Historically, I have struggled when the young people in my care make poor choices. I have tended to take their decisions personally, and to see those moments as a failure on my part, thinking that their choices reflect badly on me.
As a parent, this has caused me to turn inward on myself, ruminating on how I am failing my kids and students, because, obviously, if I weren’t, they would be perfect little saints.
Even writing that sentence, I have to smile. Because removed from the heat of the moment, I can see how silly it is to think that. But in the moment itself, that is exactly the kind of thinking I have tended to engage in. If my children or students choose poorly, then, to me, that means I am somehow failing as a parent or teacher.
However, in doing this, I make my place in the grand scheme of things distorted, larger than life, out of proportion. As if me doing everything right (an impossible task) will somehow result in the people in my care doing everything right as well.
When I set myself back down in my proper place amongst the bigger picture, and zoom out even a little bit, I can gain a better perspective.
For example, it isn’t God’s fault that we choose to sin. It isn’t a bad reflection on God, and it doesn’t mean that God is anything less than a good, good Father to us.
In fact, our ability to choose is a reflection of His goodness to us.
Those opportunities to choose—even if we choose wrongly, are chances to learn and carve away those parts of ourselves that are not yet fully conformed to love. It allows us to choose love in the first place. We need to see the difference between where we are now and where we have the potential to be so we know how to orient ourselves moving forward. Our failures are a beautiful opportunity to learn and to move closer to Him.
The same applies to me and my relationships with my children and students. As a person entrusted with young people both in my home and in my classroom, I am learning to view these opportunities as a gift. When they make poor choices, I can get a good look at areas where my children and students have an opportunity to grow in character and holiness. And I have the honor of helping to guide them on that path.
Those moments have, in some ways, very little to do with me at all, other than the fact that they are opportunities for me to step up in my role as one who guides young people, and to help them turn back to love. To grow their virtue muscles. To help them see the difference between who they are today and who they can be, and to spur them forward. To encourage them. To help light the way.
When I view things like that, I put myself in my proper place. I put their choices in their proper place. And I can even rejoice at this thing called Free Will, and the opportunity it offers us to be sanctified throughout our lives so, when the time comes, we will be ready to meet God, Love itself, with arms wide open.
And so, in the end, it isn’t a poor reflection on me when the youth in my care make the wrong choice. In fact, it is an honor to be present, and to be ever at the ready to help.
I think how we raise our kids in the faith is likely formed, at least to some extent, by how we were raised in our own. If we had a good experience that developed a rich faith life, or if we encountered struggles or poor examples or formation in some way still lingers in our minds and in our hearts.
There are moms who do an amazing job at liturgical living, or who are faithfully and frequently found with rosary beads in their hands. Moms who take their kids to Adoration often, to Confession often. Moms who homeschool and love it.
Since converting to Catholicism in 2016, I have tried on many different Catholic-mom hats. We do love celebrating liturgical days and feasts, but not all of them. We do love praying the Rosary, but it’s not my most frequent devotion. We love going to family Adoration, and would love to do that more often than we have. There were many parts about homeschooling that I loved, but in January of this year we enrolled our kids at a local Catholic school and I am beginning work there as a teacher. That particular move has been better for our family in many ways.
At first, I think I felt like I wasn’t a complete Catholic mom, in some ways, because I didn’t fit neatly into one of the boxes I had created in my mind about what a Catholic mom should be. But over this past year, that has changed. I am realizing that Catholic moms come in as wide a variety as the women who embody that name.
And, for me, I have come to accept that the thing that I lean most into as a Catholic mom is encouraging my kids to think deeply about the faith, to ask good, rich questions, and then to walk them down a path of knowing that there are deep, good, rich answers to be found. I also want them to love the liturgy, to see the beauty in ritual and tradition, and to know that we are connected profoundly to the Christians who have come before us.
This is likely formed by my childhood growing up in a fundamentalist-leaning but also somehow charismatic evangelical church. I was taught that faith and science are sometimes at odds with each other. I didn’t know there was depth to be found past the basic tenets of the Gospel, and when I became an adult my despair that there may not be deep answers to be found lead me towards agnosticism.
My husband had similar experiences within the Catholic Church, where he grew up knowing the rules but not understanding why they were there.
So, together, it has become very important for us to let our kids ask questions, to explain the whys of our faith, and then to hope and to trust that when they go off on their own some years from now, that they will find they have a firm foundation to stand on. My prayer is that they will feel safe at home.
