Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.

One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?

So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.

Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?

And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.

Continue reading “Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable”

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

I mentally planned for the day.  I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment.  Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.

So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.

“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?”  Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.

“How about Archbishop McCarrick?  The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?”  Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks.  I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response.  In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.”  And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.

As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me.  While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.

Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

G.K. Chesterton

Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more.  One class reacted with more anger and bitterness.  It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified.  Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in.  I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry.  My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.   Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

I have a problem with weakness.  When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open.  Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life.  I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others.  However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.

This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine.  Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person.  In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle.  However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it.  I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner.  Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.

Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.

I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break.  Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed.  The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness?  Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”

Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart?  For the way they fail and are weak?  I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity.  It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken.  A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10.  In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus.  Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him.  He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him.  How could he be so shameless?  In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation.  I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself.  However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope. Continue reading “Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong”

Joyless Pragmatism

Joyless Pragmatism

“I just wanted you to know that I won’t offer to pray in class because I’m not Catholic.  If you want, you can email my parents and ask them about it.  But when you look around the room for volunteers to pray, that’s why I’m not offering.”

A student had approached me after class one day and started our brief conversation with that explanation.

“Oh?  That is fine that you aren’t Catholic.  I assume your parents are not either, so I wouldn’t email them about it.  I still expect you to answer questions and participate in class, though”
“No, they are Catholic.”
“They are, but you aren’t?”
“Yes.”

I’ve often wondered why some people remain faithful to the religion of their parents and others don’t.  Considering that this student brought this conversation up in the first place, I figured I could try to ask some questions to get some bearing on the situation.

“Are you Christian?”
“No.  I believe in God, because I think it is silly not to.  I just believe he created the world but isn’t really active in it.  I’m not against Christians or anything.  I just think you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

This student seemed so…pragmatic.

I think the thing that struck me the most was how reasonable the student was striving to be.  Granted, I am grateful when students are reasonable, but I couldn’t help but sense an absence of joy in this system of belief.  In many ways, I was impressed with the responses I received to my questions.  Yet I also wondered if this lack of belief stemmed more from a desire to be intelligent rather than closely examining the issues.

The popular notion of ‘you do you, I’ll do me’ continues to baffle me.  If there is any honest pursuit of the truth, then clearly you doing your own thing and me doing my own separate thing cannot both lead to the correct answer.  Continual diversity in beliefs cannot lead to unity in the end. Continue reading “Joyless Pragmatism”

Journals

Journals

Would I want my great-grandchildren to read my journals?

This was something I pondered this past week with a couple friends.  My initial response is one of mild horror.  Someone reading my journals?  Learning about the deep secrets I have attempted to lay bare for the sake of my sanity?  I was not in favor of it.  Not unless I could self-edit some of the more ridiculous parts, leaving the entries that would make me look holy and intelligent.

Though I have slowed down in the past year, I have written fairly extensively about the inner-workings of my heart and mind.  They aren’t literary masterpieces, but I like to write honestly and in detail.  The journals are primarily prayer journals.  Yet I strive to speak to Jesus as I would to a closest friend which means that they are riddled with exaggeration, frustration, and melancholy as well as excitement, joy, and great fervor.

Yet the only consolation I can conjure when thinking about my great-grandchildren reading my journals is that I would be dead if that happened.  And if I would be dead, then I would hardly be concerned with what they were reading.  But as it so happens, right now I am very much alive and the hypothetical situation alarms me.  I cannot help but wonder what they or anyone else would think should they stumble upon my journals.

Currently, I am on my tenth (or so) journal and I began shortly before college started.  They are of different shapes and styles but I lean toward the elegant ones with built in bookmarks because they make me feel as though I am writing a real book.  A couple are travel journals, speaking of excursions during my semester abroad as well as the Camino.

“Wouldn’t you want to read your Great-grandmother’s journals if you could?” my friend asks me as we discuss the situation.  Perhaps.  Of course it would be interesting and give a glimpse into the life of someone I never knew.  But I just assume my Great-grandmother wasn’t half as ridiculous as I am.  At least, I hope for her sake she wasn’t.

