Parenting Advice – Delight

Well, I’m back again with the audacity to write yet more about parenting and how to do it. I’d never claim that one size fits all when it comes to parenting, although I think certain principles might be universally applicable. Today’s topic is, I am quite confident, one of these universally applicable principles. As I’ve been reflecting on parenting for the last month or so, a theme has been recurring in my mind, one that I think must be the foundation of good parenting: delighting in one’s children.

I’ve been reflecting on this for a couple reasons. First of all, some weeks ago, I took my son to the emergency in the middle of the night, worried he might have meningitis as he had been woken by neck pain. Happily, we were not given that diagnosis, but what I was given was a great gift: a doctor-in-training who examined my son happened to have the most amazing bedside manner of any doctor I have yet met, and he showed that he not only cared for my son physically, but he talked familiarly with my not-quite-four-year-old son. He asked my son extensively about his favourite tv show and about school, and he conversed with my son in such a way that my son opened up to him completely. For me, this was a wake-up call. I had felt so guilty about the copious amounts of time I’d let my son watch tv that my censorious judgement told me not to talk about it with him, so as not to encourage an interest. How utterly ridiculous! The truth of the matter is that my son likes cartoons, and I should therefore take an interest in them and, if anything, guide him to think about cartoons and the world in the way I want him to see these things, to use cartoons as the basis of forming his perspective. But at the very least, I really must step into his world and not try to ignore it. He’s a small child so many of his interests may well be dull to me, but that’s where love steps in: we take a certain interest in the things the people we love enjoy simply because we love them. The second reason I’ve been reflecting on this topic is that, at the urging of my family who could tell I was not myself, I’ve started taking an antidepressant, and the effect has been so liberating that I find myself with much more energy and natural impulse to shower my children with affection and give them the attention they’ve been longing for.

I am one of those lucky people who grew up with parents who adored me and all of my siblings. Quite possibly the best gift my parents gave us is that they made it absolutely clear that they loved us and that we are loveable. Their love never expired, and it was unconditional, nor was it competitive: they did not choose “favourites.” Although they very much wanted and expected us to behave, we knew that even if they were disappointed in us, they would never love us any less. My parents communicated their delight in us in a number of ways. My little encounter with the medical student reminded me of one of them: taking time to talk and taking a sincere interest in us. My mother especially, as a stay-at-home mum, took on the role of entering into the minutiae of our everyday lives, but my father would also express interest and spend lots of time talking with us, albeit in a different way than my mother would.

My father has often emphasized that with children, it’s not quality time that matters so much as quantity of time. It’s the repeated, consistent, everyday engagements that build a solid foundation. How each parent does this will differ, although there are some basic patterns. If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, you’ll be familiar with various ways in which you can express love, and that for each person, some ways are more effective than others. As a parent, I try to be aware of how my children best respond to love, but I also aim to cover all my bases and show them that I love them all by using words, showing physical affection, taking time with them, doing things for them, and giving them things they enjoy.  The first two come most naturally to me, and the others come fairly naturally as a parent as well, although I have room for improvement.

One thing I do not remember Gary Chapman addressing, however, is the look of delight. This is something my parents excelled in, and something I learned about in words from the Sisters of Life, who actively try to bring Jesus to women who feel alone and unloved. One of the most important things that they do is delight in these women.

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A picture I was given at my First Communion that exemplifies for me the Gaze of Delight/Love

The way we look at people can have a tremendous impact on how they feel about themselves. Even the Gospels deemed it significant to record that Jesus looked upon people with love, a crucial detail for a people who so easily buy into the Devil’s lie that we should only expect isolated punishment from a harsh and exacting God. I remember as a child how much it mattered to me how my parents looked at me, and that they looked at me. There was even one particular moment I remember doing or saying something I hoped would get me “that look,” and, God bless my parents, I was not disappointed. I knew my parents delighted in me and saw the goodness of God’s creation in me. They looked upon me and were satisfied, and by doing so all throughout my life they imprinted deeply on my soul that I am a creature worthy of love, deserving of being cherished, simply because I exist.

