I decided to conduct an experiment the other day. What would happen, I pondered, if I spent the entire day forgetting myself? It really was a frightening proposition because I’ve never done it before. I’ve forgotten keys, wallets, purses, kids, cell phones, birthdays, God, lyrics to universally popular songs but never myself. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always seem to have my best interests and desires at the forefront of my mind.
I have a beautiful friend who can so completely lose herself in care of her family that she can wind up having some pretty rough days. Listening to her talk about her day, I’ve found myself thinking, “I’d never let myself have that bad of a day—I’m too selfish!” If the kids are fighting and the baby trips and falls into the corner of giant plastic block, I’ll eat some chocolate on the sly and yell at someone to take the edge off. If my morning chores seem simply insurmountable, I might drink a second cup of coffee and read the news for an extra half hour thinking, “Ha! Take that, Day! You were preparing of morning of suffering, but I’ve turned it into an opportunity for indulgence! I win!”, sensing, vaguely, that I hadn’t.
But what was I missing out on? By shrinking from the little trials of the day, what blessings was I preventing God from giving me? I was suspicious, fearful, but intrigued. I wondered how I’d feel at the end of the day if I had spent the whole day doing His will, experiencing it as perhaps He wants me to. Would I feel tired and resentful, as I’ve been tempted to wonder, or would I instead feel something different, having spent the day in loving service to God and others and, for once, not myself. I was also a little afraid: if I forgot myself, who would remember me? And would I have the stamina to keep that up all day? It was a struggle just to get through the day selfishly; would I collapse by lunch from practicing saintly virtue? Probably, I figured, but at least it would mix things up a little.
So I did it. Imperfectly, to be sure, but I did keep at it all day long. With God’s grace, I tried mightily to attend to the needs of the day as I thought He was leading me to do. I did my chores promptly. I talked to my children gently and gave them lots of hugs and kisses. And when they needed to be disciplined, I tried to do it out of love for them and for their good instead of out of annoyance or anger. When my husband came home, I set aside my own desire for appreciation and affection to instead listen empathetically as he told me about the challenges of his day. I made his dinner the way he liked instead of doing it the easier way and then served it to him with a genuine smile. Who was this charming woman? It was thrilling. And I felt beautiful inside.
So, for the big fear: in forgetting myself for the day, was I forgotten? A resounding no. God, aware of my extreme weakness in this area, treated me with such kindness that except for the first 20 minutes of the day, I felt so completely taken care of by Him that I didn’t feel the need to “care” for myself by cutting corners or seeking pleasure during the day. He arranged for an encouraging phone call from a friend, a popular Facebook post from my husband about something funny I’d said (so ridiculous, I shouldn’t care, but it did give me a boost), and a seamless, productive afternoon that could only have been from Him. Most importantly, however, I noticed by the end of the day that the household was warmer, gentler, and more joyful than usual. I was tired, admittedly, but so happy: remembering to forget myself had turned out to be such a joy.
“We are blocks of stone that can move and feel, that have a perfectly free will.
God himself is the stone-cutter who works on us, chipping off the rough edges, shaping us as he desires, with blows of the hammer and chisel.
Don’t let us try to draw aside, don’t let us want to escape his will, for in any case we won’t be able to avoid the blows. We will suffer all the more, and uselessly— and instead of polished stone, ready for the work of building, we will be a shapeless heap of gravel that people will trample contemptuously under foot.”
–St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way
Copyright 2011 Meg Matenaer