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A Strategy for Dealing with Whatever Raises Our Ire

by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP 
Complaints never just appear from nowhere. They are not isolated entities. There is always a “why” to be discovered, to be befriended, to be accepted or gently dissolved. Ranting, accusing, striking out are no more helpful than cowering, whimpering, and hiding when it comes to what causes complaint. 

Because we don’t always have control over what causes us to complain, we need to develop a strategy for dealing with whatever raises our ire. Begin by honestly telling yourself why you had to complain (this will require some soul-searching). Then try to make peace with it: either there is some truth to it (however small) or it is a fabrication, something we imagined or misunderstood, and so the best approach is to admit it to yourself. 

Finally, smile at yourself for making such a big story out of next to nothing. Turn it into a prayer, a little conversation with God!

To be honest, my reputation as a complainer is far better recognized by my sisters in community than by me, the source. So much so that when I transferred out of Boston to St. Louis, as a remembrance, they sent an effigy… of me! Luckily, it wasn’t a burnt effigy, but rather tasty. A saint would have jumped on that cookie and devoured it, but I kept it on my desk as a reminder of who I’m not, yet!

It’s a good thing we only get fleeting glimpses of ourselves, otherwise we’d probably be constantly despondent. The flashes of reality give us food for thought and a reason to examine each day to see how Christ-like we’ve been. So, ever onward! Let there be no more “iffy-effies.” It’s time to put on Christ—and radiate!

Complaints of the Saints available today.

Read the first six chapters now.

Explore all of Sr Mary Lea’s books.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop Patience

Patience! Who among us hasn’t wished for more of it? As one humorous prayer would have it, “God grant me patience, and I want it right now!” So much of our lives would be easier and more fruitful if we could just slow down and take life in God’s time, not our own. But how do you develop patience?

  • The spiritual practice of fasting is one way many of the saints—and less-saintly people—have been able to develop patience. Fasting can help you be more calm and patient, even in frustrating situations: because it doesn’t offer immediate gratification, it can help you develop an appreciation of waiting.
  • Since we often lose patience with other people, cutting them a little slack can start with inserting the word “yet” into our vocabularies. “Mary didn’t remember to call me yet” is a world away from “Mary didn’t remember to call me.”
  • It’s good to learn to observe when our lack of patience comes from a sense of entitlement. Problems aren’t all about us! If you’re sitting in bad traffic because of an accident on the road ahead, praying for those involved in the accident takes the focus off you and your impatience to get where you’re going on time.

“Love is patient,” says St. Paul, and if we are a people of love, as we are called to be, then we need to be a people of patience. Try just one of the suggestions here every day and see if it doesn’t get a little easier—and remember that if it doesn’t, prayer will always help!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Tame Your Worried Mind

We all know the verses in Scripture that tell us not to worry. But it’s a lot easier said than done! Worry seems to be the default position for many people, yet it’s not good for us and it’s not good for our relationship with God. But how can we quiet our worried minds?

  1. Analyze your worry. Sometimes if we can get through the emotions associated with worry, we can gain clarity around solving problems. What has worked for you in the past when you were worried? How can you apply those lessons today?
  2. Be specific in your prayers. God doesn’t want you to live in anxiety. What are your responses to worry? Fear, discouragement, anger, impatience? Ask him for help with the specifics of your situation.
  3. Re-align your focus. When you’re worried, your situation or fears about the future take center stage. Once you’ve handed them over to God, keep your focus on him and his word. Every time your mind starts fretting again, grab a Bible or prayer book and re-focus your attention. We’re always calmer when we are feeling the presence of God!

There’s a lot to be worried about, and it’s easy for worry to take the driver’s seat in times of stress. Being worried is feeling fear about a future that has yet to arrive. No matter how you deal with the situations you’re worried about, you’ll be better equipped to face them when you remember you’re not alone.

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart, saints

Accidental Parenting

I came to parenting a little backwards. I’d had not much intention of getting married, much less starting a family (“not my vocation,” as I’d often said), but I was enjoying getting to know Paul when in a phone conversation after our second date, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had two children. Two. Children.