Without the gaze of love, words and actions lose their efficacy. Our brains might accept that we are loved, but our souls have not felt it. Has it not been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul? For all the poetry of that expression, there is truth in it. As a parent, I aim to look at my children with love, to delight in them, to communicate to them that they mean everything to me, that they light up my world, that when I look upon their beautiful bodies, I see that they are Very Good, that their souls are worth more than all the stars in the sky, and that they (and their father) bring me more joy than anything of this world. When my children do something “cute” and seek my glance, I hope I am there, gazing upon them with love. When they try to share their world with me, I hope I give them my full attention and interest. When I look into their eyes, I hope they get the sense, even if they don’t quite recognize what it is, that I see in them the beauty and sacredness of God himself.

Now, practically speaking, I can’t look upon my children with this contemplative gaze of love at every moment of the day. I can’t even listen to my son’s chatter at every moment of the day, if for no other reason than I find it completely exhausting! That is fine; it is realistic. This is why quantity of time matters. If, every day, I spend some time with my children, looking upon them with love, spending time getting to know their little persons, they will find it hard to doubt that they are loved unconditionally.

This also lays the foundation for discipline. If I devote so much energy to demonstrating my love, will my children not understand that even when they are being corrected and even punished for their misdeeds, that I love them? There is much fear that punishing a child will lead to psychological damage. I think there is certainly a risk of this, particularly if the child does not know he is his parents’ whole world. If a child is secure in his parents’ love, though, he will ultimately understand that his parents discipline him and outline strict boundaries out of love, because they have his best interests at heart and are applying the full force of whatever wisdom they have acquired to his upbringing. This is why I am no longer afraid to mother my children with authority: because I am confident that they will know that they are loved, and that in fact it is love that motivates me to correct and discipline them. My parents always made this clear. They even made it clear by apologizing to us when they later realized that they misjudged situations or responded in ways they shouldn’t have. This is important, too: to have the humility to apologize to your children when you make mistakes. Rather than weaken your authority, I believe it strengthens it because, after all, true authority is built on love. Because we knew that our parents only wanted what was best for us, we learned to trust them. Time also taught us that although our parents aren’t right all the time, they do have a lot of wisdom and it is in our best interests to consult with them, even now as adults when we have outgrown obedience to them. The disciplinary structures that I enforce now will hopefully lead to such a beautiful and mature relationship with my children when they grow up, too.

There is such a sacredness to this life as parents. We are given precious souls to foster and guide, to shower with love and to act towards as God acts towards us. There was a time I hoped I might be a contemplative nun (even though I knew in my heart it did not suit my personality at all), and in recent weeks I’ve been discovering that the beauty of the contemplative life is not restricted to convent walls by any means. When I look upon my child, I gaze at him with a look similar to that I have received from God myself. When I spend time with him, it reminds me of time I spend in prayer: time set aside to be completely present, time during which I’m constantly swatting distractions away, time in which I abandon the constraints of chronos and enter into kairos.

May God bless you and your family!

Let all that you do be done in love. ~ 1 Cor. 16:14

Parenting Advice

This past week, a mother in a Facebook group I’m a part of posted a plea for help: her children were driving her and her husband crazy and they were at their wit’s end. The behaviour she described sounded oh-so familiar: hitting, whining, demanding, talking back, throwing, screaming, tantrums. She described these behaviours as regular in their home, and as a consequence, she and her husband were miserable (and her kids didn’t sound happy, either!). This description of a home that was a constant battlefield of conflict and wounds reminded me of my own home about a year ago, for my son (then 2/3 years old) exemplified much of it.

There were reasons for our crazy home. Foremost among them was that I was suffering deep depression from the loss of our second child. However, even if we hadn’t suffered that blow to our family, I look back and see that we were heading in the direction of chaos anyway. As the eldest in a family that erred on the side of being too strict, I’d been the kid that had perhaps suffered a little too heavy of a hand from my very well-intentioned but inexperienced parents, so even though I judge my parents as having done a truly exceptional job raising my sisters and me overall, I was reacting against those early experiences and I spent more time remembering the few times they were overly harsh rather than the other 99% of the time they got it just right. Furthermore, my husband is a very gentle man and adores his kids; he can’t bear to hear them cry, which had led to a more indulgent approach. Lastly, my sense is that child-led, gentle parenting is quite popular right now, so those are the influences I absorbed from media.

