Tag Archives: family

The Hidden Life of Jesus

"Dreams," painting by Akiane Kramarik
“Dreams,” painting by Akiane Kramarik

I don’t like being interrupted during “me time.”  Unfortunately, sacrificing “me time” is part of the covenant when I said, “I do.”  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, I find myself being happy instead of frustrated.  Please witness:

I’m engrossed in a short biography of Larry Page from the Business Insider.  I’m sitting in our oversized, super-cushioned rocking chair and the lighting is soft and relaxing.  The house is quiet.  I thought my wife and daughters were asleep and it was only 8:30pm.  I was going to enjoy a lot of “me time” tonight!

Then my wife storms out of our bedroom.  She throws down the Ergo Baby carrier like a gauntlet and Hana slides down her leg and onto the floor.  My wife isn’t mad at me, but she’s frustrated that Hana isn’t falling asleep.  It’s my turn.

Hana runs to me with a squeal of joy.  Her big, round eyes hide behind wispy long black hair.  Hana’s pink jammies are all bunched up on her chunky baby legs.  I chuckle and smile at her, put away the article, and pick her up just as she hugs my leg.

If I was a man without the Holy Spirit, I would not find joy in this interruption.  I would have been slightly irritated that my wife was unsuccessful in putting Hana to sleep.  I would have resented the need to put both our daughters to sleep for the past few evenings.  I suffered a screaming shower session and would just like a little time to unwind.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, those thoughts didn’t even cross my mind.  Actually, I had to force myself to think that way just now in order to draw a contrast.  I’m a changed man because of continual conversion into Christ.  The fruit of my faith can be seen in the joy, patience and charity I experience instead of the anger, impatience and “counting the cost” that the old me would have done.

Hana snuggles the side of her face against my chest as I carry her.  When I change her into a fresh diaper, I have to tell her to not laugh or talk because big sister is sleeping.  I pick her up and kiss her for the hundredth time that day and then strap her onto my chest with the Ergo Baby.  I can see the anticipation of my baby daughter’s eyes as the plastic “click, click” of the buckles lock around my waste and shoulders.  After turning off the lights around the house, we walk to the kitchen.  I turn on the stove-oven ventilator to create the magical white noise.  Hana clonks her head against my chest, like she was hypnotized.  I pace back and forth as she starts to relax.  Hana stretches out her small hands and absent-mindedly caresses the stubble on my chin.  From the broken pale light streaming in across from our neighbor’s porch, I could see that Hana’s eyes were drooping.  I kiss her forehead and stroke the bridge of her nose with my thumb.  Hana can resist no longer: her hand goes limp against my stubbly chin.

I often wondered why the Gospel writers left so much of Jesus’ childhood and teenage years to the imagination.  Folks called this the “hidden life” of Jesus.  Being a father, I questioned why God didn’t give more guidance on how to imitate the Holy Family.  How did Joseph and Mary deal with a whining toddler?  How did they counsel other parents who had rebellious teenagers, even if the teenage Jesus was obedient?

These moments I have with Maya and Hana give me such profound joy.  It is a kind of joy that escapes description.  It’s fleeting and easy to miss if I worshipped money, fame, power or beauty instead of God.  As it is, I’m blessed.  Dozens of moments like these happen in the course of a full day with my children.  I can’t remember them all, but I trust that Heaven is recording them even if I don’t have the camera on my smartphone ready.  I may forget these small moments, but they all add up to this emotion, this absolute certainty of love.  What I feel towards my children is merely a shadow of what God feels for me.  I cannot touch, see, hear or measure this love I have for my daughters, but I’m experiencing it.  So, it’s true.  I cannot touch, see, hear or measure the love that God has for me, but with eyes of faith, I see.  So, it’s true.