I am the It’s okay to wonder and ask deep questions kind of Catholic mom, along with a sprinkling of the other kinds too. And that’s one of the beautiful things about our faith: that rich diversity is what makes the Church. God has given us each unique passions and gifts and calls, and we can all be ourselves fully within our Catholic home.
As someone who is a wife, mom of four, and who also writes books for children, I get asked a lot how I “do it all.”
And on the surface, I do a lot of different things, wear a lot of different hats. However, I don’t do it all, and I don’t do everything all the time. There are ebbs and flows to this season of life. Times where I must lean into one thing and lean away from the other. As I’m writing this, my kids are running around the house with a frantic energy that will likely lead to tears from someone any moment. But I do think that it’s important for us to talk about how much is possible as a mother, especially if you love being a mom and also have big dreams of some kind—whether they be creative, or business related, or both.
There’s this idea in our culture that babies and dreams are two separate entities entirely. You can be a mom, or you can pursue your passions. There’s the notion that we must set our dreams aside during the years that we are raising little people. While there is a need to be flexible, and to make space for flexibility that raising kids requires, I’ve found it more than possible to have a family and pursue my dreams.
And I think you can too.
My experience has also been one of exuberant support. My husband helps me troubleshoot and make space for the more intense periods of work that come with deadlines and revisions. We’ve adjusted work schedules, negotiating babysitting and help cleaning the house. There were times, before I ever knew I’d make any money selling my books, where we just found ways to fit writing time in, even if it meant a quick trip to a coffee shop in the evening. I’ve written from the driver’s seat of my minivan, and I’ve written while pizza cooked in the oven. My work right now is not often luxurious, and my time is not plentiful. But it is life-giving for my soul to be able to lean into this passion at this stage of life.
I’ve learned that when I’m not able to pursue writing in any way, when weeks go by without any filled pages, that my cup is empty, and I’m not as good for my family as I am when my creative well is full. When I write, I lose track of time, lost in magical worlds and the journeys my characters undertake. When I write, I feel like I’m doing one of the things I was made to do. Kind of like how I feel when reading my kids a bedtime story, or watching them learn about and lean into the things they love. They are both a part of who I was made to be, and I feel closer to God in both my roles as a mother and an author.
If anything, pursuing my dream while I have kids at home has pushed me to do my absolute best. I know my children are watching, and I want to make them proud.
Over the past few years, I’ve often drawn inspiration from St. Zélie, mother to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She and her husband Louis were canonized together, and in that they represent for me an example of a strong, supportive marriage. Zélie raised holy children, and in that is an example to me of motherhood. She also owned her own lace business, and in that she is an example to me of a woman contributing to her family and doing the thing that she loved.
For anyone who has big dreams but has been too nervous to pursue them, or for anyone who is going after their dream with kids at home, please know you are not alone. It took me ten years before I got brave enough to even try, to even acknowledge that this is part of what I was created to contribute to this world. Your work has value, just as your motherhood has value. The messages about some sort of inherent contradiction between babies and dreams are a lie.
And while it isn’t always easy, at least for me, it’s certainly been worth it.
A few days a week, I get to a point where I ask (usually in exasperation): “Why can’t I even just finish a single thought?!”
It’s often after hours of homeschooling the kids, trying to place online grocery pick up, folding a basket of laundry, sending a few emails, feeding the children, in a flurry that often feels like a juggling act in a domestic circus. I will freely admit that I sometimes don’t juggle very well. I stare at a few pieces of laundry, sitting folded on the couch nearly all day while the rest of the basket sits untouched. An email languishes, half-composed in my inbox. I’m still in my pajamas at lunchtime because I waited, ever so naively, for a peaceful moment to sneak away.
My brain is even more fragmented than the physical world around me. Four kids at four different developmental stages all ask me different questions and need different things on a near-constant rotation. Someone could scream at any time, or excitedly slam a door, or hurt themselves and need my support.
Once, last month, after planning a very nice Advent activity that got interrupted about five bajillion times, I asked, in front of my children, “Why do I even bother?”
The answer came only seconds later, and I’m glad I ended up saying both the question and the answer out loud.
And the answer was this: “Because I love you. That’s why I bother.”
We all had a moment of exhale after that, and we kept forging on, as we always do.
Sometimes the interruption is to show me something they’re proud of.
Sometimes it’s to ask about something they’re curious about.
Sometimes it’s because they need help with something.
