Just before tapping out the first few words of this essay, I paused to move the first load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, making sure to cue up the next load for another exchange. Before that, I stopped by our neighborhood grocery store and purchased the ingredients for the dinner I would make later that night. And…before that, I stopped at the produce stand and loaded up on some healthy snacks for the family. I stopped at the produce stand because it was close to where I had just dropped the kids off for school. And…just before we left for school, I sorted and started the first of six loads of laundry. And…right before that, I gave the kitchen a quick once over. I gave the kitchen a quick once over due to the mess I had made while preparing lunches. And…before making lunches, I cooked and served up hot breakfasts for my three kids. During breakfast, my thirteen-year-old invited me into an argument about why she shouldn’t have to eat her ham and cheese omelet because “a lot of [my] friends don’t even have to eat breakfast.” And…just before arguing, I woke up all the kids and cajoled them until they stumbled to the kitchen. And…just before I woke up the kids, I served Lisa a mug of hot tea and milk. And…before she left for work, while drinking her tea, she shared a slightly misandrous joke (as opposed to a misogynistic joke) that she heard at work about a women’s capacity to simultaneously focus on, and therefore juggle so many more balls than a man is capable of handling. Utilizing a semi-clever play on these words, the joke lampooned the male species for our relative inability to multitask as well as females.
As the joke came to its hilarious denouement, I could feel Lisa searching my face in vain for the expected laughter response. My humor had somehow gone missing in action. As I cooked, cleaned, sorted, cleaned, schlepped, cajoled, shopped, and went to work, I was aware of an annoying little inner-grumble that Lisa’s joke had set in motion. “Nobody appreciates me,” I heard an inner-voice say (spoken with a bottom lip sticking out at least several inches).
Over the years, I have learned that whenever an outsized response follows a teeny little stimulus, that a process of deep reflection is in order. Throughout the course of the day, I mulled things over and came to a realization. The manifest content of my growling was obviously Lisa’s silly little joke. But the root system to my apoplexy had something to do with a dream that has been deferred for too long.
Over the last several years, a vision has been showing up that involves packaging, publishing, and presenting the Marriage Builder’s Program around the Saint Louis Metropolitan region, and beyond. Toward that end, I have had meetings with at least two handfuls of colleagues. I have generated a provisional plan to bring that dream into reality. I have assembled a men’s support/prayer group designed to challenge me to meet my goals. I have spoken with representatives of three parishes. I have had colleagues, including a publisher, review my material. After all this, in many ways, I am still standing in the blocks waiting for the starting gun to sound off.
As I tracked down the source of my internal growling, I came to see that I have used household chores as a kind of obstacle to achieving my goals. Sorting and folding laundry, shopping, and cooking meals, mowing and trimming, washing and scrubbing are all tasks that are straightforward, and therefore, somewhat soothing. The process of getting a marriage program off the ground is anxiety provoking, and therefore, leads to procrastination. Rather than stepping out onto my own growing edge, I immerse myself in “necessary tasks” that make me look like the ideal husband, while secretly kicking the can of career growth down the road.
It seems to me that spirituality can exist in a hermetically sealed container, comfortably separated from the rest of life. The process of integrating faith into the rest of life requires obedience to some basic imperatives. One of those imperatives that should be written on the lintel of every Catholic’s door was articulated by Jesus himself in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Ephphatha-that is- Be Opened” (Mark 7: 31-37).
Openness to the data of reflection is the first link in the chain of faith-based action. Absent the reflection that openness makes possible, a somewhat insensitive, misandrous joke could have become “Exhibit A” in my internal prosecutor’s case to prove my wife’s lack of appreciation (She is, by the way, deeply appreciative of me). With a little reflection that openness made possible, some unnecessary marital mischief was avoided. And even more importantly, I am beginning to unearth an uncomfortable truth about myself that has been holding me back.
Tomorrow morning, my son will take the first turn in learning how to make breakfast for our family. Other changes are sure to follow that will lead to enhanced domestic skills and a more profound sense of responsibility in my children.
Are you willing to allow your spirituality to seep into your daily decisions? This week, would you be willing to hear Jesus’ imperative “to be open” to the data of your own life?