My love is only a shadow of God’s love.  This fact compels me to love even more.  It is the only natural response to someone who loves you this much.  It’s not easy to go from loving just your daughters to loving even the people who persecute you.  Yet, if the Holy Spirit can convert me from a man who loves his “me time” to a father who can give it up without even a second thought, then I trust He can convert me as I grow into Christ even more.  As I live out the hidden life of Jesus in my own family, grow in my belief of the Eucharist and progress in my prayer life, I am drawn deeper into Christ.

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Poverty, Obedience and Chastity in Marriage?

I know it sounds crazy.  Going into uncharted territory always sounds crazy.  I think it is possible to live out the evangelical counsels in marriage.  It’s not for everyone, just like the expatriate or Foreign Service life, but for those who are called to live out these counsels, they will bear much fruit for our brothers & sisters in Christ.

I started out writing about a contemplative life in marriage.  Quit Netflix, video games, recreational reading to simplify my life. Give myself more time to pray.  It is not natural, I admit, while my flesh is still stronger than my wounded soul.  My biology, my ego, and my passions are in alliance against the contemplative life.  My soul was once like a starved prisoner, shackled by years of habitual sin and charmed into compliance by the natural pleasures of the world (cf. Ps 106:14-15).  Christ freed my soul with Baptism on Easter 2009.  It’s like a mixed martial art battle with my body.  For the first few years, my soul lost battles more often than it won.  These past couple months, though, my soul has been winning more often.  Structured prayer and frequenting the Sacraments (especially weekly Confession and the Eucharist) have strengthened my soul.  The Holy Spirit has been the strength behind my K.O. punches.  The goal?  Total submission of my body to the direction of my soul and the Holy Spirit.  If I follow the spirit of the evangelical counsels, I believe I can achieve that goal.

Poverty

How can I practice poverty in marriage?  Easy.  Give all my money to my wife.  I need to ask her every time I want to buy something.  I should stop eating out at lunch and bring leftovers from home.  Her virtue of temperance is a lot stronger than mine.  So, I would benefit from her counsel.

There is a bit of irony, though.  My wife doesn’t like managing finances.  So, I still make our investments, do our taxes and plan for our financial security.  I have all the responsibility, but none of the (temporal) fun.  Ah… suits the spiritual life just fine, then, doesn’t it?

Obedience

As a Catholic, I obey God and His appointed leaders.  There is the Pope and his encyclicals.  There are the councils and its documents.  There is the Magisterium and its decrees.  These people and bodies are all divinely delegated authorities by Christ.  He gave them to me (for all of us, really) because he knows how frail I am when left to my own devices.  We all want to be pope and define right and wrong; few want to be slaves to the liturgy & doctrine.  Little do people suspect that there’s freedom in divine slavery!

As a husband and father, I obey my wife.  Obedience to my wife doesn’t mean I’m spineless or pusillanimous.  Just as Christ gave authority to his bride, the Church, to “bind and loose” on earth, so I give authority to my bride to bind and loose in the household (cf. Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18).  I respect my wife’s domain, just as God respects His Church’s domain.  By obeying my wife, I am practicing the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity in the home.

As a diplomat, I obey many bosses.  They have rightful authority over me.  As long as I am not called to sin in the eyes of God, then I ought to obey my rightful superiors.  As it is in the divine order, so it is in the temporal order.  Obeying a command from a person I don’t like, or to perform a task I don’t want to do — again, as long as it does not lead to sin — would be good for my soul.

Chastity

Chastity in marriage is misunderstood.  Dawn Eden’s article “10 and a Half Reasons to be Chaste,” reprinted at Catholic News Agency, explains the difference.  It’s worth reading because most people equate “chastity” with “celibacy.”  It’s possible to have unchaste sex in marriage.  Practicing Natural Family Planning would be an act of chastity in marriage.  Abstaining from sex, or what spiritual writers call continence, seems impossible without resentment.  However, I can testify that by the grace of God not only is chaste sex possible, but even joyful abstinence is possible in marriage.  Is that too much information?  Well, “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; also Mk 10:27 and Mt 19:26)