To be sure, not all interruptions even have the potential of being pleasant. A tattle, a fight born out of selfishness, those are the really tough ones for me. How can we just finish talking about being loving and then go off and do selfish things? But even those, no matter how much my heart pinches when I see it, are chances for me to help my kids (and myself) turn back to love.
I’m not very good at accepting interruptions, at least not at the frequency I receive them these days. I like to start tasks and finish them, but the truth is, many of the tasks my kids interrupt aren’t truly emergencies. They aren’t things that are vital for me to complete in any given moment. Truly, sometimes the most important thing is closing my laptop and leaving that email unfinished so I can look at my son’s newest Lego build, or my daughter’s picture. It’s just not always easy, in the moment of the interruption itself, to see it.
I think back over 2,000 years ago when God made what could probably be considered the biggest interruption of all. He literally interrupted time with Himself incarnate. Some people were ready for the interruption, and accepted it gladly. For others, it took a while. For still others, it was hard to accept it at all, and still is to this day. But that great interruption paved the way for humanity to be restored in union with God, through the person of Jesus.
I’m so, so glad, even with all the varied spectrum of reception, that God bothered. And He bothered because He loves us. I hope my kids continue to bother too, because I want to see their creations. I want to hear their hearts. I want to put band-aids on their wounds. I want to keep trying to do cool things with them, even if it doesn’t go as smoothly as I hoped.
Interruptions can be good. And, at least once, a great interruption saved us all.
May we all strive to look a bit more kindly on interruptions this new year, as there are sure to be plenty. May we see the opportunity hidden inside them, and learn to let go of ourselves and lean into what they might have to teach us.
While spending time with my husband and brother recently, I said: “I don’t know if either of you know this, but I can sometimes be a bit rigid.” They laughed, because it’s true. I laughed, because it’s true. It was a good, lighthearted moment.
But now, a few days later, when reflecting on that rare time spent together (my brother lives several states away and was with us for a brief visit), I realize that even my ability to say that, and then to laugh about it, is actually a marker of a significant amount of growth over the past couple of years.
Some of the pieces of my past have led me to tend toward wanting to control as many variables as possible in my life. Things not going according to plan used to have the ability to send me into a spiral of anxiety. I’ve been doing a lot of work to dig deep into these things in order to not pass them along to my children.
I used to measure success by how many things I accomplished on my to-do list, and whether the kids and I got everything done by sticking to my self-imposed schedule.
Emphasizing the Wrong Things
I’ve been learning, sometimes through fire, that all those things, like getting tasks accomplished when I hoped, or even getting everything done at all, puts an overemphasis on the things of this world, including time, productivity, and what I perceive to be ‘good’ behavior from my kids. I was in danger of sometimes falling into the trap of thinking “My kids are well behaved, so I must be doing a good job as a mom.”
It didn’t leave a lot of room for flexibility, or mistakes, or, the most important of all, all of our journeys to, hopefully, sainthood.
My ultimate goal as a mother is to help my children grow into the people God created them to be. To become the saint God intends them to be.
So I’ve been working very hard to flip my normal tendencies on their head. How about, instead of seeing a conflict between the kids as some kind of failure, I see it as an opportunity to teach them how to apologize, forgive, and then make amends. To take a moment of sin or selfishness and support them in facing it head on and doing the hard work to overcome it.
Sticking to a schedule or having everything go exactly according to plan is of such small importance compared to their souls.
A New Way to Measure Success
At the end of the day, I’m working toward measuring success in an entirely different way than I have in the past. Instead of asking if everything went according to my plan, I’m trying a new question.
And that question is this: “Did I support my children in their journey toward becoming the people God created them to be?”
Even if the kids fought every ten minutes. Even if the kitchen is a mess. Even if we only got math done and nothing else for homeschool. Even if I’m exhausted. I want to see my kids in heaven. I want them to go off into the world one day loving God and seeking Him all the days of their lives. That is, unequivocally, the most important thing.
There are so many messages bombarding us mothers these days about what “good” motherhood looks like. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of comparing, of pushing to do more, of measuring up to some standard of success someone else has set for us or that we’ve set for ourselves.
If anyone else struggles with rigidity, or the great tendency to view the immediate moment as the most important thing, please know you aren’t alone. It’s hard, when we’re in this skin and inside of time, to maintain a view of the eternal.
