Welcome to the Good Enough is Good Enough Book Club! We’re reading Good Enough is Good Enough by Colleen Duggan, and today we’re thrilled to bring you an interview with Colleen!
For a culture that prides itself on diversity, we often apply a one-size fits all approach to “success.” As you write, “Evil is evil and looks the same; sanctity comes in thousands of shapes and sizes …” How can we counteract that desire to conform and replace it with the varied models of sanctity, the ultimate success stories, that the Church provides?
As Christians, we know we are supposed be in the world but not of it. But I wonder—practically speaking — how do our lives look different than the lives of our neighbors?
Do we live like the rest of the world — over-connected, saturated in entertainment, and isolated from those we love?
If we are addicted to busyness, work, pleasure, smart phones, and comfortable lifestyles, how are we truly conforming our lives to the kind we are invited to by Christ?
If we have spouses and kids, how do our families look different than those around us?
What kind of radical sacrifice have we adopted?
Sanctity requires something of us.
It requires we reject the world and our own personal comfort. It requires we sit in silence so that we can hear the voice of God and know what He’s calling us to. I simply cannot hear the Lord’s voice in the cacophony of social media, the modern-day Tower of Babel — where everyone is shouting at each other, proclaiming to the world how great their successes.
If we want the kind of success the Lord asks of us — namely sainthood — Catholics today might begin to look at how they spend their time: online, at work, and in family life.
Are we committed to our marriages first and foremost or do relationships with our children, other family members, or friends trump our sacramental commitment?
Are we as devoted to our children as we are our social media accounts and the constant stream of entertainment we ingest?
Are we fasting from food, pleasure, and creature comforts in order to grow in love for the Lord?
Worldly standards of success can’t be the standards of Christian success. Jesus’s example — embracing poverty, insults, torment and ridicule — upturns the Christian definition of what it looks like to live in the world.
Saint Catherine of Siena wrote:
“The world seeks glory, honor, pleasure, pride, freedom from suffering, avarice, hatred, resentment, and such small-hearted self-centeredness that there is no room for others for God’s sake. Oh, how deluded they are, these stupid people who are conformed with this evil world! Though they seek honors they are disgraced; in pursuit of riches they are poor, because they are not looking for genuine wealth; wanting happiness and pleasure they find sadness and bitterness, because they lose God, who is supreme happiness. They want neither bitterness nor death but fall into both. They want firmness and stability, yet wander far from the living rock. So you see . . . how great is the opposition between Christ and the world.”
Are our lives conformed with Christ or the world’s?
St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
Marathon runners can’t eat, drink, and sleep just like everyone else. They must be mindful of their choices, of what they put in their body, and their daily habits so that they have the energy and fortitude it takes to run well.
So to it is with the Christian: if we want to run this race to heaven, our lives must look different than the ones around us. If we want the prize of eternal life, we must condition ourselves.
Very real and practical obstacles keep moms and dads from date nights: cost, babysitting, work obligations, etc. Those obstacles can lull you into the belief that couple time is superfluous. It’s fine for those with a larger income, a supportive family, pockets of free time, etc., but it’s simply not possible for the rest of us. How would you advise couples who have given up on resuming a dating relationship until their children have left the nest?
A few years ago, I wrote about how an afternoon date with my husband revolutionized our relationship for several weeks after. The point of the piece was that parents should be careful not to put our marital relationships on the backburner, even if we are in the thick of parenting.
Raising children is not an excuse to neglect our partners.
My suggestions pinpricked a few mothers, however, because several commented that date nights required women to break their bonds with their babies by leaving them for hours on end or prompted them to spend money they didn’t have.
I was not suggesting either of those things, of course.
I was talking about intentionally spending time together with our spouses in order to talk about things other than discipline, household responsibilities and money! I was talking about remembering why you liked each other in the first place (as this can get very lost in the daily grind).
It’s tempting for women to use their children as an excuse, as a reason they are unable to apply themselves to the hard work of marriage. Babies, toddlers, and teenagers can be much more demanding than our spouses, but are we guilty of allowing the needs of our children to keep us from doing what we should to serve our spouses?
