This is the 3rd in a series of reading, discussing and applying ideas from Thomas Howard’s book which is available under two different names: Splendor In the Ordinary and Hallowed Be This House. If you’re new to the series, start at the Index Post discussing The Household for more explanation and a trail of breadcrumbs to the other posts in the series. Each post contains an updated Action-Questions Printable for you to print and prayerfully consider in applying these ideas.
My Life For Yours
Perhaps you initially considered this chapter an extension of The Door. Are we not just defining spaces again here? Enough already. Let’s go explore some rooms in the home.
But here we must pause, if not just to acknowledge that our home is a collection of persons and rituals and duty and service and all of that takes place in a space. Inside four walls.
Like the door, the walls indicate that something happens inside, yet they function differently than the door, which opens and closes to allow passage and welcome guests. The walls are there to contain. They mark this place we call home, the place we nurture, serve, and, as much as our family economy allows, add touches of beauty. The walls signify the boundaries of my life…..for yours.
Not a foreign concept, this idea of service, but we’re talking about more than just mere acts of service here. We’re talking about laying down a life – my life – for yours. For my husband. My child. My guest. It seems extreme, perhaps because we are daily bathed in the idea of my life alone, or make yourself happy, or do what you want, or even do what makes you happy. What those selfish slogans sell is a superficial sort of gratification that results only in a hunger for more, and at the bottom of all this “me-ness” is simply loneliness. It is a well of unending, never-satiated desire for more and more of me and mine and once down that well it’s awfully hard, short of God’s grace, to crawl out. The well is deep, and down deep enough it is dark and oh, so lonely.
This mystery of my life for yours is a Divine template – His life for ours. Think about that. Think about how unworthy and completely undeserving we are. Yet He gave His life freely nonetheless. And how vulnerable Our Lord makes Himself just so that we can approach Him.
Anytime a life is laid down, there must be a death. A death to acedia, to comfort, to an expectation, to convenience.
Our job then is to model the same death and life-giving love within these four walls, within this home that both shrouds and expresses the supernatural within the ordinary.
When I lay down to rest with my back aching and my pregnant belly so full of a new little life kicking and squirming – my life for yours.
When I open myself to a new life, spend 9 months nurturing him and, God in His wisdom and infinite mercy, calls the infant back to Himself – my life for yours.
When a toddler dumps a glass of milk on the floor at the exact moment I sit down to eat my meal – my life for yours.
When a little person comes slinking into bed to soak up the comfort and safety of that space – my life for yours.
When my husband comes home and pours his day into my thoughts, already full and charged from my own day of challenges – my life for yours.
When my teen comes home late from an event to confide and share – my life for yours.
When an adult child confides a deep and painful suffering that I long to take away but can only pour my prayers and daily offerings into – my life for yours.
When I sit next to my sweet brother, weary and sleep deprived, to rub his tortured back and body and smile deeply into him during his last moments on this side of the veil – my life for yours.
When a dear friend shares through tears the heavy cross she is carrying – my life for yours.
Every morning, when the sun comes up all over again – my life for yours.
And here’s the catch – my life for yours, joyfully.
The Two Extremes – Resentment and the Martyr Complex
As in all things good, there are two distinct extremes to beware of.
Without the joy of my life freely given I can expect discontent, irritation, and inward self-pitying. And they come easily. They slip into our thoughts on the greased rails of an overly full day, or a sleepless night, or the weariness of physical suffering. It is toxic quicksand that will ensnare a person (whose days are full to the brim with “my life for yours” moments) until the thoughts become enough of a burden that they threaten to pull someone under. Thomas Howard points out that we are most at risk to encounter this toxic quicksand when love has receded.
Strengthen your marriage. Guard it fiercely and nurture it. Time, shared joys, and sufferings yoke a couple together but it also provides plenty of opportunity for chafing. Stay especially close to the example of the Holy Family and place your marriage under the Holy Family’s protection. Because in this culture, you’re going to need supernatural protection and help. Period.
Get to the Sacraments frequently – the Church pours healing and strengthening grace out to us through Her Sacraments.
All else follows.
I know it’s easy to slip into that mode of bitterness and resentment. I’m guilty. But I suppose it would not be out of place to caution against another extreme form of twisting this beautiful idea of my life for yours into a martyr’s complex. Which, if I am honest, moms are naturally gifted at.
I don’t want to trespass too far into an area best suited for a spiritual director, but I can give you some practical ideas to help you guard against this:
- Start the day with prayer and reading. If you want your day to unravel there is one sure and certain way to guarantee success: skip a morning prayer that offers the day back to God, the Giver of all that is good.