Even Saint Zélie, mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, had bad days. In one of her letters, she writes: “Oh well, that’s the day so far, and it’s still only noon. If this continues I will be dead by this evening! You see, at the moment, life seems so heavy for me to bear, and I don’t have the courage because everything looks black to me.”
But she also said this: “For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.” And she did raise her children for heaven.
That is success as a parent. That is the ultimate goal. May we ask God for the grace to see each and every day in light of the eternal, and do the same.
I started homeschooling our school-aged children in March, 2020. I know I am not alone in this timing, though we had planned to start homeschooling in the fall, so I had a bit of a jump on researching curriculum and thinking through what this shift might look like for our family.
I also have a background as an elementary school teacher. I have strong opinions on instructional strategies, and the ways that kids learn best, and I trusted that would serve me well in teaching my own students. It certainly helped me to have confidence in the tools we were using and how I supported the structured learning now going on in our home. But what I didn’t expect was how my background as a teacher would add some struggle and stress into what I hoped would be a (generally) peaceful, enriching time with my kids.
Pressures from the Past
Most of my teaching was done in schools where standardized test-taking was emphasized, partly due to school ratings and funding tied into scores. Most of my students were coming into my classroom “behind,” according to those tests. There was a lot of pressure to catch my students up, and have them make about a year and a half’s progress during their time in my classroom. This had many side effects for me as a teacher and impacted the environment my students were expected to learn in. Some of these I counterbalanced well in order to provide my students with a place where they felt safe to explore and make mistakes and remember to love learning. But as a teacher, under the surface, I felt a lot of anxiety and pressure and like I was climbing a steep mountain without a harness or a rope.
Unfortunately, this carried over into my first year of homeschooling. If we were a bit off-pace for the day, or if the toddler just wasn’t having it, I felt pressure to still somehow “get it all done.” Sometimes that stress rubbed off on my kids. I remember reminding myself, many times, that we weren’t behind, and that one of the reasons, among many, that I chose to homeschool was the flexibility in pacing that it offered. I also remember failing to act as though any of those things were true, and many moments where I didn’t serve my kids or their learning as well as I could due to the anxiety that I carried.
Love Them Well
After going year-round since we started, minus extended breaks for vacations or holidays, we took our first big break from school during July and part of August. As we’re gearing up to start again, I’ve taken some time to think about the goals I have for our technical “second year” of the homeschooling life.
Turns out, I could only come up with one. One single goal that I hope will frame my decisions as my children’s mother and teacher, and move us closer to the homeschooling life I hope to have.
And the goal is this: to “Love them well.”
If my kids can begin and end each homeschool day knowing I love them, and if I can remember that teaching them love is the most important thing, then I think all the academic stuff will turn out okay. If school takes a bit longer than usual, or if our 2-year old makes progress a bit tricky, we can navigate that through the lens of love. If a concept is difficult for someone and it means one lesson takes two days, that’s fine. We can navigate that through the lens of love. I don’t expect that I’ll all of a sudden become the perfect homeschooling parent, but I know this will help us smooth some of the bumps we faced getting started, and I’m looking forward to viewing our days through this goal.
It’s been tough to break some of the pressures and anxieties of being a classroom teacher in a struggling school, and it makes me sad to think that I probably hid that pressure better from my students than I sometimes do from my own children. But love has conquered so many worse things than this, and God, the ultimate source of love, can help me slow down, see what my kids need in the moment, and give them that grace and room to breathe, or for things to come up, or for us to just have an off-day and come out of it unscathed.
I’m going to write this goal down and remind myself of it often, and see what happens after framing our homeschool life like this after a while as I work to let go of the stressors of the past and focus in on the sweet children right before me now.
Whether you homeschool, or if your kids go to school elsewhere, I’d love to know what your goals are for the upcoming school year!
Well, I lost my patience. Again. The kids were absorbed in playing a game and forgot to take our puppy out. Then he went to the bathroom on the floor. As the lone adult in the house for nine hours each day, I know I should be able to be the mature one and maintain my calm, but sometimes I fail. I take in a slow deep breath and prepare to make amends, feeling as shattered as my kids’ hearts at my sudden harshness.
I loaded the dishwasher as fast as I could while my youngest screamed for more candy. I had already given her the chocolate chips as a distraction so I’d have time to finish this one chore. But I got distracted by another kid asking a question and by the time I got back to it, the tot was screaming and holding an empty bowl up to me in chocolate smudged hands. Completely overstimulated, my hands start shaking and I’m not quite sure how I’ll get it all done.
