All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.
— Flannery O’Connor
Yesterday I read this quote by one of my favorite Southern writers, and it reminded me why I love O’Connor’s writing so much. Well, one reason. She captures humanity with a tough-edged honesty, spins a great yarn (always) and shows us how much life is about how we respond to God’s grace, which often comes to us in unsuspecting ways—“the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it….”
I had a conversation with a friend the other day that got me thinking about the action of grace in our lives. She has young children, and like so many mothers at that stage, she struggles not to live in a constant state of over-scheduled stress. Trying to balance work, home, children’s activities, and maintain a sense of joy in the process has become quite a juggling act. Back when mothers stayed home and took care of the house, with her daughters helping her while her sons were out in the fields or hunting with their fathers, roles were more one-dimensional. We have to fight to find that natural rhythm and joy in the everyday of our multi-dimensional lives.
When I tried to encourage her to find peace and joy in each child, in each day, in each activity, even amidst temper tantrums and lost homework and teenage woes, she said, “But you’re looking back on this time in your life. It’s easy for you to say that 20 years later when you’re no longer in the middle of it.”
I thought about my response, not wanting to dismiss her point. But then I said, “We are always in the middle of life. Life is messy. Sure, my kids are grown, but now I’m caring for an 81-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s, pursuing my own latent career goals, struggling with personal health issues, and planning (with my husband) for our retirement years in the face of an economic depression. And yes my children are grown, but the cares of motherhood never end. Now I’m watching grown children struggle with jobs, a first grandchild on the way, financing for graduate school, and a third deployment to the middle east for my Army pilot son. If I wait ‘til everything is easy, I’ll miss the joy! Real peace doesn’t depend on our circumstances. It comes from inside.”
Later that same day, I found myself looking at my “To Do” list for the week, and I realized how much I considered each item just that—something “to do”—rather than an opportunity for God’s grace to act in my life. So I decided to try to slow down my approach this week, and to find joy and peace in the “doing.” By going “inside” to find the peace, and then asking God’s grace on all that I do, I’m finding that I can actually enjoy each activity more, rather than hurrying through it to “get it done.” Well, maybe I’m not enjoying repetitive phone calls to doctor’s offices to finally get a prescription refilled. And no, it’s not exactly enjoyable straightening out errors on a cell phone bill or cleaning out junky guest rooms when visitors are coming. But when I try to focus on the joy the visitors will bring, and the blessing of having a cell phone, and the relief the prescription medicine brings, it changes the process, by God’s grace.
The day after our conversation, I read the following quote from St. Silouan of Mount Athos in my Daily Lives, Miracles and Wisdom of the Saints Calendar:
“This Pentecostal season could be for each of us, as it should be, a time of re-creation and renewal. It could lead to an illumining of the heart and mind that enables us to see ourselves as we truly are, and to love our enemy as he or she truly is, created in the image of God, renewed by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and called to eternal communion and love.”
Wow. God truly gives us what we need through His saints!
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (read several earlier posts about him, like “Getting Real,”Beside Ourselves,” and “Scootch, Scootch, Bog, or Grace, Eventually”) always has a way of addressing finding grace in our daily lives:
It is not circumstances that darken our souls…. How often I have heard people say, ‘…what can I do with such a son-in-law, my rheumatism, or the Russian revolution?
(Replace rheumatism with whatever your current cross/pain, and the Russian revolution with the current economic or political crisis.)
You want happiness—give an equal measure of happiness; you want freedom—give freedom in exactly the same measure. You want food—give food; you want love, unselfish and thoughtful—give unselfish and thoughtful love.
These last words of Met. Anthony’s speak directly to our everyday stresses: whether we’re dealing with our children, our customers, the person on the other end of our phone calls to insurance companies, doctors’ offices, or cell phone businesses, or the stranger asking for food or money on the street corner, we can find happiness, freedom, and satisfaction to the measure that we are willing to give it to others throughout each day. How amazing that this wisdom from an Orthodox Russian archbishop so parallels the words of a Southern Catholic writer.
May God help us be willing to support the action of His grace in our lives.
P.S. And yes, I LOVE my new MacBook Pro! This is my first post after a 3-day weekend of setting it up, transferring stuff from my old PC, and beginning to learn how to use it. My daughter has done most of this for/with me, of course. And sure, some of it has been difficult or frustrating, but I'm trying to enjoy the process because I am so thankful for my new Mac!