When I wasn’t too overwhelmed and exhausted, I could glimpse that, objectively, things weren’t working so well in the home. I admired my son’s independent spirit, but I occasionally sensed that perhaps we allowed him a little too much independence. Gradually, I acknowledged that his unruliness was not making me nor my husband nor even my son himself ultimately happy. I felt overwhelmed, discouraged, exhausted, and I didn’t know what to do. I was sick of the bedtime battles, the dinner dramas, the overall disrespect. What my parents had quietly been observing to themselves from the sidelines finally dawned on me: I was raising a spoilt brat, and it was making everyone miserable.

Long had I reasoned to myself that my son’s behaviour was perfectly natural according to his age. Unfortunately, my reason did not take me to the next important conclusion for some time: that, although it might be natural, as human beings we are supposed to rule over nature, to tame our wills and to use them to subdue what is wild where needed. Unlike the other earthly creatures, God gave us free will and it is in fact because of this that he gave us responsibility and vastly higher expectations. The human will is extremely strong, and it’s something we can never be deprived of. Sometimes it reminds me of a wild horse, resistant to taming, not wishing to be of use to anyone else. However, since we are profoundly relational creatures, allowing our wills to run wild is ultimately harmful not only to others but also to ourselves. Men and women are at their finest and most glorious when we have full control of our wills and passions; that is what makes us truly free, truly in control, truly powerful. I have come to understand that training my children’s natural behaviour to align with virtuous behaviour is my vocation. Moreover, I’ve come to understand that by constructing a home for them with high expectations for behaviour, rather than damaging their independence and creativity, I am doing them a favour: after all, virtues are easiest to practise when they are habitual. It’s easier to say no to chocolate cake when I’m not used to eating cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One day, I hope my children will find it easy to say no to the myriad of enticing sins the devil has put on display for us, and I believe strengthening their resilience begins now.

I can confidently say that after a year of following the suggestions of my parents and having them demonstrate tactics and assist me, my home is much happier and more peaceful, and I believe this is something most parents can achieve.

As I continue this little series on parenting, I’ll address the following points:

  • Building an identity as a parent and a vision for the home
  • Setting reasonable expectations
  • Using consequences wisely and effectively
  • The importance of forming both behaviour and attitude
  • Why manners matter

A Gift of God

Life has been busy, and I’ve had little time to write in spite of having no shortage of thoughts and ideas I’d love to develop. An important date is approaching, however, and love compels me to honour it.

Today in Mass, I don’t remember exactly how it came up yet it is no surprise such a subject should arise, death was mentioned. I think we were being urged to contemplate how we hope all to be united with the Father in the end. It is impossible for me to think of death now without remembering our son, Matthew. In one week, it will have been two years since his death, and as the intense pain of losing him seems at last to be diminishing, the yearning to be united with him one day is as strong as ever.

Our experience with Matthew was somewhat unique: not many people, thankfully, receive the news that their unborn baby has a condition that is incompatible with life outside the womb. We had only begun to rejoice in his arrival in our family when we learned he would not be with us for much longer. Fiat! It is truly amazing how the Lord in His great mercy gives us the graces we need to face the trials He allows us to bear for His greater glory. The Lord gave us the grace to believe that this sick baby was a gift to our family, even if we could scarcely understand how. It is why we named him Matthew, which means “gift of God,” so that we would never forget.

Now, two years later, standing in Mass, struggling to pay full attention as a somewhat weary mother of three, I am graced with glimpses into the meaning of our special gift from God. I see that it is thanks to Matthew that I have had to face my brokenness and my littleness and seek help in my growth towards wholeness. It is thanks to Matthew that I have learnt all the more profoundly that all is grace – bootstraps be hanged! all we can do is make an immolation of ourselves! It is thanks to Matthew that I have learned what it is to reach into the deepest recesses of my heart to give all that I am and have to others and not to make excuses, for so many people served me in this way when I was desolate. It is thanks to Matthew that I have greater empathy with those who have lost babies or who have no babies, having been thrown together with other suffering women. And I really have no doubt that it is thanks to Matthew’s intercession that we now have his twin sisters, born also on his birthday. There will always be pain when one has lost a child, but such a child can also bring a special joy, and my heart is confident that some bright morning when this life is over, my Matthew and I will enjoy the embrace we were denied in this world.

