When a Foreign Service Officer arrives in a new country, a “welcome kit” is waiting for them in their home. It is a big box of everything the household might need before their belongings arrive in a moving truck.
In terms of quality, think of something that is absolutely above reproach if someone were hunting for a place to trim the budget. You’ve got some basic sheets. The cheapest coffee maker. One plate, bowl, mug, glass for each person living in the house. A set of pots and pans. A can opener that will exact a price from your knuckles if used.
It is an odd gift, sitting in your house for you on arrival, waiting to be unwrapped.
But it honestly can be a gift, if I let it. In using the kit, something designed to meet only the most basic needs, I am shown how few my actual needs are. And so, when our things return, they take up less space in my life. With this spaciousness, I am able to see more clearly that everything is a gift… this morning, my loved ones, this world, our existence. That mindset is a fun place to live.
Today, we move to Germany, the beginning of a two-year stay.
To prepare for our move, a few days ago, I took our car to CarMax to sell.
I like to _think_ that I am a person who is generally unattached to belongings. And our car is not fancy, a little lowest-trim-level SUV, purchased in 2018, also at a CarMax. But when the nice lady handed me a check and asked for my keys, I got really sad! I was attached to our unremarkable car!
In this period of transition, I’ve been thinking that a (or maybe _the_?) central task in the spiritual life is letting go… relinquishing everything that is not of the love that is God. And we are not instinctively good at this. It takes practice… not _thinking_ about doing it – but actually doing it. Actually handing over the keys, freed for something better.
For years, when I was home full-time with our son (and then sons), I would change up how I answered the question: “So, what do you do?” One day, I heard myself answer: “Well, I am the keeper of slack in our family system.”
And, you know, I kind of liked that title! I began to use it more often and so began to take it more seriously.
I tried to be the keeper of slack *outwardly*, leaving time unscheduled so that I could be present and responsive to family.
I also tried to guard against tension *internally*, building prayer and meditation into my days, hoping to be more attentive and loving.
I must say that I do not feel necessarily accomplished at this guardianship, and definitely less so this year than in years past. But I am still trying, and would love for the “keeper of slack in the family system” to be a common term. It would certainly help me follow through more consistently on this sincere aspiration.
I am ruthlessly protective of my email inbox, subscribing to nothing that is not (to me) consistently valuable.
A few months ago, the number of things I subscribe to went from two to three.
I signed up for The Daily Difference, the free email published by The Carbon Almanac Network, a source of reliable and easily understandable knowledge on climate change. Their tagline is: It is not too late.
It is consistently excellent. No doom, no guilt, no whipping up negative emotion. Just fascinating, simple insights about how to care for the earth and then tell your friends.
It consistently fills me with hope, and helps me to believe and to act like it is not too late.
The other day, I met up with an old friend who I had not seen for some time. These types of conversations lend themselves to asking big questions. Lately, I’ve noticed that, as we get older, both the questions and the answers are becoming more simple.
We asked each other: “What is it that we need right now?” The answer that we came to was: “to slow down enough to attend to the sacramentality of our lives.” There it was. Full stop.
Perhaps more than any other habit, the Examen (prayed with as much consistency as I can muster) helps me to do this. Appreciation for this form of prayer, as well as our belief that young people have a unique and innate capacity to receive the love of God woven into their lives, led Katie Broussard and I to create The Examen Book.
We are delighted to launch the book this week. We hope that you will check it out and that it becomes a blessing on your journey.
(PS – If you would like to be one of our first reviewers, email me! We’ll send you access to the reviewer’s digital version of the book.)
When our sons are playing, they often fall out of sync. One begins playing in a way that the other does not like. The dissatisfied one, then, expresses his displeasure to us about what the other is doing.
We then say, “Please tell your brother how you do want to play.”
And almost always, he will turn to his brother and, focusing once more on the perceived offense, say, “I don’t like that!”
As you surely have noticed, “I don’t like that!” is not a satisfactory articulation of how he would like to engage.
But how often do we do this very thing in public life! We are experts at saying what we do not like or do not want, and too rarely take the time to articulate a different way forward. It feels more comfortable to comment instead of contribute.
So, if we do not like something that is happening, let’s agree to do the most courageous and productive thing: To say what we do want and what we will commit to in order to bring that thing about. With imagination and commitment, we can play together differently.
Our family is fairly in love with the movie Encanto. Every time we (routinely) listen to the soundtrack, this bit from the introductory “meet the family” song catches my attention.
It’s when the grandma tells us about how the family can “earn the miracle that somehow found us.”
The trouble, as they all learn, is that we can’t earn a miracle.
The compulsion to try to earn the miracle of our lives, though, is deeply human and imminently understandable. If I were to earn it, the logic goes, then I would have some control over it. And how does my ego love to control!
But the wonder of the sacramentality of our lives… the grace woven through our being, the natural world, our relationships, the unfolding of our vocations… is already ours. No earning necessary. It’s taken care of.
The task, then, is to receive these things whole-heartedly and without pretense, as a child. So freed, we can respond to this abundance with wild generosity.