I live in a culture where sex is pleasure divorced from creation, where everything is sexualized: men & women, young & old, animals, inanimate objects… everything.  Ignorance of sex’s divine power to create new souls creates a mentality where it’s considered okay to use one’s spouse for sexual gratification.  Even well-meaning Christians use the Bible to “prove” that spouses are supposed to have sex even when one of them is not interested (Eph 5:22-23).  We can see the error in that interpretation when we logically extend it to the whole passage.  Husbands are supposed to imitate Christ by sacrificing their own life to help make their wife spotless before God, just as Jesus died on the Cross to make His Church spotless in Heaven.  The Church obeys Christ because of that sacrifice.  Wives would obey their husbands, too, if men were so self-sacrificing.

Dear God, thank you for protecting the wealth of knowledge in your Church, handed down from generation to generation.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, pray for us.  May your work reach out to other souls.  May it continue to guide me deeper into Our Lord’s intimate life.  Amen.

What are the Three Counsels?

In a previous post, I was writing about the possibility of living a contemplative life in marriage.  I got to a point where I wanted to talk about adapting something that religious people do for practice in the married life.  These are the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience.  What are they and how are they practiced?  How can I adapt them to my life?

The Three Evangelical Counsels

In Chapter 13 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, he makes the case for why the three evangelical counsels are very difficult to observe in the married life.  The three counsels are poverty (cf. Mt 19:21), chastity (cf. Mt 19:11-12) and obedience.  As Jesus said in Matthew 19, the counsels of poverty and chastity are voluntary.  Obedience to God, of course, is a given.  However, the evangelical counsel of obedience means something different.  Obedience, in this context, is the voluntary submission to a person, like a spiritual director or the Superior General of a religious order.

These three counsels specifically counter the three concupiscences (cf. 1 Jn 2:16) that we all suffer from as a result of Original Sin: concupiscence of the eyes (greed), concupiscence of the flesh (sensuality), and vanity of life (power; independence from God and from each other).

Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange is careful to emphasize that these three counsels are not obligatory to all Christians to obtain eternal life, but “it is a most suitable means more surely and rapidly to reach the end and not run the danger of stopping halfway.”  So, while my justification for eternal life is made through my belief in Jesus Christ, Christian perfection is another matter.  If we seek Christian perfection in this life (in order to reach the Beatific Vision faster in the next life), then the quickest route is by observing these three counsels.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange contends that it’s easier to follow these counsels when a person lives in a monastery or convent.

While he concedes that some saints managed Christian perfection in the married state, they are the exceptions that prove the rule:

The Christian who lives in the world is often exposed to excessive absorption and preoccupation about a situation to be acquired or maintained for himself and his family.  He is also in danger of forgetting to some extent that he must advance toward another life, another fatherland, and that to reach it, something is needed quite different from the understanding of worldly affairs: in other words, the help of God, which should be sought through prayer, and the fruit of grace, which is merit.  In family life he is also inclined to dwell on affections in which he finds a legitimate satisfaction for his need of loving.

His next statement was difficult to read because I can see how I am often guilty of it:

He is also led to forget that he must above all things love God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, with all his strength, and with his whole mind.  Frequently charity is not in him a living flame which rises toward God while vivifying all other affections; instead, it is like a burning coal which slowly dies out under the ashes.  This explains the ease with which a number of these Christians sin, scarcely reflecting that their sin is an infidelity to the divine friendship, which should be the most profound sentiment in their hearts.

The dagger of his words go deeper still:

The Christian living in the world is often exposed to doing his own will, side by side… with the will of God….  Then faith seems at times reduced to a number of sacred truths that have been memorized, but have not become truths of life….  The great truths about the future life, about the helps that come to us from Christ, remain practically inefficacious, like distant truths that have never been assimilated and are lost in the depths of the heavens.

While I don’t disagree that it would be difficult, it is important to know that it’s possible and that there are couples who have succeeded.  My journey, then, consists in finding out how I can progressively grow in holiness without abandoning my wife and children.  Next question to answer: How can I adapt the three counsels to my life?