Today is Father’s Day. I am filled with joy and gratitude for the man who is the father of my children, for my father, for the father who raised my husband, and for all the men who have been fathers to others, be it biologically or spiritually. I am also filled with an intense joy and gratitude for our Father, Jesus’ Father, the God who loves us with more love than we can possibly imagine but which we can catch a glimpse of in the relationship of a truly loving earthly father with his children. His mercy and His generosity are beyond telling, and I do look forward to snuggling up to Him in the next life, however that might play out in the mystery of heaven! One almost begins to perceive death as a gift to be awaited and received with reverence, for it is through death that we are transformed and invited to new life… Well, that is a very large topic to consider at some point. I am grateful also for St Joseph, foster father to Jesus and patron of a good death; may he pray for us, especially the fathers among us, and that we may be prepared to meet our Father at the end of our lives.

Gift, gift! All is gift. May my little Matthew Gabriel pray for all of you who are reading this, that you may see how all that has come to pass in your lives has been a gift from God in some mysterious way, for He makes all things new!

Accompaniment: Loving as God Loves

This past week, we received the Spring 2018 issue of the Sisters’ of Life Imprint magazine, a quarterly publication both my husband and I read eagerly as soon as it arrives. One of my favourite (and most practical) excerpts I will share here:

“In our work with women, we have tried to learn the great art of being with others, which we call accompaniment. It’s a way of receiving another – looking at the person before me, not as a project or a problem to be solved, but as a gift, a unique masterpiece of God’s love. It’s developing the habit of gazing at this person with the heart, seeing things that are hidden beneath the surface. It’s a way of listening for precisely the things that are not said out loud. Perhaps after much tending, a heart can be awakened and come alive in a new way. A new beauty is revealed. In this exchange, a hidden treasure is discovered; something that was limping can move more freely; buried reservoirs of strength can be uncovered; new areas of the heart are brought to life.” – ninth page of Imprint, Sisters of Life, Spring 2018 Issue

Anyone else perceive the fruit of Eucharistic prayer here? I think it’s quite obvious that the women who wrote this have a habit of practising Adoration, wherein, indeed, one really learns the depths of this sort of love.

A Curious Topic: “My Daily Bread” on Needless Curiosity, and its social media implications

I love using Facebook. I love seeing what my friends and relatives and even acquaintances are up to. It keeps me connected with them, even though I might live far away from them. It also connects me to groups that help me grow in various areas such as my faith, housekeeping, recipe collecting, etc. What a wonderful medium! Yet I have often felt a little discomfort with my use of Facebook – even though I see a lot of good come out of it, my conscience will often needle me, suggesting that I am wasting my time. Frequently I’ll give it up to some extent for Lent, or at other spontaneous times during the year when I feel overwhelmed by it. Somewhere deep down, a small little voice tries to warn me that I should be careful not to let Facebook rule me to the extent that I do. When I read the following reflection from “My Daily Bread” tonight, I understood why.

CHRIST: My Child, uncontrolled curiosity draws your attention away from your duties and brings needless distractions. It can waste a good deal of time and energy which you might use to greater good. It leads to pointless visiting and useless conversations. It fills the mind with so many empty distractions, which prevent you from freely receiving the holy thoughts and good desires which I send you throughout the day.

2. You would have great peace if you were less curious about things which do not concern you. One who is too interested in the sayings and doings of others, becomes forgetful of the glorious ideal which I present to him – the ideal of pleasing Me in all things and thereby gaining eternal life.

3. Many things occur during the day which do not help you become a better person. What does it matter whether this one has a new garment or that one has failed in some personal project? Think of what concerns you, and of any good which you can do to others. Keep your heavenly goal before your mind, as far as your daily occupations will permit. Avoid idle words and useless activities.

THINK: A curious nature, intelligently controlled, has often led men to make great discoveries. Yet, unless curiosity is controlled, it can hurt me forever. My highest interest must be to follow God’s law, and so to enter into eternal life. The less I burden my mind with unnecessary interests, the more will I understand and appreciate my supernatural purpose on earth. too many worldly interests make me forget or disregard my heavenly goal. Many sins of omission and carelessness spring from uncontrolled curiosity.

PRAY: Jesus, my King, Your enemies are whoever and whatever draws me farther from You and closer to sin. Therefore uncontrolled curiosity is Your enemy. If I am loyal to You, I will fight this enemy of Yours. In so doing, I will also be fighting for my own eternal happiness. Lord, give me light to recognize this enemy and to oppose it in my daily life. Amen.

