It became very clear to me recently (last week’s column) that for whatever reason, I hold good behavior in Mass as a pinnacle of parenting achievement. If your kids are sitting still through church each week, you have arrived.
Which explains, I’m embarrassed to admit, the feelings I have toward those beautiful families whose small children sit still in Mass. They are perfect and I must fight envy in my heart.
But after last week’s column, I got a call from the gracious and lovely mother of that cute little family of perfectly behaved children. She’s a friend of mine and when I warned her that I’d written about them (i.e. please don’t think I hate you) she was quick to point out that while she was grateful for her children’s good behavior, I knew their family still had its flaws, right?
I mean, I guess so? Because for me, in my moment of frustration, the thing I was holding in such high esteem was all I could think about. And those people who had achieved this thing must not have any other care in this world.
It’s ridiculous, of course. The minute you are on the receiving end of someone’s admiration, you are at once grateful but also a little intrigued. The times I’ve been singled out for success in one area of family life, I’m always (I’m sad to report) quick to point out the 57 other areas where I know I’m struggling. I appreciate the compliment but I never want anyone to feel bad about themselves because of our success.
“Be kind,” goes the famous saying, “for everyone is fighting a great battle.”
But we can’t always see that battle, because we’re focusing on something else entirely. For me, in my own desire to have perfectly behaved little children at Mass, that’s all I see. I don’t stop to consider these people might struggle in some other area, something that for me and my family comes quite naturally indeed.
The truth is, I don’t need to be thinking about it. It’s not my job to look around and figure out who struggles with what. When I’m in a good place, when I spending time in prayer and relying in Jesus for my inner peace and joy, what I’m able to do is rejoice for the people around me. I look at these well-behaved children and instead of thinking “oh yea, well I bet they don’t…(insert behavior here),” the ideal is that I rejoice with them in their victory and let it go from there.
The truth is every family — every individual — has their own unique set of victories and challenges. And the key to a happy life is keeping our eyes on our own paper. For me, as a person who tends to analyze (just a little), I do best when I focus on the areas Paul and I can do better. That’s it, without letting other people’s victories in that area threaten me.
Everyone is fighting a great battle.
I let it go, and then rejoice in all the goodness God has given me. I work to find joy in my own life, with Paul and our children, without allowing my gaze to wander into comparison.
And here’s the really great news: what God loves best about you is that you are YOU. Not that you are the best at sitting still in Mass or that you have the holiest children. Or that your child is a really fast swimmer or that your husband goes to daily Mass. Those are all wonderful things and God rejoices with us in our victories. But what he really loves is just us, who we are at the core. Who YOU are at your core.
God rejoices in you, in who he made you to be, because there is no one else in this universe who is you. It’s not about what we do; it’s who we are. God made us. What a beautiful gift to be His.
This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.