Contemplative Life in Marriage

Praying Hands on an Open Bible
Praying Hands on an Open Bible

Is it possible to live a contemplative life in marriage and parenthood?  The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a very profound definition.  To me, it’s about developing a relationship with God that rests on top of my visible, temporal life — like a spiritual blanket.  It’s about seeing God in every event in my life, in every interaction I have in the world, in every person that I meet.  This isn’t easy, but from what I’m reading, I think I can chart a path for a married man like myself.  I also recently posted some wise words from St. Francis de Sales that reinforce my belief that a contemplative life in marriage is possible.

Make Time to Think About God

I need to deliberately make time to think about God.  It should be part of my daily routine.  When I wake up in the morning, I should say a quick prayer, asking “God, give me the graces I need this day to do Your will and glorify You, Lord.”  During the 25-40 minute shuttle ride to the Embassy, I should read the morning Divine Office and contemplate what I’ve read in the time left over.  If I need to connect with another soul during the ride, then I should read the morning office first-thing when I get to my desk.  It takes a few minutes, anyway, for my computer to boot up and Outlook to update emails.  So, I can close my door for the 15 minutes it takes to do the morning office before starting my day.

At lunch, I should do some spiritual reading.  I should save the last 15-20 minutes of my lunch time to do the Rosary.  If the day is slow, I could take a 15-minute break and sneak in another session of reading.

On the ride home, there is another 25-40 minutes for spiritual reading or the evening office.  Both my wife and children are asleep by 9 or 10 p.m.  This is where I can do some serious contemplation of an hour or more.  Do the Rosary if I didn’t do it at lunch.

Just from my commute and lunch break, I can get in almost two hours of prayer time during my normal work day.  I have two to four hours at night while my family sleeps.  That’s four to six hours a day that I can spend with God in prayer and contemplation.  Season 2 of House of Cards is coming out in February.  So, maybe my time with God will be drastically cut back, then.

Seeing with the Eyes of Faith

Trade missions, VIP visits and family time on the weekends would preclude that much time hanging out with God.  But even then, if I look with the eyes of faith, I can maintain a dialogue with God.  During a trade mission, the fast-paced schedule and quick decisions needed for crisis management are opportunities to harvest the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  I can show my colleagues that, because of my faith, even in stressful situations I am able to be charitable… joyful… peaceful… patient… kind… good… generous… gentle… faithful… modest… self-controlled… and chaste (especially when there are a lot of beautiful women around!)  When I support high-level government official visits, these are great opportunities for acts of charity (service), humility, and obedience.  The less I like the task, the better it is for my soul (mortification).  All that time planting seeds of virtue during my normal days will come to bloom during these times of high activity.

I include family time along with the above two examples not because it’s a chore.  Quite the opposite; it’s what I look forward to every week.  However, it is easy to look at family time and taking care of the children as ordinary tasks instead of analogies to my relationship with God.  When Maya or Hana are slow to obey, or defy my authority, I can recognize that behavior in my spiritual life with God.  I am slow to obey the Holy Spirit’s gentle promptings.  I defy God when I sin.  Seeing that similarity, I am able to be more patient and merciful with my own girls — just as God is patient and merciful with me.

This post will have to be continued.  I need to explain what the three evangelical counsels are.

The Beatific Vision

"Empyrean," by Gustave Dore, an illustration in Dante's "Divine Comedy"
“Empyrean,” by Gustave Dore, an illustration in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”

The whole point of trying to become a saint is to go straight to Heaven, right?  Skip Purgatory and see God face-to-face.  That’s what is called the “beatific vision,” a word I see coming up as the purpose of trying to live a life of holiness.  To confirm my deduction, I looked up the term in the Catholic Encyclopedia here and found its mention in the Catechism here.

