Thursday, July 28, 2016

Even the small struggles serve the Kingdom of God

As a child I remember being told, “You're just going through a phase,” about some tragedy that was happening in my life. Probably some elementary-school drama that involved passing notes, or the embarrassment of being six inches taller than everyone in my class. Im not sure what the issue was, but the response stuck with me.

Painting: Harold Copping, The Dunce (1886)
At the time, I was struggling to cope, and dismissing the event as “just a phase” didnt help settle my swirling emotions. Instead, it made me feel like my struggle wasnt valid, that it didnt actually matter in the big picture. But it did—and they all do—because in each phase we are shaped by God through events occurring at a particular point in our lives.

Some phases stop and start abruptly: a lost job, a cancer diagnosis, a death. Other transitions happen without much notice: moving from newlyweds in the honeymoon phase to a married couple celebrating their fourth, fifth, and sixth wedding anniversary.

In motherhood you record these shifts in a baby book: the move from nursing to solid foods, from crawling to walking, from diapers to potty-training. There is an actual pain in your chest when the toddler pronounces a certain word correctly for the first time. One day your daughter’s face looks different and you can almost see the woman she will be behind the round face and sticky cheeks. There is always movement away from one phase toward something else.

And it is often in hindsight that problematic phases appear sweet. As an exhausted first-time mom with a fussy baby, I remember thinking it was a joke when older women said, “Enjoy every minute.” I think of them now on those evenings when the children are crying, dinner is getting cold, and I find myself thinking, “I just want to eat a meal in peace.” Because soon it will be quiet, the table (and floor, and highchair, and clothes) will be clean, and an uninterrupted meal will be had—during which there will be time to reminisce about scraping beans off the walls.

My current phase with the tiny cement patio we refer to optimistically as “the yard,” with the toddler shouting “I am his mother” regarding her little brother, and one car old enough to drive itself, is in fact a magical phase. Because whatever awaits us in our next phase—the homestead with land, the roomy minivan, the less assertive toddler—will have complications, too. The house will have bad plumbing, the van will have transmission trouble, the toddler will exhibit new behaviors, as will her brother. Hopefully another baby will be thrown into the mix. Each phase presents a whole host of challenges that make past moments seem simple, sweet, and idyllic.

So while being a middle-schooler who is a head taller than everyone else or a willful three-year-old “mother” are indeed phases, they are everything to the one going through them. Its their life, its where they are right now. Just like the apartment and cold dinners are the phase Im in right now, these moments are all part of Gods plan for our lives, our growth, our holiness, and our good—however trivial the trials may seem, they do all point to Him.

In the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá from “Conversations,” Chapter 8:
Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him. That is why I can tell you that our age needs to give back to matter and to the most trivial occurrences and situations their noble and original meaning. It needs to restore them to the service of the Kingdom of God, to spiritualize them, turning them into a means and an occasion for a continuous meeting with Jesus Christ.