My boys never cease to amaze me. A few days ago Maria informed me that Gabriel, my five year old decided to forgo a frozen strawberry Popsicle (even while his younger brother enjoyed one) so that he could get a special treat after dinner instead (they’re only allowed one special treat a day because my wife does not suffer from the same problem I do). It seems my boy has more self-discipline than his dad. As for me, I hate suffering, and especially voluntary suffering. I’m the biggest wimp when it comes to self-sacrifice.
This of course explains why I can’t seem to make any progress on a number of issues in my life, such as why I haven’t made any real spiritual progress in years, why I seem stuck as a mediocre husband and father, a bench-warmer. It’s why I haven’t really pursued the jobs I want or the education I desire. I’m so addicted to comfort and indulgence that the mere thought of fasting makes me hungry. Each day I rush home to my family with all these great ideas and energy… I can’t wait to wrestle with my boys and to embrace my wife in a passionate kiss and help cook dinner. I’m going to get all the bills paid and fix that closet door; I’m going to engage my wife in meaningful conversation and we’re going to spend quality time in prayer.
But then I walk through the front door, put my bag down and hear the comfy couch calling my name. Suddenly all my grand schemes come crashing to the ground in a pile of charred wreckage. Perhaps it’s because I watched nine hours of TV each day during high school and so never really formed any sort of self-sacrificial discipline? Whatever the reasons and excuses, the fact of the matter is that I’m not very good a making those small sacrifices in my daily life, which if we’re being honest, are what make all the difference between a saintly life and a “could have been”.
What, pray tell, does all this have to do with being a good husband and father? Simply this, what could be more important than helping my wife and children become saints? Leon Bloy once said, “At the end of life there is only one great tragedy, not to have been a saint.” As a husband and father, my single most important responsibility is to help my wife and children avoid that tragedy.
So how do I do this? By being a saint myself and reflecting the light and love of Christ so as to illumine their lives and to teach them to do likewise; easy, right?
So, it’s my job to form them into saints (with the grace of God of course). Well, I can tell you this much, that the formation we’re talking about doesn’t take place in those “big”, “easy”, “obvious” moments in life where you’re called to give some gloriously obvious sacrifice. The big sacrifices are the easy ones. Real saintly formation takes place in those small loving sacrifices, those daily moments that take place a thousand times a day. It’s in not watching “one more” YouTube video, or checking Face Book for the umpteenth time, or not complaining that the AC isn’t cold enough. It’s in waiting patiently behind a slow driver who doesn’t use her turn signal and giving the peace sign to the guy who is flicking me off while cutting me off. It’s in listening attentively to my little boy’s story that makes no sense, or my wife talk my ear off because she’s been listening intently to nonsense all day long.
BUT I DON’T WANT TO!! And that’s the problem. As I said earlier, I really stink at all this self-donating love stuff. Fortunately, with God’s grace, I’ve made that first really big step… I’ve stopped making excuses. I’m a grown man and I own (take responsibility for) my lazy, self-indulgent nature. Now I need to start praying for the grace to take the next step… to get off the bench and actually start making some of those small sacrifices that I loathe so much.
I know it’s going to be painful at first and I cringe at the thought of it. But I’m certain that one day in the future it won’t seem so bad. I might even begin to look forward to those sacrifices of love. Then, I’ll be able to say with St. Lawrence to the torturers who were flaying him alive, “You can turn me over, I’m done on this side.” Or better yet, I’ll be able to join my five year old son in not having a Popsicle because my wife asks us to only have one special treat a day.
Mary, my Mother, help me to imitate your Son by giving myself in love. Amen.