- Read. For yourself. Read to nurture your imagination and your day. Read to enlarge your ability to speak to the many moments that you will encounter. You cannot give what you do not have. Take a little time for this. Perhaps a Mother’s Morning Basket can give you some ideas for how you might very simply begin to carve out a few minutes a day to do this.
- Accept help. One sure way to know that you’ve slipped into a martyr’s complex mentality is when a husband or an older child offers to help and you constantly rebuff them. “No, I will forgo Mass for the 840-gazillionth time by taking Sally-screams-a-lot to the vestibule instead of allowing you to help me.” Allow your husband to be gallant. Learn to be a lady and graciously accept his help.
- Commit to self-care. Not as an expression of vanity but as a way of stewarding the body given to us that is a temple of the Holy Ghost. And do so as a way to express your femininity as a gift to your husband. It’s so easy to hit the ground running and then startle into the awareness that your husband is on his way home and you find yourself remarkably unsure if you even brushed your teeth for the day. So….
- Set up simple routines for self-care, make them a habit (I do this by writing them down in my daily planner so I have to look at them every day. These little self-care goals are in my face every day. ( 🙂 punny!) After enough time, they become a habit).
- Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. Leisure is the basis of culture (so says Mr. Josef Pieper).
- Eat well.
- Guard your sleep routine. Ahem. Get ready – I’m going to rip the band-aid off. That means that if you have trouble waking up before your kids, you need to go to bed earlier. New mommies that are nursing through the night get a natural pass from this rule, but still need to guard sleep – it just looks different. It may mean popping an educational DVD in for a 30-minute nap, or asking a teen neighbor to babysit in the afternoon, or accepting your mother-in-law’s offer of help to watch the other kids, or…letting go your unrealistic expectations for your home and life while you grant yourself some grace to lovingly ease into mothering a new little person.
Ok? Ok. Let’s get back to the four walls!
This paradoxical mystery of finding joy when pouring my life out for you is what Mr. Howard calls the “principle of exchanged life.” Rather than a cult of *me* that nets loneliness and vanity, the love exchanged within my life for yours brings liberty and joy. And in turn, liberty and joy act as mortar, cementing bonds of love between persons and creating an atmosphere of unconditional love into which God can breathe life and His will. All within the boundaries of the four walls of your home.
And this, Mr. Howard says, is what these four walls of a home are all about. They are a boundary, or bond, of the love expressed and given between persons.
Love Transfigures Duty To Joy
And because there are different forms and expressions of love within these four walls – between husband and wife, parent and child, sibling and sibling, and so on – the different expressions fortify the walls. We’re made to give and express love; we are created in His Image after all. God is three persons – a family within the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. When this joyfully and freely given principle of exchanged life is expressed we image God. That’s a powerful thought. In this imaged love duty and responsibility intersect with commitment and from there joy opens out onto joy because there are no expectations, no tally marks, no score kept. Surely this is a precursor of what awaits behind the veil, and most certainly is the splendor within our ordinary!
Can I say a word about commitment? Because I think it has a place in this discussion. Commitment is defined as a pledge or a bond. Of course, there is the commitment to a marriage. But, there are other forms of commitment – to a duty, a task, a job, a vocation, one’s country. Remember that commitment lies between two extremes – we can perhaps consider these extremes complete indifference on the one side and obsessiveness on the other. Commitment within the context of life-giving love compels one to dig deeper, find out why, research, read, apply, try, fail, and try again. When you find yourself leaning into a challenge, commit. Do the work. Brainstorm. Don’t run away, or worse, post your problem on some very public part of social media asking others to commit to your problem for you. No. Carry the cross. Dig in. The very same sound and simple principles Mr. Howard has given apply here. My life for this challenge, for this cross, for this duty. Joyfully.
The Giver of Every Good Thing
“We know that all things work together for good to those that love God.” (Romans 8:28) All things. The spilled milk. The aching back. The loss of a child. The loss of sleep. All of it. Because He is the Giver, and with Him, all things are possible. And His love, His great unfathomable love, transfigures our duties into joy within these four walls so that we can express that principle of exchanged life – my life for yours. And then we do with it what man has always done with offerings – we offer it back to Him – hallowing our ordinary duties and transforming them into a mystery full of splendor.
So, here we are. Through the door and inside the walls. It’s time to start encountering some spaces and considering the splendor within. Next up – the entryway!
If you’d like to print and consider a few action questions based on this chapter, click on the printable below! These questions can inform your prayer time, become a springboard for discussion within your marriage, or you can ignore them altogether! 🙂
God bless you all and thank you all for your kind and encouraging thoughts shared with me as we continue this series!