Friday, December 31, 2010

Loving Your Family First

Conversion Diary Jen called me today to wish me a Happy Birthday. She asked me about my Christmas. I said going to church on Christmas Eve was reverent and beautiful.

But by 10 AM on Christmas morning I was in tears because the day was so crummy. The kids got too many presents from their grandparents. They became agitated, started fighting with one another, and demanded immediate assistance to assemble all their barrage of gifts. I mediated fights between my father and my brother over differing film criticism of "Lawrence of Arabia". All I wanted to do was take my sweet future nun back to church on Christmas but that became impossible because it didn't fit the agenda of the day.

So I didn't go to church. I didn't feed a hot Christmas dinner to the homeless. I didn't sing Christmas carols to the elderly in my late grandfather's nursing home. I didn't pray my Daily Office.

Jen agreed that when you celebrate Christmas day with family that are not really practicing Christians, you need to make sacrifices. The day is more materialistic than you'd like. It's a day more about penance rather ran "refreshment in the Spirit."

During my Christmas morning whine about missing church and missing serving the poor with Jesus, I felt him laughing at me. "Forget about spending long hours in prayer in front of the manger scene, this is how I want you to spend my day--being extra unselfish." He sort of told me in my heart that I can't go out and spread love to strangers on Christmas Day until my own extended family is fully saturated with the love of Christ. Otherwise helping the homeless is a selfish means of escaping on Christmas Day rather than a true act of charity.

So after the sun went down on Christmas Day, I turned off the replay of the Papal Mass on EWTN that I'd longed to see all day and instead, accompanied my siblings and my children and my husband to see the movie Tron. (Bad sci-fi is real penance!) I think my heart made the right call.

15 comments:

Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble said...

You nailed it. Thank you!! Yes, Jesus was surely very pleased.

Melanie B said...

I love these thoughts. Today I've been pondering how blessed we are that Christmas is really a whole octave and the Christmas season lasts through Epiphany. And how that takes the pressure off of getting everything perfect on Dec 25. In my perfect Christmas we'd get up and go to Mass. We'd read the Nativity story and place baby Jesus in the manger and contemplate the meaning of Christmas before we open presents. We'd sing songs together and have a quiet day. I'd leave visiting extended family for a different day. I'd have my in-laws give fewer toys or none.

But none of those things happened and I'm having to let go of my ideal and live in the real. And so I remind myself that we went to midnight mass and that was an amazing accomplishment with three children under five. So it would have been pushing it to go to Mass again on Christmas morning. I remind myself of how many times we read the nativity story during Advent and how many times we've read it in the past few days. It would have been nice to read it on Christmas day but I remind myself that having forgotten it does not mean that somehow the whole meaning of the day was lost.

Amy said...

So wise! I need to remember this on a daily basis.

Hope your birthday is going well!

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is so true and it remains true throughout the year. In other words, it's all too easy to be spiritually selfish and choose our own spiritual wants over our vocations as wives and mothers and the needs of our children.

Danya @ He Adopted Me First said...

'Sounds imperfectly perfect!

Kim said...

Thank you for this wonderful post!

Abigail said...

I like that "spiritually selfish" title. This year I've really discovered some hidden spots of pride in my life. I want to do things that make me feel good or make me "look good" as a Catholic much less than I want to do the humble, boring, unglamorous work in my vocation that God was me to do.

Anonymous said...

It's really hard for me, too. Sometimes I will do ANYTHING but what God has put in front of me. My friend says that the devil tries very hard to make us turn from what God has actually put in front of us for us to do. Sometimes that ANYTHING can be something something is distinctly "spiritual." I can convince myself that the "spiritual" thing I am doing is good and so it's ok to do it instead of doing what God probably wants me to do instead. SOMETIMES the truth is that I should actually be reading to my children or cleaning the bathroom. We are supposed to put God first and sometimes it is difficult to determine what that looks like when you are a mother.

Anonymous said...

ETA: I think I answered my own question. Living out your vocation as a homemaker and doing all that entails IS putting God first. It's not as though choosing to cook dinner rather than say the rosary is putting the family before God. Cooking the dinner IS putting God first, right? What do YOU think?

Abigail said...

What do I think?

I think the Devil is VERY tricky. Sometimes, he will trick us into doing the right thing at the wrong time.

There was a time last year that I really needed to put the rosary first instead of dinner b/c housework & caring for kids was so overwhelming that I needed to get spiritual formed quickly to be able to do my vocation. There was a temptation to think "I can't possible pray right now b/c I'm too busy" --that was a temptation that I needed to get over.

Now, I'm in the opposite temptation. I prefer to pray and go to church. So now I'm working on the realization that "work is prayer" and if I do my work for and with Jesus, that is an equally holy time.

It's so hard to beat the Devil- I think the best thing is to hang onto the virtue of humility. Keep saying "Lord I want to do your will, tell me what that is."

Anonymous said...

That's interesting that we see this issue so differently. Maybe one mother's vocation and spiritual path can look vastly different from another's? I know that some women I know who are excellent mothers and housekeepers seem to make their work prayer. I'm not exactly sure what their prayer life looks like, but I do know that their families are well cared for and their houses are always clean. Their children aren't acting out, etc. I guess the key is to ask these obviously devout Catholic mothers how they manage to be a wonderful homemaker/mother and put God first.

Jamie said...

I enjoy your blog so much, Abigail. I thought I would start by saying that. I am often renewed with your thoughts here, even if I don't always comment as such. But I had to say that this quote really spoke to me: "He sort of told me in my heart that I can't go out and spread love to strangers on Christmas Day until my own extended family is fully saturated with the love of Christ. Otherwise helping the homeless is a selfish means of escaping on Christmas Day rather than a true act of charity."

What a very profound thought. I am going to meditate on that for a while. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate as a mother what is avoidant behavior and what is serving God. It's something that will change daily and I pray that we all are blessed with the clarity when it matters.

God Bless you this new year!

Living for the Lord in 2011 said...

Oh yes, I hear you! Why does everyone else's cross seem so "easy" and our own so impossible?

But of course all things are possible in Him when we turn them over to Him and give up our own expectations!!

Idoya Munn said...

Thanks Abigail, you are so right. I spent Christmas Day much going from one family to the other, and I felt a bit sad that I didn't even have time for much reflection... but I did a lot of loving people! I guess the day for quiet Christmasses will come, and when they do I'll probably look back on these busy ones with longing! :)

Aimee said...

I keep a quote on my refrigerator from Mother Teresa that says, basically, "it's easy to love people far away. . .it's harder to love the people you see every single day,in our own families, but that's who we must love first." Thinking of Christmas as a set of days where I set aside my own desires for introverted quiet has helped with just the feelings you're talking about.