Sometimes, I yearn for quiet. Not a stolen moment here or there, but quiet I can count on. I want to be left alone long enough to take a long shower, or read a full chapter of a book, or think a single complete thought without interruption. In and of itself that isn’t bad, but the surge of guilt I feel over even having those feelings becomes its own kind of failing, too.
Often, in the middle of all these failures, I’m completely overwhelmed by the fact that there are four tiny souls in my care and it’s a huge part of my work on this earth to help them get to heaven. I know that I want better for them. I know they deserve better. I look at pictures of our Holy Mother and feel so far from being like her that I have to turn away.
What Do We Do When We Feel Like We’re Failing?
When my book came out, I would hyper-focus on negative reviews and dismiss the good ones, even though there are so many more good reviews than bad! It became necessary for me to stop reading reviews as a whole so I could keep a healthy balance as I wrote the next things. If only I could stop reading my successes and failures in the same way and live in some mythical land of neutral ignorance.
But we can’t just avoid our weakness or our triumphs in some assumed ignorant bliss — we have to live them all. And we have to reckon with what they mean.
So, what do we do when we feel like we’re failing?
To start, my many failures make it abundantly clear that I’m not a saint yet. I sin, I am flawed, parts of me are broken. I’m not fully the person God made me with the potential to be.
I think we can do two things once we have that realization. We can think that we never can be saints, that sainthood is reserved for the Mother Marys, and Thérèses, and Lucys, and that we’ll never quite make the cut.
I like to think that most days, when the dust settles, I look toward an option two. Option two is the voice that tells me there have been many quiet saints made of mothers throughout time, most of whom we’ve never even heard of. It tells me that this calling can purify me and build me into an example of holiness for my sake and the sake of my children. It’s the option that tells me I’m not a saint yet.
My kids see me struggle. They see me kneel down and ask for forgiveness for being impatient, or raising my voice, or assuming the worst.
Perhaps one of the most important things is that my children see me not give up. They need to see me go to Confession, they need to see me say I’m sorry and work to make amends. They need to see me practicing the faith and receiving the Sacraments and working every day to open myself up more to Grace.
Because, when all is said and done, they’ll have their own paths to sanctification. Maybe it will be smooth sailing and Grace will flow in them and through them from an early age, filling them to the brim. But maybe it will be more of a rocky road.
And if their path includes stumbling and picking themselves up, over and over, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember their mom struggled and never gave up, too.
So, to all the moms who feel like a failure. Let’s keep going. Let’s show repentance and penance and let’s show redemption. Let’s let our children see us lean into our faith when we struggle. Most saints are made, not born that way.
Our little future saints need examples to follow, not only in the great saints of the Church. They also need to see it inside the walls of their home. God has been so faithful to convert so many hearts, I have to trust that he can take what mine has to offer and mold it into something beautiful and fruitful, too.
The other night, JP and I were doing something that required us to leave the house, and, since leaving the house is a special occasion these days, I decided to put on a bit of make-up, which hasn’t happened, I don’t think, since maybe Thanksgiving? I heard a speaker once talk about how long make-up lasts and I realize now that everything I put on my face that night was probably expired and I’ll likely be breaking out in a rash at any moment…but it’s hard to justify buying new make-up when you only wear it a few times a year!
Anyway. Felicity came into the bathroom where I was finishing up. I thought she’d be like “wow mom you look so pretty.” Or “wow mom you look so fancy!” Instead, she crinkled up her nose and said “why do you have so much make-up on your face?”
This, my friends, was an interesting moment. I’ve worked very hard to teach my children that the way God made us is good. And that it’s okay for us to express ourselves with color or fashion. But that we shouldn’t use those things because we feel like who we are isn’t good enough, they should just be for fun.
I grew up with a mom who was coming into her own in the 1980’s, so I saw her wear pretty heavy make-up every day, and touch it up often before we went anywhere. I’ve always had a bit of a different relationship with make-up than that, but one side-effect of the pandemic for me has been that I pretty much stopped using make up at all. I had reduced my usage significantly over the past several years, especially during my pregnancies when I just didn’t feel good enough to do anything ‘extra’ at all. But when Covid hit, it made it easier for me to think about the role I wanted make-up to play in my life as a whole. I also started using the Curly Girl method (albeit loosely) for my hair, and have been enjoying embracing my natural waves!
