Caught Stealing

I caught my kids stealing last night. One of them turned up with two fifty cent pieces–and we never have fifty cent pieces circulating around here, so I assumed they came from elsewhere–maybe a friend from school.

One of the other kids said that the first had stolen the pieces from him. But where did he get them? Turns out, he got them from a third child, who’d offered to trade the coins he “found in Mom’s drawer” (antique ones, at that) for some Legos. Three kids, each with their hands in each other’s pockets, tacitly affirming the burglary of their own mother.

Granted, the coins totaled one dollar, and I sort of remember thinking that it was impossible to steal from your own parents, that acquiring their change was akin to “finding money” not “stealing” it. But I sent the kids out to run–they needed exercise and to think about their deeds, and I needed to have an existential moment.

Here were three of my kids involved in a family crime ring, where everyone eats off the other’s plate as soon as they turn their heads. It occurred to me that I have invested my blood sweat and tears in bearing and rearing children that only a mother could love–that they are destined not for the pool of future saints, but perhaps for the pool of future used-car-salesmen. “Duffy, Duffy, Duffy, and Sons Used Car and Loan.”

I sat in the living room contemplating my failures as a mother: When will they be good on principle? Why aren’t any of them taking piano lessons? Did anybody brush their teeth today? Pray? Someone stuck their finger in the little hole in the upholstery and turned it into a big hole. There is a sucker stick on the floor in the corner–in fact a whole pile of wrappers has been accumulating there where someone has attempted to hide the evidence of sugary contraband.

My aunt used to say that “children are little savages that need to be civilized.” Men too, actually. All of them, men and children-of-men, beholden to the civilizing effects of woman! What power! What a burden!

And in any case, I’m not sure I believe that a man, or even an 8, 10, or 12 year-old child can’t rise to the clarion call of civilization on their own efforts. But it does provide mild encouragement to think that being good is at least an effort rather than an innate state of being. Maybe I haven’t corrupted their inherently angelic nature. But I haven’t exactly been effective at civilizing them.

My daughter left a note under her pillow last night: “Dear Tooth Fairy, Now that I’m older, instead of just leaving me a dollar, could you write me a check for $5 or $10?” Already she is well rehearsed in the fine art of wanting more. “Ask and you shall receive” has become the family motto–their very favorite verse in the Bible. And apparently, when that fails, take what you want regardless.

Whenever I face discouragement as a mother, my first thought is that maybe I should get a job. Would I be more effective if I got paid? I used to write out lesson plans when I was a teacher. I used to teach the lesson plans every day. I graded papers and called parents, and arranged meetings with students. My day began at 6 A.M., driving for thirty minutes over icy country roads to get to work. I was effective.

But these days at home, I feel drenched in the murky bog of resistance from the morning’s first question–to shower or not to shower? If not, I can stay in bed ten more minutes. Why does it always seem so worth it?

If I don’t shower first thing, then the rest of the day is a shit-sandwich of resistance. There is a need to clean the kitchen, and an opposing force of malaise. A need to visit the grocery store offset by my lack of a brassière. Post-pardum constipation–even nature works against me. And the kids have resistance issues of their own that become my resistance issues when I try to, say, move them against the double-whammy of their resistance to my resistance and get the shoes out of their closet so we can go somewhere. Everybody wants their shoes to walk to them.

And the internet is it’s own resistance machine. “Have you finished the internet yet?” my husband sometimes asks me at night, when I’ve been at it for long enough, and the end of the internet is nowhere in sight. It’s like the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” book that my kids brought home from the library, full of tattooed women and men with long fingernails. One never tires…

All of these things, food, sleep, time, technology, are like one big sacred cow at whose bovine teats one can suckle all day long. When I come off of her I cry and ask to nurse again until I am pacified. But I am never pacified.

I contemplate the baby who sometimes opens her mouth, reaches deep down in her gullet and emits a loud “Gah!” All the babies first made this sound, sometimes urgent, sometimes faint and chortling g-g-g sounds, as though God and his g-g-g-goodness are the first things on their minds. Until the thought of food recurs to her and her mouth goes a-hunting, pursed lips leading her head to the right and then the left, looking for a glorious teat of her very own.

Follow the appetite, Baby–that’s what the rest of us do.

Oh woe! What I want to do, I do not do. I do what I hate. And my kids do too! We are miserable! Who can save us from these bodies of death? (loose translation of Romans 7)

Father Barron has noted that if will is the problem, then will is not the solution. I want to say that I should be able to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Quit doing the things I hate, and do the things I love instead. Combat my lack of will power, with willpower!*

The problem is I don’t really love what I ought to love yet–I still love my sacred cows. And I love the delusion that I can by my own efforts, correct every ill in my life (I love being the Sacred Cow).

I even, in some perverse way, love my failures. If I repeat them often enough, it just might be justification to throw in the towel–which is what I really want–no more resistance, nothing to work against, the absence of conflict. The diet that I’m always meaning to go on, can just go away.

Isn’t this what the world is saying when it’s telling the Church to modernize, change it’s teaching on age old conundrums. Quit putting up resistance, Church, no more obstacles of conscience, please. Go with the flow so the rest of us can relax.

It would be better to find a new vocabulary for our sins, a friendlier vocabulary. Let’s not talk about sins of Onan and Sodom, and words like fornication and adultery. Dumb old words. They say too much.

I would rather believe that I just lack will-power rather than that I am committing gluttony. I’m “finding” not “stealing” the money. I’m too busy to pray; I’m not committing idolatry by putting other things first. I’d rather acknowledge the “complexities of human sexuality” than admit that my lust makes me feel sheepish and sleazy and adds toxicity to my relationships with the opposite sex.

There’s always a less indicting term for bad behavior, and it’s important for me find it, so I don’t become sufficiently disgusted with myself to realize I am beyond my own help. Then I can keep both my sins and my delusions.

This is where I think the Church has the most exciting future in what’s being called the New Evangelization: if sin really is sin, and it’s true that I cannot, by all the forces of my own will, rid myself of it–then the Gospel is once again Really Good News. Because Jesus Christ took on all the suffering of humanity and paid the price for our salvation.

It’s such an old idea, it’s new again. It’s an idea that has been lost, but is being found again and again, by people who are exhausted with the cyclical failures of trying to be one’s own, and everyone else’s savior (What power! What a burden!). Religion is not a twelve step program to success. It’s the work of God on our humanity.

It’s a relief when I can finally call my sin what it is, and I can confess it and start fresh without it. What a relief, that if I commit that sin again, I can confess it and start fresh again without it. I can confess my sin until I stop loving it, until I begin to hate it, until I have made peace with a concept of God’s wrath and judgement because it has become my own hatred of my own sin and how it hurts my blessed Savior who is slowly but surely healing me. For when I ask him to free me, in his time, he actually does.

Who will save us from these bodies of death? He will! This is wonderful news for me, for my children, for my friends, for the world!



*Untold Blessing: Three Paths to Holiness, Word on Fire Ministries

* See also Luke 11:14-23  One can’t by Beelzebul drive out Beelzebul: “If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?…But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.”

Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


About Elizabeth Duffy