Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive


I want to thank everyone for their insightful and supportive comments, especially for the recommendations to read up on St. Frances of Rome (could there be a more perfect patron saint for my situation!) and to wait for God's time in finding a solution to my problem.

For a while now I've been praying that God will guide me, and He has. Through Scripture, through the words of the priest at daily Mass, through conversations with people, the insights on my friends' blogs and the inspiration of the Saints, He's spoken to me.

My son's Godparents, both good Catholics and close friends of mine, gave me The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of the Little Flower, which I've been reading off and on. (It's one of the books by my nursing chair, so it entirely depends how cooperative my youngest decides to be as to whether or not I get to read any of it each day.) So many things have struck me in her story, but foremost above all is the simple, faithful, all-encompassing love she had for God, even as a very young child. She wanted nothing so much as to love Him and serve Him. Loving Him and serving Him brought her joy.

That's how I feel about the poor. I have an inherent love for them within me that's been there since I was a child. I don't try to help the poor because I believe that it's good and right to do so (though it is,) or because God instructs us to care for those in need (though He does.) I do it because my love for the poor rises up and shakes me into action. I recognize this now as a gift. God wants me to serve the poor, of that I'm certain. He would not have put this drive in me for no purpose.

But the key is that I serve Him in the way HE wants, not the way I want. Some of you have touched on this in your comments to me, and I've really taken them to heart. I think it's telling that my gut reaction to Jen's idea of fundraising was "God no, NO! Anything but that." and to Anna's suggestion to step back was "But then my husband WINS."

This isn't the reaction of someone who's seeking to serve God and follow His will. It's the reaction of a hyper-controlling, uptight, Type-A personality. My way obviously isn't working right now, so I need to find a new way. God's way.

I read once that the Mongols (or perhaps the Huns?) were so successful in battle because they were taught to fight like water, finding cracks in the defense and working their way through bit by bit until they overcame. This image has been churning around in my head the past week or so. I feel like my desire to help the poor is the current of a river -- it's flowing intensely within me right now, urging me on. And I keep running up against the dam of my marriage. It's making me frustrated and swelling my resentment of my husband. The force of my drive to help is causing me harm.

And God is gently trying to redirect this river, opening up channels to provide relief and continue the flow of water to where it's needed. Am I really going to keep butting up against the dam when other avenues exist?

I've talked again with my husband about our money situation. We had the exact same circular argument we always have, just with different words. For him, it all comes down to our debt. For me, it all comes down to our choices. We can't work together unless we're on the same page, and he's made it quite clear that he can't change to meet me.

So I must take on his focus as my own.

I can commit myself to doing everything in my power to pay down our debt. I can forgo all things for myself, including pizza (woe!) and gifts. I can do my best to save money wherever and whenever I can, including on our grocery bills and clothes for the kids. After all, I'm doing all that stuff anyway. But instead of fighting my husband to send the money we "save" to the poor, I can turn it over to him for our debt.

In some ways, this is all semantics because I don't really have a choice as to what I do. I have to save money. I can't give money to the poor. So it seems almost self-delusional to now claim that I'm doing these things for God. But a true Christian spirit is to take the things God gives us and turn them back over to Him, to accept with love and grace the burdens He places on us and to carry them cheerfully for Him. I cannot change my situation, so I will instead change my attitude. What a beautiful gift for God -- my heart and will instead of my money!

The hardest part, and I still don't know how I'm going to handle this, is what I do when my husband makes a decision I completely disagree with. These don't come very often, thankfully. I'm blessed that my husband is even more frugal than I am and would never just go out and buy $20,000 of home entertainment equipment on a whim (yes, I do know someone who has done this.) But I can't force this commitment on him. If he wants to spend five hundred dollars traveling to our alma mater for a football game, my sacrifice is to say nothing to him about it and go on quietly working to save money on my own.

I feel this is where I'm really going to have problems. I'm not very good at letting things go. Or with trusting God. Or with patiently waiting. And the underlying marital disconnect is still there. I just need to find a way that it doesn't affect me as much. I think making this sacrifice will help. I'm doing it partly for my husband -- this debt is obviously very important to him. I'm doing it partly for the poor, in the hopes that once the debt is gone we can move towards a lifestyle that incorporates giving generously to charity. But I'm mostly doing it for God, in obedience to the path He's setting out for me.

It's here that I'm so inspired by the example of St. Frances of Rome. What she wanted most in life was to be a nun, yet she spent all but 4 years of her life carrying out the domestic tasks required of a noblewoman's wife. Through it all she found ways to serve God, often doing things she hated, like attending a party with her mother in law. Like it or not, this is my path. I can choose to go where God directs me, or stagnate and grow angry forcing my own way. I choose God's path.

