In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.
One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”
This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.
We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.
She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”
I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.
Note: This column is based loosely on a talk my second son Gabe and I gave to parents and teens at a nearby parish on Wednesday evening. You can watch the video here.
Often, I have wondered why God entrusted my five children to me. At times, they seem so grounded and confident that my fatherly advice seems more hindrance than help; other times they are such a mystery to me that I wonder how we could possibly be related. I am exasperated when my brokenness shows forth in their behavior, and overwhelmed when some small seed I buried and forgot about suddenly blooms in them.
This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.Mark 4:26-27
It’s still dark outside, early Monday morning, and I’ve just read today’s gospel. Jesus once again performs a healing miracle on the sabbath, for a woman who has been crippled and unable to straighten her back for 18 years. Once again, the synagogue leader is outraged that the Lord is “working” on the Sabbath, and once again, He sets him straight:
Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?Luke 13:15-16
I close my eyes to reflect: He’s telling them they take time to certain things, even on the Sabbath. They do what they need to do so their animals don’t die. They do what is necessary—but they won’t help this woman. They won’t love this woman, so He calls them hypocrites.
What is He telling them? What is He telling me?
Love IS necessary.
In our current culture, we are less inclined to strictly observe the Lord’s Day by resting from work. But might we abstain from love?
A few weeks back, I had a conversation with my sister Jill. Among other things, we talked about my distance from our folks in Michigan. I must have confessed my insecurity around being a good son and a good brother, and Jill called me on it. She told me she had heard me say that before and shared that while it may be true, I should be careful about repeating it too often, because we can’t progress if we stay tied to past problems, behaviors, sins, or weaknesses.
My mind has returned to the conversation numerous times since, and I believe she is right. My limp was becoming my crutch.
Let me say that again: My limp (insecurity, a problem I have that I struggle with) was becoming my crutch (something I lean on to help me excuse bad habits and get through the day).
Several years ago, when my spiritual director said I was insecure, I bristled immediately—a pretty sure sign. He warned me at the time that it would continue to surface, and that the important thing would be to acknowledge it and move on.
Somewhere along the way I forgot to move on. Instead, I lean into the limp: Instead of struggling against the insecurity, I resign myself to being insecure.
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26
Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.
Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.
Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.