Okay, that pretty much was that. I remember pacing up and down the corridor in the apartment building where I lived (not much room for pacing in my studio!), and thinking, no, no, no.

God had other plans. Three months later I met said children—Jacob was five and Anastasia almost four—and a year later Paul and I were married. And I learned first-hand why parenting is not, but not, for the faint of heart.

Becoming a stepmother means walking into a house of grief. No matter whether the children’s mother has been lost through death or divorce, the loss is real and constant and the kids are not thrilled about someone being there in her place. Boundaries are tested. Decisions are second-guessed. Tears are shed. I felt that if God was calling me to do this thing, then I was going to do it the best I could—but he was going to have to help!

And he did. Those early years were tough years, I won’t pretend they weren’t. Later years were tough, too, though for different reasons. Jacob is now twenty-eight, Anastasia twenty-seven, and frankly these days I cannot imagine my life without them in it. Our marriage didn’t survive, but my parenting did, and in retrospect I am so grateful to have had the honor of helping raise these two beautiful young people.

I suspect many parents feel that same honor at the end of the day. And grandparents, too. It’s just what one does before that’s… tricky. There are hundreds of parenting manuals out there, and none of them offers a magic formula, a secret method for getting it right. Maybe there really is no one “right” way to parent. Are you too strict? Not strict enough? Should you allow them to read anything they want? Should you censor who they hang out with?

I know how difficult it was to parent my stepchildren through what might euphemistically be called a “normal” time; I cannot imagine it in the time of coronavirus, where the decisions you’re making are, quite literally, life-and-death decisions. What children crave as much as love is certainty: they like a routine, a schedule. They need to know what will happen next week. They have to be sure the blocks of their world will stay the same for the foreseeable future. And how can anyone promise them that—now? We don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, or years will bring; how can we communicate reassurance to our kids and grandkids?

When I’m feeling a little lost, I turn to the Church, because in the thousands of years of our existence, you can be sure there’s someone, somewhere, who has something to teach us. And in looking for parenting models, the most obvious choice are the parents of Our Lady: Anna and Joachim, the earthly grandparents of Jesus.

Like me, they were a little surprised by their foray into parenting. I had never wanted to have children; they were unable to have children; and yet by God’s design we all ended up doing his will. Joachim and Anna are not mentioned in the Bible, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. These documents outline some of the Church’s traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

One story says that, rebuked in the Temple for his fifty years of childless marriage, Joachim took his flocks and went to a high mountain, refusing to return home in shame. Meanwhile, Anna prayed in her garden. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave them tidings of the birth of “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Each promised to have their child raised in the Temple as a holy vessel of God. The archangel told Joachim to return home, where he would find his wife waiting for him in the city gate. Anna he told to wait at the gate. When they saw one another, they embraced, and this image is the traditional icon of their feast.

This may or may not be exactly what happened. But what did happen, and this we know, is that they raised a young woman to fulfill her role in a story far bigger than their lives, to become the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of longed for Messiah. And while I expect they had as many bumps in their parenting journey as I did—it cannot be easy, bringing up a child when one is well into one’s grandparenting years!—they still kept faith. They still prepared her for what the future would bring. They had no way of knowing what that would be—just as we, today, really don’t know what the future holds.

But, trite as it is to say, we do know who holds the future. We know that God guided Anna and Joachim, just as he guided me, just as he is guiding mothers and fathers and stepparents and grandparents today.

The world is as uncertain now as it’s ever been. Our children crave stability, and we can give it to them. Not necessarily in the way we’d like to, but in a way that’s better, more profound, longer-lasting. We can give them the stability of a life in Christ, the certainty of the love of God, the protection of the Holy Spirit. That’s the best gift we can give our children, and the only certainty any of us ever really has, now or ever.

And… they do notice. On her 23rd birthday, Anastasia wrote me a letter, thanking me for giving her, among other things, the Mass, and a trust in God. But I knew that already, because I have the privilege now of watching how she lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Get Through the Dog Days

For us in the northern hemisphere, we are definitely in summer’s dog days now… but it’s a very different summer from other summers, isn’t it? With different areas offering different levels of “openness” and/or safety precautions, it’s hard to know how to plan a vacation… much less plan for what the fall and back-to-school will be like. That uncertainty is one of the hallmarks of our time, and it’s incredibly difficult to live with!

