Friday, March 25, 2016

Why I Gave Up Facebook for Lent

At its best, Facebook is wonderful, helping people maintain family ties, encouraging and inspiring people. But at its worst, it inspires jealousy and envy, narcissism and anger. I know more about my cousins and their lives than I ever have. I love seeing the details of everyday life with my brother, SIL, and niece. But lately I was finding myself more often getting down and upset, comparing myself to others. It's not that I don't want them to have good things; I do. But can't I have some of those good things, too? I love seeing pictures of family members' and friends' children, at least until it makes me obsess even more over why I can't have any. Seeing the joy on their faces at an amazing trip to Disney or Universal or Hawaii makes me happy for them. But it makes me wish I could have a vacation, too. The last real vacation we had was our honeymoon, almost 8 years ago. The last trip we took that wasn't to visit family or for doctors' visits was 3 years ago. It's not that I wanted others to have less, but seeing their pictures and joys was leaving me wanting more. 

Even more than that, I was starting to see how Facebook was feeding my anger. I was worn out from seeing too many likes and shares of pieces claiming that there were too many of this group in that thing/place or saying how everyone that doesn't agree with this point of view is (insert epithet of your choice here). I don't expect to agree with everyone on everything, but I am endeavoring to respect them and their views. I want to see individuals as individuals, not get wrapped up in a bean counting game. I want to see each and every person as a child of God, deserving of love and respect. And Facebook was getting in my way. 

In a very real way, Facebook was leading and encouraging me to sin. As Lent comes to an end, I have to figure out if and how I can safely incorporate Facebook back into my life so as to keep the benefits but minimize the moral hazards. Step 1 is definitely limiting how much time I spend on it; it became way too easy for it to become my default when I was bored or cranky or procrastinating. Unfortunately, some of the people most guilty of liking and sharing posts that send my blood pressure skyrocketing are the same ones whose actual lives I care about and want to keep up with. So I can't just not follow them... Do I pay more heed to my own moods and limits? Certainly looking at FB while already down doesn't help. Perhaps not trying so hard to keep up with everything everyone posts is key, too. And realistically, maybe I just need to ignore more of what people like and share and not look at the details. 

If you've got any ideas for how to keep the good parts of Facebook while minimizing the negatives, please let me know!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Put Not Your Faith in Princes"*

In addition to giving up Facebook for Lent (more on that soon), I've been doing both Matthew Kelly's Best Lent Ever and Bishop Barron's daily Lenten reflections. This is the second year I've done both of them as well as having done both Advent programs. I've found it easier to keep up with Bishop Barron's emails, since the Matthew Kelly program involves videos which refuse to work on my iPad, and I haven't always turned on my computer lately.  One day, after having fallen behind, I was trying to catch up on Best Lent ever videos, only to discover that all four videos from the two days I had missed were about parenting. Both of Matthew's videos and both of the bonus staff videos were about being parents. I didn't sign up for a program about how to be a better parent or the joys of parenting; I signed up for a program to help me be a better follower of Christ.

I have to admit that at first I was hurt and angry. But as I thought about it more, the more it bothered me. The assumption that parenting is something that everyone can relate to is becoming more and more obsolete. People are marrying later, having children later, if at all. More people are staying single, either by choice or as a result of circumstance. I can't say for certain, but it seems like more people are estranged from their families now than in previous times. It wouldn't have bothered me as much if one or two of the videos were about parenting, but that overwhelming focus on it left me not wanting to finish the program. I understand that we default to talking about God in parental language, by Christ's example, but how does that reach those who had an absent, neglectful, or abusive father? I understand drawing parallels between what God does as a parent and what human parents do; it helps make God more concrete, more understandable. Nothing is going to reach every single person, but maybe instead of always defaulting to referring to God as a good Father, how about we lay out what makes Him good? He loves us, truly unconditionally; He forgives us; He wants what is best for us; He is always faithful to us, always dependable. He always hears us, even when it doesn't feel like it. 

After I had calmed down, I wrote to the Dynamic Catholic Institute about that series of videos. I didn't know what I expected from their response, but it certainly wasn't what I got, which was a pro forma "it was just chance that it worked out that way and of course we love and respect our infertile brethren...(blah blah blah)" Yes, I was disappointed, until I realized that I was putting my trust in man. Dynamic Catholic does a lot of wonderful work, encouraging people to pray more and read the Bible and to give of themselves. And I love Bishop Barron's reflections; they challenge me to think about Scripture in a new way. But ultimately my trust should not be in them but in God. 

*Psalm 146:3, English Standard Version

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Life is a Gift"

Words matter. And few words matter more than those we repeat over and over and over again. "Life is a gift" is used countless times by Catholics and by pro-lifers generally. I don't disagree at all with the sentiment, but I think we need to be aware of who it may not reach and who it may turn off. I'm reasonably certain that saying it to a woman who sees her pregnancy as a burden is not going to reach her. Maybe she needs to be listened to first, to be really heard regarding why she feels that her child is a burden. After the connection is made, after she feels understood, perhaps after asking what can be done to help, maybe then is the time to remind her that she has value, not just for what she does but for who she is, that her child has value, too. 

What are we saying to those whose suffering is so great that they simply wish for it to end, who see no other end but death? "Life is a gift." "All life has value." Again, both of these are completely true, but neither one is likely to reach someone lost inside their own suffering and pain. The source of the pain doesn't matter, it could be disease, disability, depression. What matters is only that the individual sees no other way out. Telling that person that they are valuable talks over and around them; it doesn't meet them where they are. There have been plenty of nights I have prayed to not wake up, to die in my sleep and not have to face it again. Someone who wants to escape from their pain and suffering doesn't need to be made dead but to be heard. Sugarcoating it doesn't help, either. There are plenty of times I have been told that it will look better in the morning and plenty of times when it didn't. Telling someone that it will get better when it might not isn't helping; it's setting her up for a bigger disappointment later. So often we try to tell people that it's not as bad as they think is, which is just denying their feelings and telling them to tune you out. It's more fair, more honest, more loving to admit "Yes, that really does suck. I don't know or understand it all, but I know you are hurting. I don't know why this is happening to you, and I can't guarantee it will get better. I love you, and I hate that you are going through this." And then we show it, by being there and loving the person in whatever way they need,  whether a shoulder to cry on, a ride to chemo treatments, meals so that they don't have to cook...

"Children are God's greatest gifts." (These words or similar words to that effect are part of the Protecting God's Children training process required to volunteer in any capacity in the Catholic church, but they are also repeated countless times in celebrating new life.) Yes, children are a miracle. Yes, children are an incredible gift. But the more we repeat that children are are God's greatest gift, what are we saying to those who can't have children, to those who are infertile, who are single, who married too late to have children? Children are God's greatest gift... (which you don't deserve) Children are God's greatest gift... (which you will never experience) What are we saying to someone who may not feel like her child/children are a gift? Children are God's greatest gift... (clearly you don't know what you're talking about) 

Yes, we need to promote a strong, clear message about the value of life. And yes, we need to fight a culture that emphasizes only the value of doing, that you are valuable for what you do, what you can do. But we can't just talk over and around people. We shouldn't tell people that they are less valuable because they won't ever receive "the greatest gift." Do we really need to say that one gift is greater than another? Should we next start ranking sufferings?

You are more than what you do. You are more than your limitations. You are more than your pain and suffering.  You are precious in His sight. You are loved.