  • Book I, Chapter 86: Needless Curiosity, My Daily Bread (1954), Confraternity of the Precious Blood

I like that the passage acknowledges that curiosity can be good, but it must be disciplined if it is going to benefit us. Curiosity in itself is not a virtue, and unbridled curiosity will often do more harm than good. Perhaps I might be tempted to deem my curiosity in the goings-on of Facebook a neutral curiosity, but it is a distraction – and at times a very great distraction – from better things, such as paying full attention to my family, finishing (or starting) chores, reading, or even simply praying and contemplating God. Indeed, if a pastime is a wholesome one, I find it directs my mind to God. While I’ve tried to redeem Facebook by subscribing to numerous Catholic pages and groups, even these wholesome feed-fillers begin to act as unwholesome distraction from my life.

I don’t think every activity has to be based in an explicitly God-minded pursuit in order to be wholesome. Saints often talk about sanctifying the ordinary day by offering up dishes or mopping. I have even found myself considering BBC’s Planet documentaries spiritually nourishing, as I can’t watch them without admiring God’s gorgeous design. And Facebook, too, can direct my mind to God, either in rejoicing in the people He’s made or in the spiritually inspirational quotations and articles I often encounter there. I can pray for the people who show up on my feed. However, as the Greeks so wisely observed millennia ago, μηδὲν ἄγαν – nothing in excess!

Perhaps Facebook is not your great temptation, but all social media and even old-fashioned media (news, magazines, books) can work the same way and distract us from our heavenly goals and the things we need to do to get to Heaven. Since our society no longer even pretends to put any focus on God, I think it’s quite a common error to fall into idle curiosity, to the point that people frequently do not even see it as error! And then we wonder why our hearts are troubled and we have no peace in our souls….

Why Do I Want to Become a Saint?

After my last entry, I got to reflecting anew upon why I want to become a saint. It’s been my life goal for twenty years or so — long enough, that is, that I forget on a daily basis why I came to it in the first place. However, though my memory is poor for external events, it tends to serve me very well for internal experiences.

Of course, the best reason to become a saint is because God wills it. Indeed, there really is no other way to strive for sainthood ultimately. It’s not about us; it’s about glorifying His ineffable goodness. But we can be inspired to desire this path from a number of lesser paths that come together like rivulets merging together in a river before it pours out into the sea.

I think my first inspiration was reading the stories of the Saints. Not long after I was confirmed, I watched the movie The Mission, and fell in love with it. In perhaps my first personal historical research project, I went to the library to take out as many books as I could about the history of the Jesuits and St Ignatius of Loyola. I’ve always been attracted to intelligence and courage, so this order bore a lot of natural attraction for me. The public library had a surprising number of books on Saints, and I remember being indebted to it for Patricia Treece’s biography of St Maximilian Kolbe as well. I found more books at our parish library, too. I read many different kinds of books, ciphening out information from books less than perfectly friendly towards the Church, and sifting out inspiration from the sometimes somewhat cheesy accounts written by simple, earnest believers. In the end, I got what I wanted: stories of men and women who had lived lives remarkable for their love for God and neighbour. It was impossible not to be seduced by their holy examples of courage, resilience, humility, and love! If the Bible seemed inaccessible to me as a young teenager, these stories revealed Christ to me like stained glass windows commute the sunlight, each in its own individual way. I admired the Saints; they were heroic. I wanted to be like them.

So there was the romance, but there was also the practicality of dedicating one’s life and efforts to holiness. After all, if death and taxes are the two inevitables in life and one carries over consequences into eternity, it only makes sense to be particularly well prepared for that. I’m not one of those people for whom Eternity has been a source of anxiety. I did try to think my way to understanding it as a child, but I eventually learned that the understanding of Eternity, as with so many other mysteries, is not something we grasp through mental exercises but more through life experience, for these mysteries are embedded in the world around us, and especially in our souls. So I looked at the Truth of Eternity calmly and reasoned simply that I ought to pack my umbrella — strive to make the necessary preparations, that is. Adventures appeal to me (they demand courage!), so knowing that this one promises to be a good one so long as we’re prepared was good enough for me.

Another reason I wanted to become a saint was that I’d gone through a philosophical phase when I was ten or eleven, thanks to my Dad. I loved reflecting on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and how this trinity, so to speak, was one in God, and I suppose in my little child way, I adored that and desired to be united with that above all. Sin and sorrow over the years to come only served to strengthen that yearning.

