Thrive: Adjusting the Goal

Thrive: Adjusting the Goal September 23, 2014

This post is part of a series on Thrive by Arianna Huffington.  Please read the first post here and the second post here and then join the conversation.

 

Thrive highlights “the third metric for success” which is well being, wisdom, wonder and giving, working towards over all and holistic wellness.  As I continue to ponder this “metric” within the context of family life, I have been hitting against the idea that “well being” is really not an attainable goal for many people for a variety of reasons.  For example, in comments to my recent post on sleep, TexasMommy pointed out that she is having trouble sleeping while pregnant.  Several of us agreed that there are some stages of life when just surviving is enough, and when we must be very gentle with our expectations of ourselves.  In those cases, for me, the goal has become one small step, which is really a giant step, above survival, which is survival with grace and love.  If you are unwell, over tired, and pulled due to circumstances beyond your control, can you still work towards being kind, gentle and loving with your family?  You might not always be able to do it, but what if that became the goal.  This would still mean working towards well being as a longer term goal, and doing what we can to be as well as possible on any given day, but beating oneself up for being tired while pregnant, layered on top of actually being tired while pregnant, is really contrary to well being, isn’t it?  (I’m not implying that Tex was beating herself up, but rather that I often have).

Ultimately, why are well being, wisdom, wonder and giving goals which are compatible with the Christian life?

And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, “Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

I believe that setting up a life which prioritizes the third metric allows us to better love God and neighbor, and I believe that love of God and neighbor can be the lens through which all decisions are made.

Frequently, I am pulled aside after Mass on Sunday morning by someone who wants to compliment my family and talk about my children.  I love these moments, especially when they allow me to interact with older members of the congregation.  I am very aware, though, that it is easy to get puffed up when my family makes me look like a good Christian to outsiders.  It is obvious, from the number of children I have, that I have been open to life in my marriage.  I am happy to serve as a witness to life and to remind people that a large family can be a happy family.  I believe that helping my children dress appropriately for Mass is part of loving God and serving neighbor, and helping them to learn to be quiet and participate is also important.  It is crucial for me to remember, though, that five boys with blue blazers and gelled hair is not the goal of marriage.  In my case, on good days and bad days, those five boys are the by product of the real goal of my marriage, which is to love God and serve neighbor in my vocation as spouse.  Helping them to sleep well, eat well, dress well and be well, helping them to THRIVE is an important step in helping them to find their own ways to love God with a whole heart and to love neighbor, but it is just that, a step.  Somedays, we might stumble out the door and miss a few steps along the way, but take a few deep breaths and enter Mass disheveled but still full of love.  I personally find it much more difficult to be full of love when I am hungry, dirty or tired, and that love might take extra work, so I like to set myself up for success as much as possible, but I don’t want to forget that I do it for love, with love, because I am loved.

As I took my walk around the neighborhood this morning I was so grateful for the early fall, for the crackling leaves and crisp air.  I had not wanted to go out and walk, I had wanted to go back to bed, frankly, not just for today but for many days.  I am feeling a little bit defeated by a combination of what could only be designated “first world problems,” at least some of which, I believe, come from having the wrong goals in mind.  Our dishwasher is broken, which tipped me over the edge on what was already a difficult week last week.  Here it is Monday morning, the dishwasher is still broken, and every small problem seems to lead to three more problems.  How can I help my family to THRIVE in this circumstance?  How can I serve God?

Step one, I think was my walk this morning.  I think it is important to do the things you know help with well being even when well being doesn’t feel like it is close at hand.  Walk, breathe, drink water.  Give a little thought to how to get more vegetables back into the mix after a weekend of partying.

Step two, for me, and this goes along with prayerful breathing, is to release the guilt about the stress.  How can a broken dishwasher be this hard on me when some people have Ebola is a thought which may provide momentary perspective, but not if it leads to self loathing about my own weakness.  So, perspective, yes, and then acknowledging that the circumstance is in fact trying in it’s own way.

