About two weeks ago, Jesus sent me to fencing classes. I thought I was going to get in shape post-pregnancy. Last week I finished my second 90 minute lecture on fencing--my instructor is one of those "detail" people who insist his beginner class understand umpire hand signals before holding a foil in their hands. In each class so far, I've don't less than five minutes of my beloved leg work (Advance, Advance, Retreat!).
In the middle of rolling my eyes in bored student agony, I started to ask Jesus "exactly why I'm here."
I'm there for "warrior training."
(At which point, I'd like to whine that my Carmelite husband current God homework is to learn how to relax and be nourished by Beauty while holding a fishing pole--and boy would I really like that assignment. But a small voice in my heart responds that I've eaten far to many scones, and visited far too many Art Museums in my youth. Romance and I don't need to be introduced to each other--it's time for me become a warrior.)
Spiritual Fencing! That metaphor has been on my mind a lot. Here are two insights. "Love is patient, Love is kind" from St. Paul has also been described as a "shield of patience" and a "sword of kindness." I also think of this now as "advancing" or "retreating." During an annoying situation (isn't that what we mothers tend to swim in) I can "retreat" with patience. No matter how determined an attack on my soul is launched, if I move myself out of the way with patience, my opponent sword only finds empty air.
At the same time, kindness is sort of a challenging assertive action. You've got to really go after a person. This is opposite the sort of vague "tell us if you need anything" is wimpy charity. If you want to do something kind for a tired spouse and chronically unhappy teenager, or panicked NICU Mom, you need to commit yourself to a long lunge of effort.
The other thing I'm learning is to break down my bad days into one on one duels. The fencing "strip" is controlled warfare. You only face on opponent at a time, and there is a shin strip of floor where sword play is in bounds. Before I'd have a "bad day" and it was just a midst of chaos.
Now I try to break it apart into individual interactions. First, I have a challenging interaction with an extended family member, the I've got to wrestle with my feelings about our medical debt, then onto the "sympathy impaired" children's librarian. It helps to think "new opponent, new match" instead of letting my stressful experience snowball together.
Today I was in the middle of a long, hot errand run with five tired children. I started having strained communication with a new librarian. I told myself "I'm going to win this one". That was a little prayer that went right up to God in heaven. Five minutes later, we were shaking hands and trading first names. That was a successful match because I was totally exhausted, there was no one ounce of energy in me, and I was already deep in the hole between 10 overdue books and a screaming toddler to boot.
A warrior lives for battle.
Pray for us Teresa Benedicta of the Cross!