|Blowing out the roses.|
"It's been an unpredictable road," he said. And then he added a brief word of congratulations before we all lifted our champagne glasses and continued savoring the authentic Roman millefoglie cake on our plates.
I liked that. Not just because it was true (who thought I'd be consecrated in Regnum Christi for ten years and then marry a Mexican and move to Xalapa?) but because one of my secret hopes for my life has always been that it will surprise me. I don't want to control everything in my life, and I think that those who try to are missing out and stressing themselves unnecessarily. Surprise is the spice of life; it's the kick, like a Jalapeño pepper.
Of course, one of the ironies of my life is that with this thirst to travel, this desire for adventure and the unpredictable and uncontrolled, I ended up living ten years of my life mostly in Rhode Island, under the watchful eye of control freaks. Well... shucks. I suppose I learned some things that were helpful.
But I also learned something that never worked for me. It's this whole idea of planning and measuring your spiritual progress: making a "program of life," checking off resolutions in a leatherbound agenda (can't live without that agenda!), analyzing your progress in biweekly spiritual direction, lamenting your lack of progress in confession, resolving to do better in morning meditation, being prodded and exhorted and pushed toward further progress in Sunday talks, homilies, directives, classes, Encounters with Christ, and even song practice. (Pant, pant...)
The problem with planning and analyzing spiritual progress is that you end up living your spiritual life as a self-perfection program. It's all about me. My progress. My failures. My spiritual "physiognomy" (Do I look good yet? How about now?). Me, me, me.
Who needs it?
I know Socrates said the unexamined life isn't worth living, and St. Paul himself said that the fool looks at himself in the mirror and forgets what he looks like. Self-awareness is good. Okay. But the man who looks incessantly at himself in the mirror is a fool of another kind. And when all that talking and measuring and analyzing and examining outweighs the art of living-- as it did for me during those 10 years-- it becomes counterproductive.
So here's my new philosophy of the spiritual life:
Live. Just live the surprises of each day like a batter poised on home base, waiting for that next pitch so he can rocket it out into the stadium and tear up the dirt on his way around the diamond. Each day has its toil, Jesus said. So true! But it isn't a bitter drudgery. It's a sweet, surprising kind of toil. It's just love in action; it's like planting seeds that you know will bear wonderful fruits.
I have a husband and a baby daughter. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that today's mission is to love both of them with all my heart and to give the best of myself to both of them every day. It's a simple mandate, and I just try to respond to each day as it comes. I don't plan out a strategy every day or measure how I did at night. I just live, and when inspirations or ideas come about things to do for them or ways to respond or initiate, I try to follow them. I'm not following a plan on paper; I'm listening to my heart. The marching orders are hidden within the shape of events as they unfold.
Pouring my love and my heart into these two people is what I sense God is asking of me right now. I have the certainty that the love I give them is helping to build something great: a strong marriage, a happy family, a little girl who is secure in the knowledge that her mommy and daddy love each other and love her with all their hearts.
In one of his books, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the fruits that endure are souls. For me, this is my vocation and mission: to create something greater than my own self-perfection: to create a society of love, a refuge of harmony and joy, a place of peace, a family modeled after the Holy Family.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph certainly didn't try to plan and control their own spiritual progress. They just lived each moment that Providence sent them, giving their best and responding with faith and love. There was no five-year plan. There was just today. And today. And today. There were days when "today" was dark and excruciatingly painful. But they were ready for those days because they gave their all today.
That's how I want to live, too. Not controlling, just surrendering.