Step three is to love and accept imperfection.  Either I will get a full morning of school in or I will deal with the dishes, but I really can’t do both.  I might wish that I bought paper plates yesterday, but I can’t change that this morning, either.  Being angry about either is contrary to the real goal.   (Edited to add that right after I decided to radically accept that I had to hand wash and dry all the dishes, and I did so, the dishwasher magically started working again.  What a relief.)

Step four is something that I have started recently: a daily prayer word which helps me to reset and keep the real goal in mind. For today, my word was grace, and I tried to extend it wherever I could.  I spent a long time listening to an unusual child on the playground today.  He didn’t want to play tag with the other children, he wanted to talk to me about dinosaurs.  My head was saying that while my own kids were playing it was not my job to listen to this kid.  My heart was saying “grace”, it is everyone’s job to care about everyone’s kid, even if just for a few minutes.  The look of relief on the father’s face when he tried to intervene and realized that I was not bothered to spend the time told me a lot.  I have been there.  Grace.

This post took all day, in bits and pieces, at the standing desk in my kitchen which has become my computer’s new home.  My husband just called.  He will be home around 1 am.  He has to be back on the train by 7:15.  We will have to fit in birthday pancakes somewhere.  With that sort of start, I will be tired all day tomorrow.  Tonight, I will make the batter and hang up a birthday banner.  The birthday girl wants apple crisp.  The birthday boy called earlier to request 40 brownies be delivered to school.  I will go to the farm for apples, I will bake many batches of brownies, and I will love.  I will make room for a walk, and water, and vegetables.  If I stay present to each task, there may even be room for reading, writing and arithmetic.  I will breath, pray and try to be open to the grace of it all.

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  • Sarah

    I love this series and have started reading the book myself. One thing I have done is to apply the 5-to-1 rule to certain activities with my family. For instance, I believe in reading to my kids. So if I hear the magic words, “Mommy, will you read this to me?” I do a little mental math…is what I’m doing now so important that I’ll make up for this “no” with five future “yesses”? Usually, it isn’t and I settle in for a cuddle and read to them. That 5-to-1 helps me keep the focus on what actually matters and what should wait.

  • Mary Alice

    Sarah, that is a great example. I also sometimes do a list of what people want to do with me, so that I can more honestly promise to actually do it “later” if now is not an option.

  • Katrina

    As a parent, I have found that I have had to grow into the idea of saying “yes” whenever possible, because so often my answer to my children has to be “no.” In fact, I’ve gotten so used to saying “no” that it can become my default answer. “Can I ask the neighbor to play outside with me?” No. “Can we plant these apple seeds?” No. “Can we have a silly dinner tonight?” No. Really, to all of these questions, I could say “yes” at least 80% of the time, and we would all be happier! I guess that what I’m trying to get at is that being a parent is a constantly-evolving role, and as kids get older and are ready to take on more responsibility, it’s possible for me to let go and say “yes” to their desire for autonomy more often.

  • I agree that the “third metric” must only be a step towards loving as Christ calls us to love. And it is so much harder to love when we are suffering in some way isn’t it? So it makes sense that by removing some unnecessary sufferings, we might better be able to love in our daily lives. But I also wonder if the third metric may be a real distraction from truly living a love-filled life. For me, the third metric too easily becomes the goal, and I may avoid loving more deeply because I seek comfort in what the world tells me is important (the goals of the 3rd metric). In our society, the middle class and upper middle class generally live very cushy lives, they have time to think about well-being, take yoga classes, plan their vacations, pick a few charitable causes, etc. To me, prioritizing the 3rd metric seems a little bit like the prosperity gospel. Because when I stop too long to think about things like well being and wonder, it actually becomes harder for me to love others. This may just be a personal issue, a personality thing, or both.

    I think you said some of this in the post, and your steps for thriving at the end are great.

  • Lucy

    Great post, Mary Alice. Lots to think about. Also, as the mother of an unusual child who has talked many a stranger’s ear off, I want to say God bless you for the ministry you gave to that child and father at the park.