My post from Friday about St. Frances of Rome was supposed to be up on Thursday.
After a fun but completely mentally and physically exhausting day, Thursday afternoon I put the kids down for their naps and flopped into my desk chair for my daily quiet time. It was like a taste of heaven itself to sink into the comfy chair and experience the placid silence of the house. All the cares of the day melted away as I opened up a new document to share yet another way in which God has worked in my life. As usual, the practice of putting the words together, meditating on truth and beauty, almost instantly made me feel prayerful and relaxed. And then —
I had not even finished the first sentence when the silence was shattered by loud banging at the door and then repeated ringing of the doorbell. I jumped to my feet and ran to open the door, only to see an empty porch. I heard giggling somewhere off to my right. Furious, I shut the door and went back to my desk. I couldn’t believe they were doing it again: the kids next door had been ringing the doorbell and running for the past couple of days. The day before I had gone to their house and kindly asked them not to do it anymore, and they assured me they wouldn’t. And here they were, doing it again. I muttered something to myself about it being a good thing they didn’t wake up the children, and went back to typing (although a whole lot less prayerfully than before). I still had a good hour of naptime left, I thought, so it should be fine. And then —
From upstairs I heard a quiet whining. They’d woken up all three children. As I heard the symphony of moaning work up to full-fledged crying, I realized that my coveted quiet time was now gone. Instead of enjoying a peaceful oasis of prayerful reflection, I now had three overtired, crying babies to tend to. The mental downward spiral began. Rather than see it as an ordinary childhood prank, I got myself all worked up about the idea that this was a personal attack, that they had done it solely to ridicule me and make my day a little bit harder.
I eventually caught the neighbor kids outside and went to talk to them. I was mostly civil, but that has a lot more to do with my non-confrontational nature than any sort of cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Once I was back inside, when I would catch glances of them through the window I would look upon them with scorn. I sent my husband an email that described them uncharitably. I couldn’t wait until their parents got home so that I could see to it that these kids got in lots of trouble. I indulged in vengeful thoughts, thinking of how satisfying it would be to hear that their parents got really mad at them.
At some point God gave me the grace to take a step back and look at myself, and what I saw wasn’t pretty. I realized that if I were to put into words the feelings that went through my mind every time I saw the kids whisk by my window on their scooters, it would be something like, “You little jerks! I was trying to have some quiet time for prayerful reflection to write about how we can show Christ’s infinite love to others even in non-ideal circumstances, and you punk kids ruined it!”
Ah, spiritual maturity.
So often I hear about inspiring spiritual concepts, and when I ponder them from the safe confines of the pages of a book I am on fire to make them a part of my life. I thought of St. Frances of Rome as I started writing that last post and thought, “Yes! I too want to show Christ to the world! I want to let God work through me to show love and beauty to others through my actions!”…and then, when the books were put away and I was back in real life, as soon as it got a little bit painful for me, I was out. I wanted to show Christ’s love to the world on my terms, when I could see the situations coming and prepare for them — perhaps by volunteering at a soup kitchen or giving more money to the poor or making my husband’s favorite meal for dinner. But I wanted nothing to do with that whole showing Christ to others thing when I had been the victim of a prank that pushed me to my mental and physical limits by making me deal with a situation that I was not prepared to deal with.
It would have been painful — really, really painful — to truly die to myself in that situation and look at my little neighbors through the eyes of Christ, to ask Mary to lend me her heart and look upon them as if they were my own beloved children. But how might the situation have been different if I had? What kind of big impression might it have made on those kids if I had thrown some cookies in the oven and invited them over so that we could get to know one another better (perhaps even sharing stories from some of my own childhood pranks), instead of just glaring at them through my window? Since I opted for the less painful option (again), we’ll never know.
When I went back to my desk the next day to finish the post, I shook my head and smiled when I read St. Frances’ biography. Talking about St. Frances of Rome had been something of an afterthought, a seemingly random topic that just popped into mind because I wanted to update my blog but couldn’t think of anything else to write about. I’d seen her story before, but the only thing I remembered was that she was an example of someone who truly brought God into her marriage and selflessly loved others. That was the only point I was trying to make in the post.
But given the way that day had played out, it was like God hitting me over the head with a 2×4 when I re-read her story and saw that probably the most salient aspect of her life was that she selflessly followed God’ will even when it was very painful, even when it was not her will. When I saw the question her confessor once asked her that marked a turning point in her life, it just about jumped off the screen at me:
Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?
I thought of myself the day before, just about crying over being derailed from supposedly doing “God’s will” through quiet reflection and writing, and felt like maybe I needed to look over my shoulder in case Jesus was standing right there. God could not have made himself any more clear to me had he been there in person to tap me on the shoulder. Point taken.
It was stunning to see why St. Frances of Rome had come to mind seemingly out of the blue the day before. God had a message for me, delivered through her. I smiled when I got to the end of her biography and saw the recommended prayer for her intercession. As I said the prayer aloud, I felt the warmth of knowing that she was looking out for me that day, praying for me and for anyone else who’s ever lost sight of what it really means to do God’s will:
Saint Frances of Rome, help us to see the difference between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. Help us to discern what comes from our will and what comes from God’s desire.
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