I pray that I’m not causing scandal in others by asking this question: What’s so cool about the beatific vision?  I had been tackling this question for a while since I’ve accepted the universal call to holiness.  It didn’t make sense at first because I thought that in the person of Christ I was seeing God.  God the Father is abstract, but God the Son is visible.  Wasn’t looking at Christ on the Crucifix seeing God face-to-face?

The question went on the back-burner for a while as I pursued other avenues of the faith.  Now, that I’m back exploring the interior life and Catholic spirituality, I am seeing this term again.  Beatific vision.  Intellectually, I get that “seeing God face-to-face” should be awesome.  Yes, but what does that mean?  I get it up here (tapping head), but what does it mean here (pounding stomach)?

Praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding (#2 of the Seven Gifts)!  One day, as I looked at Hana smiling back at me, I got the intuitive feeling of what it meant to have the beatific vision.  In her cute little mind, my face, my body… my person is, for her, a source of joy, happiness, mercy, comfort, and unconditional love.  My wife, her mother, is all that and more for Hana.  So, when the two of us walk into the home after a date, and Hana is squealing and simultaneously kicking both her chubby legs, it is as if she is besides herself with ecstasy.  Is my baby having a transcendental, mystical experience?  I don’t know, but I know she is REALLY happy to see both of us in person.  A photo of us won’t cause the same reaction.  It has to be either mommy or daddy in person.  Better, both.

So, I imagine her sudden burst of joy in seeing my face, multiply that by infinity and that’s the happiness I’d feel when I see my Heavenly Father face-to-face.  Beatific vision.  Gut-feeling.

A moment of contemplation made me consider that, in that encounter, I would also see every single person who has ever brought me joy and happiness, but I would see how that person was really an emissary of God.  I would learn how every event that gave me happiness was the result of a chain of people who made that possible.  I would meet these people and learn that they, too, were emissaries of God.  I would meet all the saints who prayed for me.  And then I would see God.

It’s kind of like one of those romantic movies where there is an elaborate proposal.  The girl coincidentally runs into all her good friends and then all of his best friends, one after another.  Each one tells her something nice about the man who is going to propose to her and then gives her successive clues to where she can find the man who has been after her heart all these years.  She finally sees him and they marry.  The thought of spending the rest of her life with this perfect man has her heart overflowing with joy.

In the beatific vision, I would be like that girl.  I would finally see God.  He’s the one who has been after my heart all these years.  I would spend my eternal life with Him.  And the party would be for an eternity.  And there are no limits to how many guests can come.  The food and wine, of course, would be endless.  I know that there is more to Heaven than endless food and drink (cf. Rom 14:17-19); this would be more like a welcome party followed by the hallowed work of saving as many souls as possible before the Last Judgment.  Still, I’ll have some time with my One True Love before that holy task.  I would turn to God and say, “It was you.  It has always been you.  Thank you.  I love you!”

Dammit, My Wife is Holier than Me

My wife had to go back to the U.S. to attend a funeral and I had to take care of our two children for five days.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  It was only five days for me, but my wife has been doing this for over three years.  The experience was humbling.  Now, I have a profound respect for my wife.  Single-parents — I can’t even imagine — must have heroic virtue just to survive day-to-day, let alone help their children thrive.

We are blessed to live a life where the cost-of-living permits us to have part-time household help.  Although I never brought it up to my wife, I always wondered why she would say she didn’t have enough time to do certain things when we have Lorie to help around the house for half the day.  The purpose was to give Anne Marie more free time, but she would claim not to have any.  Now I know.  Even with the extra hours that Lorie put in, I could barely check my emails once a day, let alone get any time to read, think or relax.

Taking care of one’s children full-time and going to work full-time are really not the same thing.  For one, I get breaks at work.  There could be a lull in demands and I could check the news.  I can go off to lunch by myself and read for a whole hour.  That doesn’t happen with one’s children.  Not my children.  Not with daddy.  I’m like a honey pot and they are like Winnie the Pooh times two.  To top it off, they’re jealous of each other.  Maya could be happily playing in one corner, but as soon as she sees me holding Hana, she’d storm over and complain about having a “tummy ache” and wants me to carry her.