  • Do it now. If there’s something that you meant to do this summer, or in this lifetime, don’t postpone it. Whether it’s a musical instrument you want to learn or a broken friendship you want to heal, this summer teaches us that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
  • Find “your” Scripture. We all have favorites we turn to when life becomes difficult. In times of uncertainty, for example, you might turn to Isaiah: “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Google “Bible verses fear” or “Scripture for uncertainty” and you could find your own new favorite.
  • Check out the saints. No matter what befalls, there’s a saint who’s been there ahead of us, and we can learn something about how to adapt by studying their lives. (Think they’re superhuman? Think again: Sr. Mary Lea Hill, our own Crabby Mystic, has thoughts on that!)

Let’s be honest: humans love to plan, and we hate living in circumstances that don’t allow it. This uncertain time is a good time to remember that even if we don’t have a plan, God does. No matter what the rest of this summer, or next autumn, might bring, we’re not facing it alone. If we can put our trust in God and God’s promises, we will get through—together.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Help Your Heart

In difficult times, we often put our focus outside ourselves. We help people around us who need help. We do what needs to be done. But somewhere in there, we need to help our hearts. How do we do that?

  • Find the blessings. In every painful time, there are blessings. They don’t justify the pain, but when you keep your heart open to the goodness, you can see the way through. Whatever your struggle is today, claim your openness even to the blessings that have yet to appear and then give them room to come in.
  • Use your imagination to look past your anxiety and heart pain to what could happen when things change around you. Pray for a world in which everyone is healthy and secure. Share everything with God, and visualize your life in a new and healthier environment.
  • Read Scripture. There are passages in the Bible that are applicable to times like this… and to you. Read Psalm 9:9-10, Isaiah 40:31, Ephesians 6:10, and Psalm 107.

God loves you and wants to heal your deepest hurts. He wants you to experience his perfect peace and surrender your burdens to him. Lay each burden at his feet and release yourself from the yoke of hardship. Trust that the Giver of Life has come to heal, restore, and redeem your brokenness.

saints

Complaining Saints

Saints are human, and, as we all know, humans complain. A lot! Despite the often one-dimensional portraits of sanctity we find in some devotional materials, every saint struggled. And it wasn’t always easy for them to handle their struggles gracefully.

Complaints of the Saints by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, shares some of the saints’ responses to suffering. The witty anecdotes and wisdom she conveys are both consoling and relatable, teaching us that many saints experienced the same emotions we do in the face of hardship. 

And did they ever complain! Complaints of the Saints argues that complaining is a natural human reaction to life’s difficulties. Saints used their human nature, faults, and even complaints as a means for growing closer to God, seeing every part of their lives as part of a continuum that leads to eternity. We can learn from them: how we perceive and react to our trials can be a means for drawing us closer to God. Scripture and the lives of the saints together reaffirm the truth that God can handle (and welcomes!) our feelings and complaints.

In 61 short chapters, Sr. Lea relays the stories of a diverse range of holy men and women who reached out to God in times of need—sometimes with an acerbic tongue (St. Jerome); sometimes with patience (St. Thérèse of Lisieux); sometimes with a gruff demeanor (St. Damien of Molokai). All these saints enjoyed a close relationship with the Lord, and they weren’t afraid to reach out to him in their own voice, with their own raw feelings. Sr. Lea’s sense of humor—and affection for the saints—shines through her writing. After reading this book, you’re sure to feel closer to them as well.

You can pre-order Sr. Lea’s new book, out on August 6th, here.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 New Meditations for Change

Well, they’re not actually new, they’re ancient! But they may be new to you, and at a time when we’re all searching for ways to live though the present time and possibly make sense of it all, they may be most welcome. Choose one of the options below and sit with it, if possible in a quiet place and before a crucifix or an image, or when you are sitting with the Blessed Sacrament. See which one calls to you.

