Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Being a Loving Presence

How do we cope with chronic illness? How do we keep from feeling worthless?

The great enemy of the sick person is discourage- ment. Of course, sometimes even little things seem like too much, but then vegging out all the time is depressing. Parts of the mind are alive; others are sluggish or shut down. I think that, along with accepting and embracing our limitations in union with Christ and offering them, we should strive to develop whatever potentialities we have that are vital in us.

My mind is still very active but I do tire easily, so I have to pace myself. Pacing is important. The Italians have the right idea about living life with a human pace--piano, piano. When a civilization has been around for three thousand years, it tends to move slowly and devote a lot of time to eating good food. And though it seems to take forever, things do get done. Rome certainly wasn't built in a day. It's still a work in progress.

I have many projects and aspirations that I work on as I can (and they are "coming along"), but–professionally speaking–I have presently only two set goals for each day: (1) To post at least one edifying thing on social media--more than one is gravy; that's why we don't necessarily have posted on my media sites the Morning Prayer and the Angelus and the Hour of Mercy all three every day. (2) To write my blog and post it--post something, big or small, someone else's quotation if necessary, but something. Those are my daily professional goals as a theologian and an educator right now.

It so happens that I usually do a lot of work in a day. Indeed the two little goals have led to a great deal more. I find that I am doing much more than I thought I ever could, and that I am open to the risk of new possibilities and even new goals. But there is still a basic sense of accomplishment even if the day is a disaster but at the end I can still say, "I did the blog." (I should say, Sundays are off, and you may have noticed that the dates of the entries are sometimes a day or two behind, haha.) Some people say I have a whole "internet ministry" and I suppose in a way I do, but these are its two pillars. So although I have quite a bit of professional work these days, as well as lots of fun, it's really built around being faithful to these two goals.

On the personal level, of course, there is the simple fact that I am a husband and father. All I do and all I suffer pertains to my relationship with my wife, and the awareness that everything indeed is shared sustains this unique companionship through many difficulties. But that is a topic for another blog. As a father, however, I "accomplish" something just by being here. I find it hard to believe but it appears to be true. There are these five little people who love me–yes they "need" me to raise them and educate them and correct them, etc., and I do plenty of that (I try anyway). But first of all, they just love me.

That's how God set up the family (and, really, the whole human race). First, we are "given" to each other. We "belong" to each other. And this basic love generates more love. Concretely, what that means is that even if all I can do is "be around," that is still constructive. It is therefore an achievement to go from the bed (where no one can see me) to the chair in the living room, if I can. For the kids, it's the difference between "where's Daddy?" and "Daddy!" For me that's worth getting out of bed for. Sometimes it's the only thing that gets me up. But the life that ensues is full of surprises.

I found this hard to believe until one time when I was bemoaning my uselessness (which I often do, as my friends and family know only too well), and my own father was there. My Dad rarely talks about growing up: his father died when he was 9 and his mother died when he was 11 (thank God, his grandmother was able to raise him and his siblings). He said to me, with great feeling, that "you have no idea how much it means to these children just that you are here. Just being here is so important to them!"

Well, I felt that he could say that with some authority. Of course he knows that my presence, even on rough days, is a loving presence. To be a Mom or a Dad is first of all to be a loving presence. All sorts of things grow from that (including the frustration that we can't do more, as well as the challenge to really do what we can–but everyone faces that in one form or another).

But I found a basic goal right there: Get up! For me that was possible. For those who are really confined to bed it might just be "give time" or "give a smile," but give something, be a loving presence and let yourself be loved. This is the light in which children grow. So I can't "go out and work"? Well, banging my head against the wall won't change that.

Family duties must be divided up. Financial resources must be found. Sometimes sick people feel that they are not “contributing enough.” Not true. A family is an organism; it adapts. It will focus on the essentials. It will sacrifice what is not necessary. Others will offer their help. Do not be too proud to accept it.

Children take on more responsibility, and learn from it. They understand more than you realize. Love them, talk to them, encourage them, give whatever you can to them, give them yourself–that is what they need first and foremost. If nothing else, let them take care of you. You will be teaching them how to be courageous, how to endure the frailty of human life.

I am not saying we have a license to be lazy. Certainly we must do what we can, and we must challenge ourselves, but we also must give everything to God, and trust that He will bring forth what is good according to His wisdom.