Perhaps, I pondered, I could simply request that they burn my journals after I die.  Yet there is little to stop them from not following my wishes and there have been several times in history where such requests were not followed.  In fact, such a request would probably heighten curiosity.  Yet the thought of me burning my journals is too difficult at this point.  They are friends.  They reveal previous versions of Trish that are all still very much present in my life today.  Today I re-read part of a journal from about five years ago and was a bit peeved to discover I am still very much as I was then.  The progress of this heart is slow and tedious.

Only the Lord knows when I will die so I won’t spend too much time worrying about people reading the secrets of my heart etched on paper.  These journals would certainly curtail any canonization process, that is for certain!  If my great-grandchildren read them, they would be more convinced of my utter humanity and how foolishness pervades every generation.  But, I suppose, the writings could also encourage them and reveal parts of my necessary conversions.

I don’t have plans for now to start editing my journals or changing the way I write.  But if I happen to die soon, I caution anyone with the desire to crack open those journals and read them.  And as for those hypothetical great-grandchildren reading them, as I told my friends, at the rate I’m going, I don’t have to even think about meeting them unless we start living well into our hundreds.

The Gift of a Little Heart

There is a bit of my heart in everything I write.  It is how I express my heart.  Spoken words are never quite as useful for me, but if you give me some time (perhaps the most crucial element) and paper and pen (or a computer), I can describe (to an extent) the workings of this heart.

Writing allows me the chance to tidy the messiness of a heat that feels.  Too often I rail against my own heart, how the feelings it has do not line up with logic, how I cannot control where my heart is pulled, or how the heart has a power that the head finds difficult to contest.  When I write, I give my head the chance to make sense of this little heart.  I am able to wrap up some loose ends and to really consider what is occurring deep within.

Once upon a time, way back in college, I was on the verge of dating.  In the process of trying to understand my own heart, I wasn’t very good at letting this man know what the internal conflict was over.  He wrote me a letter to say that perhaps it was best if we didn’t date.  Although I didn’t like the contents of the letter, it gave me the freedom to respond in the way that is most natural for me: in writing.  After reading through my letter, a few pages long and filled with heartfelt attempts to give a brief glimpse into my inner chaos, he said that he was able to understand me better.  Apparently, what was going on inside of me wasn’t what he had thought from his outside perspective.  Granted, in any relationship you need to have the capability to sit down and have a conversation (one cannot always be stopping the conversation to pen a lovely piece of prose about what one actually wants to say), but it can be helpful to take a step back and write it out.

As self-centered as this may seem to be, this blog has always been about me.  Well, it is about Jesus, but it has always been for me.  I need to write out the workings of my heart.  I find solutions and solace when I can express myself in this way.  Yet I’m very protective of my writings, as though they are my little children.  I am detailing the movements of my heart in words that anyone with the correct web address can access.  I try not to think about it too much, but sometimes I will see where blog views come from and I wonder, what does that person in China/Russia/Germany think about this little heart way far away?  Does a heart that feels these same emotions beat within them, too?  Do they read a few lines and then scroll away, uninterested by a heart of such meanness?  (Ahem–meaning: “poor in quality and appearance; shabby“)

Yet while this blog started and continues to be for my own benefit, I am led to wonder if perhaps, like healing, the Lord is asking for it to be about you, too.  He has this interesting way of dealing with me.  The Lord knows I am slow, so slow.  He knows He must gently ease me into anything or else I will fall into a melancholic heap and pray for death (ask my parents about my first year of teaching).  Perhaps this is what He is doing in this situation, too.  He shows my heart how to express itself and then reminds me that it is not for me alone.  And who knows what He will do with that?  I don’t, but I am beginning to get used to the idea that my littleness might be useful when placed in the shadow of His greatness.  Because isn’t that what I’ve always wanted?  To somehow have a great mission even though I am little?  Perhaps He has a plan for all this littleness.

No.  Not perhaps.  He does.  

Maybe God will change the world through each of us by utilizing something within us that seems commonplace and ordinary, but can be fantastic and wonderful when in the light of His Majesty.

Perhaps all He ever wanted anyway was our littleness.  Our hearts scribbled on paper, unadorned by anything but the Truth.  A vulnerable, sincere gift of self.

“For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse; my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”  -Psalm 51