This week I am incredibly thankful for the gift of being able to stay home. I relish being my own master (sure, I have four children and a husband to think of, and of course, my Divine Master), of deciding when my day will begin, how it will be organized, when I will take breaks. There is a TON of work to be done in keeping house, cooking meals and homeschooling children, but it’s on my clock, my schedule. I am thankful that my husband works hard to ensure that I can stay home. And I’m thankful for the gift of being able to homeschool my children, even though I complain about it and feel unappreciated from time to time.
As a family we watched The Little Prince last night. It was released in France in July of last year and was supposed to have a US release this past March. For some reason it was dropped. Thank goodness, Netflix decided to run with it. If you watch only one more movie this year, make this the one.
The film is loosely based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella of the same name. In the movie, a little girl is being prepped by her mother to enter a prestigious academy whose motto is “Be essential.” In order to be close to the school, they move to a new neighborhood during the summer and the little girl starts her “Life Plan,” the regimen her mother has designed for her to be a successful student. As the mother works long hours, the little girl is left on her own to follow the Plan but gets derailed when she meets their eccentric neighbor. He is The Aviator, and he tells the story of his meeting with the Little Prince long years ago. The little girl falls in love with the story and is soon spending all her time with The Aviator. All is well until the little girl has to confront loss. Then, too, the encounter with loss allows the girl to grow in love. In order not to give the movie away, I’ll stop there.
A few points: I think the mother is not a “bad guy” in this story. She is trying to give her daughter everything by giving her the best education and the best plan to be a good adult. Sadly, in giving her daughter the best she can, she neglects to give her what she needs–a mother. I find this in myself. As a homeschooling mom, I want to make sure my kids are learning, and unfortunately, I feel like I have something to prove. So I, like the mother, tend to try to make sure my kids have the best education and the best opportunities and the best home life, etc. etc. etc. and forget to give them what they most need.
The academy’s motto, “Be essential,” is propagated in our society. Those who are not useful or contributing to society are not valued. The poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the unborn. The Aviator is a disgrace to his neighbors. His house is ramshackle, his yard is full of weeds. He’s an untouchable. Even material things are not exempt from the motto. The non-essential items, like stars and bicycles and teddy bears, are put into a shredder and turned into something useful–paper clips. The Little Prince reminds us, though, that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Humans were not created to be useful. We were not created for work or efficiency or productivity. We were created by Love, for love. And that is all. Yes, we work, but our work does not define us. Yes, we produce, but we are not our productivity. The only thing we will be measured by, in the end, is our capacity to give and receive love. That is what is essential.
This week, despite my post yesterday, I am thankful for sickness. Yes, sickness. It’s forced us to slow down, to show especial care to our more difficult family members, and to appreciate the gift of health. We’ve had to cancel some activities and play dates, but we’ve read together, played board games together and taken elderberry syrup together. 🙂 We haven’t been running in a hundred directions, which has made the first week of school flow much more smoothly. Yes, I hope my children and husband return to health quickly, but I’m grateful to God that He’s given us this time with few outside distractions to remind us of the importance of slowing down and being together.
The kids and I have started doing lectio divina together during Morning Time for school (apparently it’s a thing, too bad I didn’t realize it till they were considerably older). It’s basically what I do on my own, except for the sake of time–highschoolers do a LOT of work–we only read the daily gospel.
Today’s gospel veered off from the Matthew path since it’s the feast day of St. Lawrence.
Now, I’ve read this passage about a million times, but what struck me today was the word ‘alone.’ Typically it is my very favorite word, besides ‘book’, but in this context it’s not a pleasant thing. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12. 24, emphasis mine).
I like to be alone. I like quiet. I like to read and think and breathe. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by others. But I don’t want to remain alone. There is a time to be solitary but even more, a time to be with others. We were created for community. Community with our fellow humans, community with our God. In order to attain this, I must die.
I don’t like the thought of dying, especially dying to self. It means I can’t have what I want, when I want it. For a human being, that’s a rum thought. (Sorry, been reading P.G. Wodehouse). But if I don’t die to self, I’ll find myself alone, barren. Like wheat, fig trees, vines, I am to ‘bear fruit’, to give of myself, not to hoard all things to myself. Paradoxically, it is when I give of myself that I receive more than I could grasp if I live only for myself.
Part of the way I ‘die’ is by letting go of an exciting life, an extraordinary life and embracing the ordinary, the dullness, the routine. Life has been pretty boring at our house lately. With four sick kids, a sick husband and ghastly humid and hot weather (I’m from New England, 85 is hot), I find myself longing for something new, something exciting to change life up. Maybe a new book? A new project? New running shoes? A camping trip? Two hours on Facebook? No, I need to ‘die,’ to pour myself out in the mundane and bear fruit here and now. To love the ordinary and to the find the holiness in it.
This week I’m grateful to have all my family back under one roof. My husband was gone for about 6 weeks while training with the Air Force in June and July. Then Stepford Son was gone nearly the entire month of July to different camps. Now we’re all together again. The grocery bill and consumption of food has drastically risen, but I’m so glad to be back in our routine of eating dinner together followed by reading aloud from our current book.
The wilderness in the Bible is not a happy place. It is a place of testing, of struggle, of judgement, of purification to a painful degree. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Both Jesus and John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted before their public ministries began. And yet the prophet Jeremiah tells us that there is “grace in the wilderness” (31.2).
Grace is God’s Life in us, the very food and strength of our souls. Without grace, we are dead. I, and I dare say most of us, struggle when bad things happen. When I’m tested, tempted, subjected to trials. If Jeremiah is right, though, that’s exactly where I need to be because that’s where the grace is found.
I’m not saying I need to go looking for the wilderness–far from it! But if I see each trouble as an opportunity for grace, the pain of the moment (for in the light of eternity, even a lifetime is a moment) is made bearable. I can even begin to welcome the struggles, to bear my cross cheerfully, knowing that I’ll find that most precious gift, grace.
Sometimes I get to the point where I am run down, stressed out, and find myself needing to “withdraw…to a deserted place” by myself (Matt. 14. 13). I also find that that’s when I’m called on most to be present for others. So far I think I have succeeded in responding to this need in others approximately zero times. When I read today’s gospel, it struck me that this is a real problem for me and that Jesus and his apostles have experienced it, too.
Jesus was saddened by the death of his cousin and felt the need to get away by himself. So far, so good. The people followed him, however, and instead of getting frustrated and angry at them, “he had compassion for them.” (v.14) And this is where I see that He’s perfect and I most certainly am not. I do not have compassion on the people who dare need me when I’m drained. Less compassion, more ‘enter at your own risk.’
Not only did Jesus have compassion and spend the rest of the day speaking to the people, He would not send them away, like His disciples suggested. Instead (and this is what spoke to me) He said to His disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, “But how? We have nothing to give them!”(v.16, 17)
That’s how I feel. All these people need me: my husband, my children, my extended family, friends, strangers. I ask God to care for them in some other way, but He says, “You give them what they need.” I cry, I beg, I whine and stomp my feet. “But I don’t have anything! I barely have enough strength to be nice, let alone give them what they need!”
Then comes the rest of the story. Jesus says to the disciples’ lack of goods, “Bring them here to me.” (v.18) That’s all I have to do. I have to bring him my stress, my fatigue, my irritation, my ‘barely-holding-it-together-here’ and give it to Him. He’ll bless it and miraculously multiply my lack so that it can feed all those He brings to me. I just have to bring it to be blessed, and then give it away.