Another difference between work full-time and children full-time is intellectual and emotional detachment.  Screwing up at work is one thing.  Screwing up with your kids has a different magnitude of consequences.  While I have pride in my work, I don’t love my work.  I do love my children and so the amount of self-giving is that much greater.  That’s the thing… it’s the self-giving that is required with one’s children that is not required with people at work (i.e. supervisors, co-workers, clients, etc.)  Caring for one’s children is physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually draining.  And that’s on the good days.  Even on the worst days at work, I only complain about being mentally drained.

These five days with my children has been humbling spiritually.  In “The Three Ages of the Interior Life,” Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote, “The great sign of love of God is precisely love of one’s neighbor.  A saint who has little learning in theological matters but who has a very great love of God, is certainly more perfect than a theologian who has a lesser charity.”  I have more theological knowledge than my wife.  I never realized it until now, but I thought that made me more holy.  It’s not knowledge that makes one holy, but self-giving to others, especially the less fortunate and the helpless (like one’s children).  My wife has given a tremendous amount of herself these past three years for our daughters.  Just these five days gave me a taste of the cross that she continues to bear for our family.  Taking care of our girls is not torture (per se), but there’s a lot of self-sacrifice.  All the virtues are practiced (faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance).  Many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are exercised.  I’ve come to realize that despite all my book knowledge about God, my wife loves Him more than me because she gives of herself more than I, especially for our children.

If I am to pursue the holiness, I need to exceed the charity that my wife exhibits.  A little friendly competition doesn’t hurt.  The prize is the Beatific Vision.

Theology of Parenthood

“Theology” is the study of the nature of God.  Being a parent has really helped me understand God’s nature more.  I’ve been compiling these personal anecdotes for a while and I’m afraid I’ll forget them if I don’t put it down on paper.  So, here are a few observations I’d like to share with you under this category:

  • When Maya was born, my heart was so full of love I felt like it was going to explode.  I had so many dreams for her, of what she can do, who she can become.  As I dream for my daughter, so God dreams for me.  He, too, has dreams of what I can do and who I can become.
  • My wife and I love each other so much that another person was born from this love.  God the Father and God the Son love each other so much, so perfectly, from eternity, that another Person results: the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Holy Spirit goes forth to help others enter the Kingdom, my wife and I will be raising our daughters so that they can grow up and help others enter God’s Kingdom.
  • I tell my daughters “I love you” all the time.  When they were babies, they didn’t understand the words.  As their father, I yearn to hear them say “I love you” back to me one day.  God has this same hope for me, too.  He also wants me to turn to Him and say “I love you” and mean it. 
  • My children learn to repeat “I love you, daddy” from their mother.  Christians learn to pray (“I love you, Abba”) from their Mother Church.  My children will one day contemplate the love they have for their father (and mother) in their hearts and this will guide how they will act.  When I start to contemplate the love I have for God, I am moved towards acts of virtue and away from vices.  I am moved to patiently suffer trials for the love of God.
  • My children do not need to give my wife and I anything because we are complete with each other and in God.  However, Maya and Hana can show their love for their parents by loving one another as sisters.  If they take care of one another, protect one another, and help each other grow, then we will know that they love us.  In the same way, I love God by loving my fellow human beings, who are my brothers & sisters in Christ (whether they know it or not).
  • This was true when Maya was a baby and true of Hana now when she is still a baby: sometimes I love them so much I feel like I want to eat them.  It’s a bizarre feeling.  Not like a cannibal.  I don’t want to cook them up or anything.  I just have this overwhelming desire to consume them out of love.  During this Christmas season, I was struck by the thought of Baby Jesus and the Eucharist.  Why can’t I desire to literally eat the Eucharist as I desire to figuratively eat my own babies?
  • Hana does this endearing act: every time I sit cross-legged on the floor, she would drop whatever she’s doing to crawl over and sit on my lap.  She would only crawl away to get a toy and then come back and just sit on my lap.  She likes being near me and the simple joy of being in the arms of her father.  This made me think about the contemplative life.  When I think about the mysteries of God (i.e. Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, Glorious, etc.), am I not like Hana sitting in the lap of my father?  Rather than rushing through my prayers, do I instead take the time to enjoy being in the lap of His presence as my daughter is in mine?