Do our spouses feel that they are our number one priority, or do we treat them like one of our children, needy and immature?
Do we understand that our husbands want to communicate with us sexually? Are we willing to meet that need or do we think about sex with our husbands as a duty performed because we simply can’t fight off their fiendishness anymore?
Dating your spouse doesn’t require elaborate plans and lots of money, but it may require a little creativity and willingness to try new things.
Okay, so you don’t have money to pay the babysitter and go to dinner and the movies.
A card game at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine will suffice. I also think being intentional about romance and sex helps grease the marital relationship wheel.
There are many ways to continue to date our spouse instead of putting our marriages on hold until our kids are grown and gone.
Here are a few ideas:
- Send flirtatious text messages.
- Make a resolution to acknowledge—in writing or in words—the good you see your spouse doing at least once a week.
- Have more sex. (Take a bath, read a book, buy some lingerie, do whatever it takes to get in the mood and show your husband you love him.)
- Do something you normally wouldn’t, like make your husband’s lunch, mow the lawn, or wash his car.
- Plan an activity he would enjoy and go along for the ride.
- Our kids will grow up and leave us one day, but we’ve made a commitment to our spouse for the rest of our lives.
Today, we have so many ways of avoiding and managing suffering, which results in a false sense of control. Your oldest child’s health issues exposed the folly of thinking you could manage his health and his life. Short of the dramatic circumstances you endured with him, how can we cultivate an attitude that we are wholly dependent on God and our children are His children first?
In our Western world, we exist with all of our basic needs met (and then some!), which makes it so easy to believe that we have more control than we really do. Our abundant material possessions, full bellies, and constant technological connection lull us into comfortable states and the belief that all is well, at least most of the time. Personal suffering — like death, sickness and addictions, for example — snaps us out of this mindset, but on the whole, it’s quite easy for most of us to believe that if we try hard enough we can avoid suffering.
In my own daily life, I’ve found a good barometer for how truly dependent upon God I really am is how I respond to the small inconveniences I experience, such as the unanticipated traffic jam, technological difficulties, a long, boring meeting, or the weather that necessitated canceling our beach trip.
I’m not someone who endures inconveniences well. I like to make plans and watch them unfold. I am organized, and I try to plan for the unforeseen, but sometimes the unforeseen can’t be seen and I’m left scrambling.
It is in these moments that God calls me to greater, deeper trust in Him, not my perfect plans.
I can kick and scream and complain or I can see these small inconveniences as an opportunity willed by God. I can invite God into the moments where I feel disappointed or thwarted or frustrated. I can ask for His consolation, and I can look to him for what I should do next.
Setbacks and inconveniences, even the smallest ones, are moments to remind myself of my dependence on God and not myself.
In addressing the detriments of comparison, you called out not only comparing ourselves unfavorably to others, but considering ourselves superior as well. Social media has exasperated our natural proclivity to envy with carefully-cultivated photos, posts, and hashtags (i.e., #mykidsaremylife) that distort real family life. There’s competition to be both the best and the “worst” — the mom who serves store-bought mac’n’cheese, forgets about her kid’s spelling bee, or whose toddlers do the most damage. How can we be sure the pieces of our lives that we share, on social media or otherwise, are made with a spirit of genuine humility and guard against the desire to one-up each other?
“We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment,” -C.S. Lewis in the Introduction to The Screwtape Letters.
Though Lewis is talking about life in the netherworld, upon reading his description, I immediately thought of the hell we sometimes experience on earth: social media.
All of social media isn’t bad, of course; none of the things in this world are. The problem with social media (and good food, alcohol, television, and my smart phone) is me, the user. Social media tempts me to present my life in a way that is sometimes inaccurate; it accentuates the best part of me without sharing the weaker aspects. It also distracts me from my own real life or embroils me in arguments unlikely to change anyone’s mind.