  • The principal devotion of the Pauline Family is Jesus Master, Way, Truth, and Life. We look at Christ and in him contemplate his complete personality. He gave various descriptions of himself: “I am the light of the world,” “I am the vine,” “I am the good shepherd.” But these are particular aspects of Jesus. When he wanted to describe himself completely, he said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). To reproduce the whole Christ in us, it is necessary to believe in his work, to follow his examples and to live his life. How can I think about Jesus Master, Way, Truth, and Life today? Can I do one thing, today, that will make others see his way in my life?
  • Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, invites us to put ourselves in the school of Jesus the Divine Master. In this “school” we listen to the Word of God. We almost make ourselves all “ear” so that we can absorb his way of thinking, of reasoning, of loving, of choosing, of being. You might think about the virtue you most need to grow in at this time. You might picture how Jesus would conduct himself in the situations we find ourselves in right now, and listen to what he might say.
  • Why is St. Paul so great? How did he do some many wonderful things? How is it that year after year his doctrine, apostolate, and mission in the Church of Jesus Christ become better and better known, admired, and celebrated? Why? The answer lies in his interior life. The secret is here. Inflated balloons empty themselves and vanish in a day. How can I develop a genuine interior life that will sustain me and germinate seeds for others?

These are difficult questions for difficult times. Know that the Daughters of St. Paul are praying for you and with you as we move forward together.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Care for Yourself

We often think that doing for others is the only way to be a faithful Christian. But the only way we can do for others is to first do for ourselves, so we are strong and steady in helping them. When you board an aircraft, the cabin crew will tell you that in the event of an emergency, it’s your duty to first locate and put on your oxygen mask, before helping your child or parent or friends locate theirs. You cannot help anyone else breathe when you can’t breathe yourself. In these difficult times, it’s a good reminder that we have a responsibility to God and to those who depend on us—to take care of ourselves. How?

  1. Self-care isn’t bubble baths and manicures. Self-care means giving your mind and your body what they need to function well. So make sure you get enough sleep (8 hours is recommended), that you eat healthy foods, that you find ways to exercise.
  2. Self-care isn’t something that comes easily: it is a discipline. We confuse self-care with self-indulgence, whereas it is the bedrock of our lives in Christ. We cannot accomplish being okay by sheer willpower, we have to work toward it through proper self-care. We are both body and soul, and we must care for both.
  3. Know yourself. Self-care will look different from one person to the next. What really matters is knowing yourself and what restores you. What restores and sustains you during stressful times might differ from what helps your friends and family recharge.

You probably already know what your body, your mind, and your soul need to feel healthy and nurtured. Give yourself permission to engage in those practices, and take them on as a daily discipline so you can continue to grow in Christ and bring others to the joy of his presence and of his love.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Beginning a New Summer

Summer’s officially here! And while the glorious long days are wonderful, summer can wreak havoc with your spiritual practices. For those of you who have gone back to church, it can be difficult to focus on the liturgy while also following social distancing requirements. Some churches offer fewer Mass times in the summer, friends you count on are off on vacation, and frankly, during the lockdown you’ve been doing spiritual reading to sustain you and you might not have the energy now to read more. What can you do?

  • Make a retreat. This is the best time for it, when your family is occupied with their own summer pursuits. There are some beautiful DIY retreats you can do (Awakening Love is one of them) and you’ll immediately feel a reconnection with God.
  • Reconnect with nature. The earth is God’s gift to us, but we take it for granted most of the time (and spend a good part of the winter avoiding it altogether!). Take a walk—preferably barefoot—and drink in the beauty of God’s world. This is the year of Laudato si, Pope Francis’ reminder that we are all connected to our planet and all who live here. Take advantage of it!
  • Understand that this summer is different. With the fine weather, there’s a temptation to pretend that COVID-19 is behind us, to draw a line under everything bleak and difficult that’s happened in the first part of the year. But as you find the “new normal,” remember that we all need to talk a little differently in the world this year, and that your prayers are what keep you sane… and others safe. Pray for your community, that the summer will be a healthy one for all.

Summertime is an amazing opportunity to get outside, to feel the sun and the wind, to rediscover the world we’ve been missing as we sheltered in place. Be safe as you begin to enjoy it again!