But back to make-up, from a cultural perspective, I think it’s interesting that women in America often ‘paint’ their faces when they go out in public. Just the general routine of that is interesting to think about, especially when men don’t wear make-up at all. Though, if we lived in a different country in a different century, wealthy men would have worn make-up out in public all the time! I’ve also had conversations with people who thought they should be perfectly put together for their husbands each day, and that put together meant doing their hair and make-up fully. That’s always felt a bit odd to me because I feel like somewhere in there is the assumption that there’s something wrong with my normal face and hair.
In the end, I just told Felicity that I felt like adding some color, but that it honestly felt a bit weird for me, too! She said she likes my non-make up face because that feels more like her mom’s face. Her warm, snuggly mom that she sees every day. And, oh my heart. The face she sees reading her a bedtime story, or cooking dinner, or teaching her math, is just my straight up normal face. And she loves it. And that’s super cool.
I don’t do it perfectly, but I’m working hard on loving myself as I am, so my children grow up loving themselves as they are, too.
So here’s me. And my normal face. 🙂
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I’ve had a presence problem for a long time. Even before the strange and troubling events of this past year, I’ve been very good at being distracted. At spending a lot of my attention listening to the running commentary inside my head.
I need to do this. I didn’t do that. What if this happens. What if this big risk I’m taking fails. What if I fail as a parent. My house is a mess. How is there possibly a mountain of laundry already. Why can’t the kids put anything away. Will I ever stop doing the dishes. I am always doing the dishes. Did someone just sniffle? Did we catch something at church because that’s the only place we’ve been going. What’s for dinner when do I need to put dinner in I think I need chocolate oh no the kids ate all my chocolate.
Exhausing, right?! Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t, but I felt like my brain was on one constant speed-like I was driving with the windows down on the highway all the time.
I’m a planner by nature. I like to mitigate risks and maximize efficiency. It’s taken me five months, but I finally finished reading a book that has actualy helped me to slow down, make room for all my worries and feelings, and be more present in the moment. It helped a lot when my debut was launching, and has helped even more in the day-to-day life since!
I love how the book is written in a linear, easy to follow and understand format. It has exercises you can do throughout. And I was able to take it in bite-sized pieces over time, which helps when you are juggling many things and balancing many plates.
There are three areas where I’ve found it’s been most helpful:
1- The running commentary in my head. I’m doing a better job at making room and accepting uncomfortable feelings. This leaves me more space to be present in the moment with my kids. To catch Zelie in a playful mood and play a silly game by the stairs. To color with Mary. To notice the concentration on August’s as he learns to draw his favorite super hero from a tutorial. To catch how Felicity’s hair falls over her cheek as she’s mixing batter for cookies. My commentary is still there, and still loud often, but I’m noticing more moments in my life and am less distracted.
2- I learned that avoiding bad feelings at all costs isn’t actually a healthy goal. A lot of self-help books seem super focused on being positive and eliminating bad feelings. This book did the opposite. It made sense for me to learn to accept that life will come with negative thoughts and feelings, but that I don’t have to place judgment on them, or even try to avoid them. I can accept them for what they are- negative thoughts. They don’t have to have any more value or worth than any of the other thoughts inside my head. Their existence doesn’t make them true or not true. And I can make decisions that align with my values no matter what my thoughts are thinking.
3- Creating a life I value. As I read the book, I realized I had done some important things to create a life that aligns with my deep values already. I was willing to take on a lot of discomfort to make it through four pregnanacies, and also to pursue the scary unknown of writing a book. But I honed in more on the specific things that I deeply value, and have worked on aligning more decisions with those vs. making decisions by default or because of fear. One of the big consequences of that has been that I’ve reduced my presence on social media. I still have a FB page for this website and for being an author. But I deactivated my personal account. So far, that’s been a healthy choice for me.
If you find yourself listening to the running commentary in your own mind, struggling with negative thoughts or worries or fears, if you are feeling like your life is somehow a mismatch for the things you feel are truly important, this might be a good resource to check out! I have a long way to go, and this is something that’s a life-long process, but it’s definitely helped this constantly-thinking momma, and I think it could be helpful to others too!
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I love having conversations with the kids about our Catholic faith. Their insights and questions astound me and amaze me time and time again, and it’s such an honor and a privilege to engage with them.
Recently, while doing a short follow-up at bedtime to our most recent faith formation lesson, in which our six-year-old son learned about original sin and the fall of man, he asked a simple, yet profound question:
“Why didn’t God just take away the tree?”