Innocent Penance

Saying “sorry” even when you know you are right is the same as doing penance when you are innocent.  For a husband to be able to do this is a grace from God; his action would be united to Christ on the Cross (cf. Ephesians 5:23)  He was innocent, yet Jesus did the ultimate penance for those who are guilty.  If Jesus can do penance for His enemies, then I should be able to say sorry to my wife even though I know I’m right.

Mercy

Our men’s group is reading Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.”  The focus is on Ephesians 5 and the challenge that most men fail to see (including me) is that Christ suffered for His bride.  Am I willing to suffer for my bride?  Dying once for my love is tragic and romantic, but what about dying a little everyday through denying myself what I want in order to please my wife?

How many men think husbands who constantly forsake their own interests for their wives’ is stupid?  Most men would think it is more reasonable to compromise, “I’ll give up something, if my wife gives up something.”  Did Christ ask the same of His bride?  “I’ll go to the Crucifixion if you stop stoning prostitutes and permit healing on the Sabbath.”  Instead, Christ asks God to forgive the Pharisees persecuting Him because they didn’t know what they’re doing (cf. Lk 23:34).  Jesus offered Himself first.

I am reminded of this every time when I take the Eucharist.  I may not stop sinning immediately.  Awareness of His self-sacrifice and developing a personal conversation with Him through prayer, I start wanting to change for Him.  I start to see my sins as empty promises.  By the grace of God, the temptations are not so tempting anymore.  I feel the strength to resist.  One day, I realize that a particular chain isn’t around my ankle anymore.  I smile and work with the Holy Spirit to unfetter my soul from the grip of other sins.

So, I must offer myself to my wife first.  I cannot expect her to change first, or bargain to have her change with me.  It’s not about reciprocity.  It’s about following Christ: He laid down His life for His bride first.  I do the same.  If I cannot forgive my wife even when she refuses to say sorry, how can I meet Christ’s greater challenge to forgive my enemies?

The more I live my marriage as God intends it, the more people will think I’m a “hen-pecked” man.  The more I please my wife and not ask for anything in return, the more people will think I’m “being taken advantaged of.”  This is the world’s opinion; they judge without the light of faith.  They do not see the Holy Spirit at work in her.  She has grown so much and I had nothing to do with it.  Her prayer life, her own journey with God did it.  She is a woman whom I love more than the day I proposed to her.  She is a mother I admire.  I watch her interior life grow, like the petals of a flower in slow bloom.  I do not pick the flower to adorn my pocket, but just watch it.  Learn from it.  Because I’m a flower, too.  We are growing, blooming, for God.

Obeying Out of Love or Fear?

obedience-out-of-love-or-fear-parenting
Obeying out of love or fear?

My eldest daughter, Maya, is the guinea pig for our different parenting styles.  Our bedtime routine for her is a good example of that difference.  I would classify my wife’s style as “obedience out of fear.”  I generously call mine “obedience out of love;” whether it’s truly love or just plain spoiling the child is something my wife contends.

For many months, I’ve been responsible for putting Maya to bed.  The routine after dinner is simple: take a bath, drink 8-oz of milk, read 2 to 3 books, brush teeth, read 2 to 3 more books, pray and then get tucked-in by 8:30pm or so.  Maya also has two 8-oz bottles of water on her nightstand that she would ask me to refill before she even finishes with one of them.

Obedience Out of Fear or Love?

Not surprisingly, Maya needs to potty three to five times before finally falling to sleep.  This means she’s not sleeping until 9:30 or 10pm on some nights.  Often, around 2am or 4am, she would wet her pull-up diapers completely, cry, and ask me to change her into a new one.

