Friday, March 20, 2009

Working towards humility

My Lenten observance this year is difficult to define and even more difficult to put into practice. I'm trying to give up attachment to my opinion. As with every sacrifice I make, it seems to underscore just how often I indulge myself.

At first I struggled with how to talk to people (family especially.) A conversation does not consist of one person sharing while the other makes noncommittal "listening noises." (Well, not real conversations anyway!) Nor can I simply phrase my opinion as a leading question, "Aren't you worried about the ethics of that course of action?" is just a fancy way of saying, "I don't think what you're doing is right." So I've been trying very hard to strike a balance that doesn't leave me nodding along or repeating whatever has just been said to me, but that lets the other person lead the conversation and elevates their thoughts above my own.

The exception to this comes in cases where matters of theology or virtue are at stake. I consider it my duty to voice my opinion to defend the Church, for instance, or provide a counter to the destructive viewpoints of the pro-choice, anti-God movements I encounter in my daily life. To be silent here, to fail to vigorously defend the position of Truth, is a missed opportunity to draw others into deeper reflection of the issues. But since it's not really my opinion (it is the Truth) I feel confident God does not want me to refrain from sharing.

I feel that God has been speaking to me lately, though, and saying something that I don't like to hear. "Your way is not My way." I feel a bit like Peter must have when he protested that Jesus could never fall into the hands of His enemies, and Christ rebukes him with "Get behind me, Satan!" I remember when my sister was in college and we were on the phone together, at one point in the conversation she interrupted me and said, "I don't need to you defend me to mom and dad. I can speak my own mind." As an older sister, I had been interfering and attempting to protect her from getting into trouble. But she was telling me that doing so was actually harming her, because instead of viewing her as a unique person with the ability to make her own choices and express herself, I was relegating her to the position of a small child that had no individual autonomy.

Lesson learned. I didn't defend her again, and she has proven herself to be quite a different person, one who has the courage of her own convictions and is proud of the way she lives her life.

There's something of the same feeling within me as I'm listening to God, and a strong confusion as to how I change. I am an interfering busybody. Period. I have always been this way. It stems from my desire to be helpful, but what it actually is is a form of narcissism. I can do it best, these people need me, I have to wade in and solve this problem. If only they would just listen to the wisdom I have to share, things would be so much better.

It's precisely this quality that annoys me in other people, and yet I am now very clearly seeing that I do it, too. (Isn't that what they say, that you dislike the qualities in other people that remind you of yourself?) It's the reason why I chose silence as my Lenten sacrifice, because the hardest thing in the world for me to do is NOT speak when I have something to say.

It's really coming home to me in a major way right now, because my parents' marriage is completely falling apart. Communication is nonexistent, people are talking about the D-word, lawyers are being consulted and finances are being split.

My brain is screaming at me to get my parents on the phone and tell them exactly what I think they need to do to save their marriage. I would say it lovingly, of course. My brain really and truly thinks this is a good idea, because they "needs to hear it."

My heart and my Lenten promise say otherwise. In speaking with friends about the issue, their wisdom is shining through: this is not my place, this is not my fight. My parents are autonomous adults who must come to their own decisions.

I am about to get on a plane and spend a week there with the kids. I cannot convey to you the fear and dread that is upon me at the thought. I am weak. Weak weak weak weak weak and undisciplined. I know I am entirely ill-equipped for this challenge God has placed before me. And that is the crux of humility. I must acknowledge that I cannot do this. Only God can do this within me.

I want to fulfill my Lenten promise. And even more, I want to grow in humility, recognizing that my thoughts do not need to be shared and that my role in life is not mediatrix extraordinaire. God does not need me to fix my parents marriage. If God is going to heal my parents marriage, He will do it without me. He will certainly have an easier time of it if I refrain from insulting my parents by forcing my opinion upon them.

It will not be easy for me to stay uninvolved. In fact, it may be impossible. My open, honest, European parents hide nothing from me. Nor have I ever been able to hide anything from their direct and deliberate questions.

I have been praying for them every day. I need to be praying for myself as well: praying that I will be humble and small, quiet and noninterfering, that I will allow God to do His own work. If anything, I think He wants me to love my parents, to show Christ's acceptance of the sinner rather than His judgment. I'm certainly not qualified to judge, anyway, with my own list of sins a mile long.

Please pray for me, and for my family.

4 comments:

Zina said...

Of course I will pray for you and your family. Sounds so hard to be stuck in the middle of two strong-willed parents. My parents used to do that to me and my sister, but as I got older I would just shrug or try to say something positive about the person being attacked. Then of course one of them would sometimes turn on me out of anger or frustration, but what can you do?

I admire your self-reflection. You have inspired me to write about my own Lenten stuff, but the question is do I have time to do it...

fumblingtowardgrace said...

What a challenge you have set for yourself with this Lenten goal. I will pray for you, for strength for your journey, and for your parents who are struggling.

I enjoy your blog very much, and have been challenged to examine my own "advice" that is often unsolicited.

God Bless!

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