The tree, of course, that he’s referring to, is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as described in Genesis. His sweet reasoning was that if God had just taken away the tree, then Adam and Eve would never have sinned, and humanity would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble.
I realized very quickly that my son was really asking a much, much bigger question than he even realized at the time.
How do we even read the story of The Fall anyway?
I’ll pause here a moment to share my own journey with the book of Genesis. I was raised Protestant, and was taught to believe the Bible was both historically and literally true in all its components. That sort of thinking made it hard for me to reconcile certain parts of the Bible, like the two seemingly-conflicting accounts of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. As I came into adulthood, it caused me to struggle to see the Bible as something more than a book of children’s stories. And, in the end, that type of firm adherence to literal interpretation across the board, was one of the many reasons I became Catholic.
There’s a great video here by Fr. Mike Schmitz that helps explain how the Bible is meant to be read, emphasizing the fact that the Bible is actually a collection of books by many different authors that are all true- but that are not all meant to be historically and literally true in every instance. The appropriate way to read a Bible would be to see it as a book made of books of different genres and purposes. While the accounts of creation in Genesis are historically true (in the sense that at some point God started time and brought the world into existence), they weren’t intended to be a literal telling of how that happened.
I like to say this when talking with my children about the different parts of the Bible- that some parts, like the gospels, were recorded as historical and literal truths about the life of the person Jesus. Some books, like the Psalms, are songs and poems. And some parts, tell us what happened, but weren’t meant to tell us exactly how.
The story of creation in Genesis and the depiction of the fall fit that what but not the specific how definition. For example, as Catholics, we are not bound to believe in a literal talking snake, but we are to believe the deeper truth of the fall of man and original sin, as taught in the Catechism.
Back to the Tree
Okay, so back to my conversation with my son.
What he was really asking, in the question of “Why didn’t God just take away the tree?” boiled down to what love means and what is required for love to be possible in the first place.
Let’s start with God. God is love, completely and fully. So, when God decided to create, He brought forth nature, he brought forth animals. And then, at some point in the vast spectrum of the process that was creation of the known universe, He did something different. He made an animal, but with something more. He gave that animal the capacity to love, just like Him. Until then, he had nature that followed the laws of science. He had animals that followed the laws of their instincts. But we are made in His image, particularly in His capacity to love. This is what sets us apart from squirrels and bears and donkeys. We can choose to go against our urges and instincts, we can do things that have absolutely no benefit to us or even to our survival, in the name of love.
Why Does that Matter?
Next, let’s imagine an Eden without the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve live in peace and harmony, and all of mankind follows, right? Sure. They would have been perfectly contented little creatures.
But God didn’t make us to be perfectly contented little creatures. He made us for love.
And what is required for love?
Love requires and demands the freedom to choose.
Without choice, then we can’t really love. Without choice, we’re robots. We’re submissive. We do the will of God not because we want to but because we must.
If God had taken away the proverbial tree, he would have taken away Adam and Eve’s free choice to choose Love or to turn away from it. And then they wouldn’t have been able to really, truly, love at all.
The tree had to be there. And by the tree, I mean the choice. The choice had to exist. For love to be real, you have to have the option to say: “No, I don’t want that.” “I choose my good over your good.” Or, in the best case scenario, “I choose your good, regardless of what that means for me.”
We do it all the time, even still to this day. How many times during a day are we faced with that very same decision. I can be short with my kids or I can be patient. I can get irritated at the person in front of me in line who is taking forever, or I can be gracious. On a larger scale, I can offer myself as a gift to my husband and my children, my neighbors, strangers and friends, or I can choose self-preservation and selfishness.
Back at the beginning and resonating through time to our very moment in this world today, that choice contains so much power.
It’s what makes love possible in the first place.
The Bedtime Chat
Of course, with my son, I didn’t quite go into all of this depth just yet. He’s six, and, God-willing, we’ll have time. But we did talk about the tree, and what it means. We talked about God and how he desires more than anything for us to love Him and other people and the world. And if he had taken away the tree, if he had taken away that choice, then our original parents wouldn’t have been able to really love Him or anyone or anything at all.
The story of The Fall is a sad story, but it’s so very, very important. It’s only the beginning of a much bigger, much more beautiful story of Love, giving all of Itself for all of us. The story we are all a part of, even to this day.
And I can’t wait to have more conversations with my kids about it as we live our our lives in the domestic church we call home.
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