I have a new mantra, in addition to the one I say to help me be a better mother ("Mary, my model, be with me and guide me.") It is "My all for you, my God." I hope the frequent repetition of it helps remind me that everything I'm doing is for Him and worthy of being done with joy.

Picture Credit

13 comments:

Meredith said...

I think this is a wise decision. I'll be saying a prayer for your peace as you focus on family stewardship.

After all, if we won't honor those closest to us, we're not honoring God--or the least of His people.

Anna said...

St. Frances is my patron saint (the one I chose at my confirmation).

I think you're doing the right thing.

Jennifer F. said...

What an inspiring post!!

Also, in my pain medication and sleep deprived haze, I neglected to give Adoro Te Devote the credit for introducing me to Frances of Rome. It's through her post that I had been reading up on her.

Your attitude is so inspiring! I hope that I can be more like you in my life and marriage.

Tienne said...

Jen,

That's funny, because I did a google search on St. Frances for more information and Adoro te Devote came right up. So in a way, I got the info from there, too. :)

Anna said...

There's a book called "Driven by the Spirit" by Daniel Stramara. It's a biography of St. Frances, but it turns her life into a series of reflections/devotions. I thought most of it was very good. (One or two "iffy" bits, but I ignored those).

Tienne said...

Anna -

Thanks for the info! It's a bit hard to find, isn't it? I'll have to search and see if any of the libraries around me can interlibrary loan it out.

Anna said...

Tienne,

Mmm. I didn't think of that. This offers a copy (I assume used) for $5.50 (plus $4.50 for shipping)? I liked the book, but I like a lot of books, so I don't know if there's necessarily a compelling reason to spend $10 for this particular book right now, instead of spending it on something else (the poor, your debt). Probably best to try the library thing first?

Tienne said...

Anna -

$10 is considerably better than the $30 they're charging for a used copy on Amazon or on biblio.com!

I'll have to pray on this and see. My library doesn't have it at all.

Thanks!

Roz said...

I hadn't read your latest post when I left my comment on your earlier one. It sounds like God's speaking and you're listening. Thank you for sharing your path. It helps me reflect on how he might want to use my current struggles, which are different from yours but with the same issues at the core, I'm sure -- being tender-hearted and pliable toward him and his will.

I also pray that God's greater work - bringing profound love, unity and mutual self-donation into your marriage - will grow and bring great blessings.

Anonymous said...

"But I can't force this commitment on him. If he wants to spend five hundred dollars traveling to our alma mater for a football game, my sacrifice is to say nothing to him about it and go on quietly working to save money on my own."

Here's what I don't understand. He can force his commitment on YOU - that is, saving to pay off his debts, but he still get free rein to spend as he pleases?
Also, if you're doing something that's important to him - addressing debt - then why is it completely off the table to do something for you (helping the poor?)
This is where I struggle w the whole family stewardship too, by the way. I don't get why one person always gets final say. I've found that if its a pattern, its a natural petri dish for resentment. Swallow it enough in the name of stewardship, and that grows into genuine anger.

Dawn Farias said...

Tienne -

Hi, I'm Dawn, I got here from Conversion Diary. I just wanted to say that this whole thing about wanting different things spiritually than our spouse does is so relevant for me. I've made many concessions over the last few years that would not look like much in the way of being spiritual but have indeed been made so that my husband and I could have peace on an issue.

Mainly, for us, it's the television and media. Like you, my compromise to have my kids encounter less media when my husband is not home and to allow him to make those decisions when he's home. Practically, this means that if dad's home then the tv and XBOX are on. I try to work a bit harder every day at keeping everything off until he is home. I can last until about 4 PM.

Also, I am always wondering if homeschooling is working for us. Jennifer pointed to a post of yours where you were wondering out loud about whether you'd homeschool next year.

Your thoughts are inspiring. Thank you.

Tienne said...

Anon- I know what you mean. It isn't at all fair, and it's a recipe for resentment for sure.

I think what's made the difference for me has been reframing the problem. Instead of "his way vs my way" or thinking "It's my turn now," I have changed to thinking, "How can I help him?" or "Is there a way to work within these parameters?"

It's not like he wastes money, for which I'm very grateful. He is a careful spender and we discuss big ticket items (like trips to see friends or new appliances) before we buy them. We still fight about money a lot, but I have seen great improvement in each of us respecting the other's position.

One final thing that's been instrumental in helping me find God's will is the old AA mantra: Lord, give me the courage to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I can't change my husband's attitude toward money, but I can change myself and my spending habits. I can also change the way I talk to him about it -- use more positive suggestions and follow-up questions rather than snide remarks and endless whining. That sort of thing has made all the difference.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest you consider reading the Diary of Elisabeth Leseur entitled My Spirit Rejoices the diary of a Christian Soul in an age of Christian unbelief. Her example of looking at every circumstance and turning it back to God has helped me in many of the struggles and challenges in my marriage.