I do all of this without complaining.  I admit it’s a bit inconvenient for me.  Occasionally I put my foot down (i.e. refusing to tuck her in three times in one night), but I usually do everything she asks because it’s our idiosyncratic bedtime routine.  I know that this behavior will eventually pass and all of it would make a great story when she’s older.  Also, quite simply, love means self-sacrifice — giving up my preferences for the benefit of another.

When I went on a week-long business trip several weeks ago, my wife had to put Maya to sleep.  She was surprised by how spoiled Maya was.  Since she also had to take care of Hana, our youngest, at the same time, my wife changed the routine to accommodate the extra burden.  No water refills.  Change your own pull-up diaper.  Go potty only once or twice.  And, no tucking in.  Maya, of course, threw a tantrum, and my wife would threaten to close her bedroom door completely — an act that Maya sees as heavy punishment.

Coming home, my wife still wanted to put Maya to sleep because she had to “re-train” her.  So, every night was a scream-fest with Maya and mommy.  While I agreed with my wife that we should ween Maya off from her peculiar bedtime requests, I disagreed with her use of tactics that we usually employed only as a last resort.  I also threaten to close her bedroom door for time-out, but only for major infractions (i.e. repeated rudeness, throwing a hysterical tantrum, etc.)  Most of all, I disagree with my wife’s tone when reprimanding Maya.

Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a sweet woman.  So, even her deeply disapproving reprimands are like lovely feminine frowns.  She’s exhausted and needs to tap me in, like a wrestler in a tag-team match.  Yet my wife insists on staying in the ring.  Her willpower to resist Maya’s demands only gets stronger the louder our daughter screams.  I love my wife for devising punishments Maya fears that doesn’t involve spanking.  They’re effective and I use them, too.  But, a parent’s threats to induce fear will need to get more severe as the child grows older.  Sure, right now, Maya fears time-out with her door closed.  She’s only two, now.  What happens when she’s nine?  Or fourteen-years old?  We need to use the heavy punishments sparingly.

I take a different approach, normally.  I want Maya to love me so much that it is my absence that she fears.  She usually complies with what I want her to do if I threaten to walk away.  My nuclear option is mommy, as in, “Okay, mommy will [feed you/give you a bath/brush your teeth, etc.]”  Yes, I realize it’s unfair to leverage my own wife this way.  It’s ironic, though: throughout history mothers would threaten their children with “Wait until your father gets home.”  Maya would probably shout, “Yay!”

When my wife and I are calmly talking about our different parenting styles, I point out how her “obedience out of fear” is like how the Church gets people to behave and my “obedience out of love” is like how our Heavenly Father gets us to behave.  This is the Father that Jesus reveals, of course.  The God in the Old Testament is pretty scary at times.  It’s from the Father that Jesus reveals that  I take my parenting cues.  I don’t spoil my children; I am merciful as Our Heavenly Father is merciful.  Doing God’s will out of fear leads to resentment, like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In my spiritual life, I seek to love God so much that I want to do His will as a loving response.  So, my Father is to me, I am to my children.

I observe that this “obedience out of love” is incredibly inconvenient for me.  I need more patience compared to the fear method.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and Maya still disobeys.  This is no different than God’s experience.  Torture and death on the Cross is pretty inconvenient.  We still disobey quite often despite God’s infinite love for us.

I’ve come to conclude that both obedience out of fear and out of love have a place in parenting, just like we need the Church’s doctrine and God’s mercy in our spiritual life.  My wife may be harsh at times, but just like how the Church’s moral prescriptions may be harsh, they’re good for us.  She may be too strict, but they will always find mercy from me.  The Church’s doctrine may be too strict, but God’s mercy is greater.  Our children’s first experience of God will be through us.  Mommy’s discipline and Daddy’s forgiveness will build their character.  The Church’s discipline and God’s mercy will build their spirit.