I have a new kindergartener and a six week old baby. As a result, I have heard lots of people’s kindergarten and baby stories lately. My mom shared (for what seems like the millionth time), the story of how I broke into uncontrollable tears on the bus on my way home from the first day of Kindergarten. I had thought the driver had forgotten my stop! A fellow parent told me on the playground about how he remembered hearing of John Kennedy’s assassination during his Kindergarten year. When I look back at Kindergarten, I recall confusing “are” and “our” and being corrected, as well as wearing a doctor outfit in an end-of-year play called the Kindergarten Frolics.
On the baby front, for my husband and I, our youngest daughter’s arrival is a chance to bring out memories of our first three newborns. Remember how Isaac slept in his carseat until he was 4 months old because of his reflux? Why the heck didn’t we get the kid some Zantac? Remember how nuts I went trying to nurse them and how guilty I felt when I finally gave up and switched to formula? Remember how beautiful Gianna was? Her terrible medicine? Remember Peter sitting with Daddy and cheering the Cardinals to their World Series victory?
What I think is so interesting about all these memories is that they only provide us with quick glimpses of what was. There are thousands of hours in which we have sat in classrooms or around dinner tables, played at parks or on athletic fields, run errands and did chores that we simply can’t recall. I have often thought of how surprised I will be at the end of my life when I stand before Jesus and he judges my life. “Oh, wow!” I’ll exclaim, “I did that?”
How significant this is for us in our faith. Just as the mundane takes up 99% of our lives, so it is with our faith. I do not remember every late night feeding for each of my kids. And let’s be honest… I didn’t enjoy every one of them. But each of those feedings was what fueled my kids’ growth. Every day my son Isaac grew a tiny, imperceptible amount. Even during growth spurts, you couldn’t ever look at him after a nap and think, “Yep. He grew this afternoon.” And yet, as the months went by, he slowly grew out of one size and into another. The plethora of bins in my basement will attest to that. The same is true once we get to school age. I can’t remember learning my letters or phonics or sight words. But somehow, as a result of the efforts of others, I am an adult who knows how to read. That’s intellectual growth.
In our faith it’s the same. Weekly Mass. Monthly confession. Weekly Adoration. Daily prayer. Nine times out of ten these things are nothing to write home about. Sometimes it’s a struggle to even stay awake or listen to the music selection or endure a corny joke in a homily. But if we invest ourselves into them with our whole hearts, we will grow an imperceptible amount each time.
The problem is that sometimes we expect faith to be exciting and when it’s not up to our standard of “fun”, we ditch our spiritual staples. But we do plenty of other things that aren’t particularly fun. Like showering. Or grocery shopping. Or getting the car’s oil changed. We do them because we know without them we’ll stink or go hungry or get stranded by the side of the road.
What we don’t realize when we give up our spiritual exercises is that we are risking the same on an invisible level. If we’re not praying, we slowly slip into being less patient, more irritable and less calm under pressure. Bad habits can be easier to fall back into. When bad times strike, we find ourselves less able to cope. We slowly find ourselves spiritually stinking, starving and stranded.
One last note. Just as I mentioned that I can’t remember a single day of English class, yet here I am typing a column, so is it good to reflect on those unsung heroes of our faith lives. Someone took you for a dunk in the Baptismal font, and that started it all. Who was that? Who taught you to sing “This Little Light of Mine”? You know it, so someone must have. I think of this with the rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I can’t recall a single time when we did this at my Catholic School, yet I know the words to Tantum Ergo. Similarly, I know how to pray the rosary, sing the names of the apostles, and recite the Mass responses and many other prayers. My parents and Sister Louise and all my teachers did their jobs well and I never thought to thank them.
So, parents, Sunday School teachers and catechists, take heart! What you are doing does sink in at some level. It does the rest of us good to thank those who laid the foundations of our faith, as well as those who help to “feed” us spiritually every day.
Copyright 2010 Libby DuPont