These are my roots, or some of the bigger ones. It’s remarkable, I note now, how formative those years transitioning from child to teenager are, or can be. They set me on the path I’ve been struggling to follow since, influenced the choices I’ve made, the renunciations I’ve made. It would seem, too, that though I have changed a lot since then, my foundation remains the same: I want to become a saint because it is the heroic and admirable path, because it is the best life investment a person can make for the long term, and because God is so dang attractive I can’t help myself.

Teetering on a brink, an answer comes

Last night, my husband and I had the opportunity to talk a little, and we discussed the day’s homily and got onto the topic of the Narrow Gate Christ speaks of, and how the purifications of Purgatory are reportedly more painful than any purifications we might endure in this life, and this brought me to a place of frustration I’ve been heading towards for some time now:

“I’ve been trying to become a saint since I was something like twelve years old, and look at me! I’m still impatient, still moody, still irritable, more irascible than ever, and I still crave the regard of others! For all my striving, I don’t seem to be getting very far. It’s like there is a delicate balance of making an effort and relying upon God’s grace, and I can’t strike it. Recently, I just feel like giving up trying. Maybe the secret is to nag God: hey, God, I need more grace because, as you can see, I’m still pretty pathetic and not getting anywhere, so if you want me to become a saint, you better give me a lot more help!”

Shortly thereafter, we acknowledged the hour was late and we should go to bed, and on my way, I picked up one of the most densely inspirational books in the way of Christian living that I know, My Daily Bread, written by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. I flipped through and landed upon the following – it was a bit of a tollelege moment, if you recall St Augustine. Each chapter begins with the (imagined, yet arguably inspired) voice of Christ, followed by a reflection, followed by a prayer.

“Son, the grace of devotion is not just a holy feeling, nor is it a religious mood. It is an intelligent attachment of your will to Me and to whatever I command or desire of you.

2. This is a very great grace. I will grant it to you if you will make a sincere effort to turn your back on whatever hinders your spiritual progress. You must empty your heart of all useless interests in order to make room for Me.

3. Often it is such a small matter that prevents one from obtaining this grace. Misguided self-interest cuts many people off from this glorious gift.

4. I desire you to have this grace. It will make you loyal to Me in all things. If you do not have it yet, it is because you have not yet prepared your soul for it. Pray for it and labor for it. Gain control of your feelings and unreasoning desires by acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Above all, begin a determined battle against the outstanding faults in your daily life.

5. With this grace of true devotion, you will find many things easy which now seem difficult and impossible. You will never again lose sight of My power, wisdom, and love, and you will consider it a privilege to follow My Will.

THINK: If I make a firm and persevering effort to abandon my foolish love for unnecessary distractions, God will give me the gift of devotion. From then on, I will no longer depend on feelings or moods, but will follow God’s Will intelligently and faithfully even when I do not feel like doing so.

PRAY: My loyal and loving Saviour, you lived an earthly life of devotion to Your Father’s Will. By self-giving action You made reparation for my many acts of disobedience to His holy commandments. By self-giving action You also proved Your love for me. You gave me an example of true devotion. Grant me the grace of true and solid devotion to You, so that I may prove my love for You by self-giving. No matter how I may feel, let me do only what is pleasing to You. I desire not only to avoid all sin, but also to do many little extra things for Your sake. Make my devotion like Yours – a constant self-offering which will prove my love beyond all doubt. Amen.

My Daily Bread, Confraternity of the Precious Blood (1954), Book 2, Ch. 13

It can be hard to find a good spiritual director. I’ve had the guidance of a number over the years, and only one felt like a perfect fit for me, and he I only enjoyed the companionship of over the course of a three-day retreat. Jesus has not left me orphaned, though. When I was a teenager, I prayed that if He would not send me a spiritual director, then would He please send me the books I need when I need them and guide me thus. I have often noticed Him answering this prayer, and this was surely yet another instance.

I need to continue striving, but I need to refocus. I need to assess my life objectively, and I need to do things the way God wants me to do them rather than the way I want to do them, for my will’s discernment is still often clouded by “misguided self-interest.” In the past few months, it’s become clear that I need to make time to be alone, something that used to be easy but with three children is a challenge. I’ve started taking Saturday mornings to myself while my husband minds the kids, and it’s been a wonderful time to recollect myself and look objectively at my life and try to bring some intelligent order to it. I suspect my next sabbatical should be devoted to my spiritual plan of life.