Social media can also be a powerful tool—a means of spreading light in a dark, post-Christian society. Social media allows me to share my faith and dialogue with others who think differently. It enables me to post a beautiful image, a touching moment, a well-written article, or an idea I’ve never pondered before from a book.
But how do I consistently act as a harbinger of good news at a noisy watering well filled with dreariness, competition, ego, and anger?
Here are five things that help me remain positive when posting to social media.
1. Be authentic. I love Instagram because I enjoy the snapshots of people’s lives. It’s tempting, however, to slap pretty filters on photos and set up a story that isn’t necessarily the complete picture. I have unfollowed many whose lives appear too pretty, too white, and too staged. I love a beautiful image and story, but what I love more is an authentic, beautiful image and story.
There are a few Catholics on social media who consistently tell brave, true stories of their lives and who inspire the search for beauty and goodness. I like to follow those people who share a slice of their life while also depicting a firm, Catholic identity.
2. Share good stuff. Not everyone needs to know what I think about Donald Trump or Pope Francis or Meryl’s Streep’s speech at the Oscars. A few questions to ask before posting to social media:
- Is this post kind?
- Is it necessary?
- Is it true?
Aleteia does a terrific job of culling the most inspirational news on the Internet. Below are a few of the stories I’ve shared on my own accounts:
3. Pray before you post. Before typing a word, say your favorite prayer and invoke your patron saint or guardian angel to guide your thoughts and words, center your work, and infuse charity into your words.
4. Follow positive examples of social media evangelization. I’m consistently impressed with the work of Father Robert Barron, whose recent interview with atheist Dave Rubin is a solid example of how to interact and discuss ideas with people whose views are diametrically opposed to your own.
I also appreciate Lisa Hendey’s example, founder of Catholicmom.com, and author of both adult non-fiction and children’s fiction books. The work she contributes to print, radio, and television Catholic media serves to highlight the good work other people are doing in the Church today.
Randy Hain and Deacon Mike Bickerstaff at Integrated Catholic Life do a terrific job of encouraging people to integrate their faith into both their work and their home lives.
Finally, Sister Theresa Aletheia, who describes herself as a #MediaNun and is the author of the book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church, writes practical pieces on spirituality and living the faith at Aleteia.
5. Limit your time. Real people are right in front of you; don’t miss out on interacting with them! Set reasonable times for social media use, then log off and live. Facebook will be there when you return.
You write, “Parenting challenged me in a way nothing else had. I couldn’t escape my imperfections even if I wanted to.” How true! Motherhood exposes our human frailties, allowing us to grow in virtue and work toward perfection. What do you think are the broader implications for societies with declining birth rates and an increasing amount of couples who see children as simply a lifestyle choice and not a natural part of marriage?
I have to admit, I don’t feel qualified to discuss societal implications about declining birth rates and attitudes of children as a lifestyle choice. I do know that my six children have provided a depth and meaning to my daily life that a job or a hobby simply couldn’t. The life I share with my spouse has purpose mainly because we are raising six beautiful children together and not because we’ve avoided the challenge and suffering that comes with parenting.
Raising these kids with John is—hands down—the greatest thing we will ever do.
Last week, John, my husband, took our 7-year-old, Camille, on a date to Friendly’s restaurant. He sent a picture of Camille sitting in front of a mound of chocolate ice cream. His text read: Pure joy.
I wasn’t there, but I vicariously experienced the joy, both his and hers.
Sure, there are difficult moments in parenting that try my sanity and remind me of my inadequacies and selfishness. Overall, however, I experience a sense of happiness I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have these kids and this chaos.
The happiest people I know are generally not the ones who own European cars and vacation regularly in villas in southern France. The happiest people I know are the ones who drive around in vans that could be condemned by the sanitation department because of the waste on the floors, the ones with grandbabies as numerous as the stars, and the ones whose hands are full and whose hearts are overflowing.
The happiest people I know are the ones who’ve said yes to life and embraced the messiness that yes entails.
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful and insightful questions! God bless you and your work!!
Next week, we’ll cover Chapters 1 and 2. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Book Club page.
Copyright 2018 Carolyn Astfalk