son’s needs because he didn’t use a napkin properly, and because he kept using words like “dead” and “kill.” (I wondered if the word his classmates had taught him — stupid — was so much better.)

It happens. And other people — those who don’t know your family — ARE going to judge you for it. Get ready for it … the disapproving looks, the heavy sighs, the hesitance to accept playdates. Get ready for the tons of unsolicited advice from grandparents, social workers, and total strangers about how you need to be “controlling” your children better.

I’m not saying don’t take the advice. Some veteran parents might give you some truly useful information with regard to managing stress, or potty training. But don’t expect them to understand, and don’t try to live up to someone else’s idea of perfect parenting. As a foster parent (or adoptive parent of an older child), there are going to be times when you need to march to another tune. Make a different choice. Try an unconventional method.

Don’t worry. If it’s a mistake, you can usually correct it mid-course. If the advice givers are real friends or if they truly love you, they will still be around years from now when the fruit of your labor ripens, and that wild little creatures is transformed into the radiant young man or woman who loves God and does what is right.

It’s OK to be weird when God takes you along a different path. Trust Him to give you the wisdom you need, exactly when you need it.
Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away,
but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, has everything.
For God alone suffices.
Teresa of Avila

A Dangerous Prayer

Today I received a letter from a writer friend who had just finished my book Behold Your Mother and found herself being drawn toward the Church. I understand completely her struggle: It is an unsettling, even embarrassing to realize that the one you once regarded as the “Whore of Babylon” is actually your spiritual mother.

Even so, the Church continues to draw her children out of their self-made rafts of subjective religious experience and selective Scripture study, and into the Barque of Peter. Christians are “crossing the Tiber” into the fullness of the faith all the time, from every possible tradition: Baptists, Pentecostals, Vineyard, Methodists, Presbyterians (I was baptized Presbyterian, but because of my music background I’ve been involved in all of them at one time or another).

Perhaps you find yourself standing on the edge of your raft, gazing serreptitiously (yet longingly) at those who have already taken the leap of faith, and entered into the fullness of the faith through the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church founded by Christ. Yet you are afraid of being tricked, afraid of being deceived … just afraid.

In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid! Open the gates to Christ!” His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, echoes, “Christ is our hope!” It is Christ, who alone atones for the sins of the world, and who offers Himself — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity — in the Holy Eucharist.

Take your Bible and spend a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Open to the sixth chapter of John, and read each verse very slowly. Let it sink into your heart. Ask God to speak to you through these verses, to reveal to you what HE wants you to understand. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”

Once you get your heart around the Eucharist, what a gift Our Lord gives to us in that Holy Sacrament, you will not be content until you receive Him. However, please remember that St. Paul urges us not to take the sacrament “unworthily.” To be ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you must enter the Church. There’s no way around this. It will take time … but by God’s grace, your hunger will be satisfied in His perfect time.

Finally, a gentle warning. Jesus warned that unless we become like little children, we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It took God many years and quite a number of strippings and humblings before I was willing to say,

“I don’t have the answers, Lord. Only questions. You are God, and I am not … You are pure mystery, and my mind is blinded by prejudice, ignorance, and error. Help me. Guide me each step of the way, and take these blinders from my eyes and help me to truly see.”

This is a dangerous prayer, but a necessary one. It’s not enough to read the Bible … one must interpret it correctly as well. We do this not in isolation, but in union with Christians going all the way back to the first apostles. We must not “proof text” isolated Scriptures to harden our hearts and minds, but invite the Holy Spirit to open us to ALL the truth God wants us to understand. Almost inevitably, He does this through the treasury of wisdom that is available to us through the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium) and the saints.

I suggest you start with Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle and move on to her Way of Perfection. St. Teresa was a sixteenth-century Carmelite mystic who taught that the Lord (she called him “His Majesty”) dwells in the center of our hearts, but that we must strip ourselves of everything — even good things — in order to reach that inner chamber.

If you find yourself embarking on this journey alone, and need someone to pray for you … I’m here. Drop me a note at hsaxton(at)christianword(dot)com. God bless you!