Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wounded Ankle, Wounded Pride -- A Lesson in Self-Discovery

My 9 year old daughter is a member of a Girls on the Run team at her school. They train for 10 weeks to run a 5K race, and each runner needs a buddy runner. This spring season, my goal is to be that buddy runner.

I made my maiden run last week -- it was more a walk-jog combination. I used to be able to complete a 5K without much trouble, but that was a long time ago. I haven't run in at least 7 years.

So, on a glorious spring-like day, I took a passel of children on a run with me; some ran, some rode. I gathered them, eager to get one more walk-jog training session under my belt. The first aggravation occurred before we ever left the driveway. Not one of the bikes had inflated tires. In the interest of happy children, I went and got my keys to plug in the tire pump that ran off the charger in the car. The tires were filled in no time, and off we went. Well, not really...

Less than two peddles off the driveway, one of the girls decided that the bike she was riding was too big for her. That should have been the moment I insisted she walk -- but, no! I encouraged her to keep going, anxious to get started, and we made our way precariously along the sidewalk with her falling off the bike at every cross walk.

By the time we reached the crossing for the main road, I thought she had a handle on managing the bike. I gave her a little shove to get her moving, and we crossed. Thankfully, she had enough momentum to make it up the hill and onto the trail. It would be okay, or would it?

I successfully ran down the trail and across the narrow wooden bridge covering a small stream that flows into a pond. It was a beautiful sight, quiet and serene, until the bike hit the railing and she lost control, falling sideways, but managing to land on her feet. At that point, semi-exasperated by the lack of running I was doing, I issued a proclamation: the daughter that was riding was now to run, and a daughter that was running was now to ride. I told the one who had fallen to brush it off and follow me. Problem solved.

But, again, no. The child displaced from the bicycle grumbled at the idea, and intended to make it known. She did not follow. She called to me to come back and make things right. As I turned to beckon to her to catch up, I slipped off the trail, twisting my ankle, -- the one I had broken two years ago and re-injured in a car accident last year -- my knee and landing solidly on the opposite hip and shoulder.

I managed to get myself up, redress the child that was being uncooperative in as gentle, yet direct, a tone as possible, and resign myself to finish the run. I did one angry lap around the pond; it almost seemed fast, probably due to the pain and the adrenaline. I walked the rest of the way home, all the time wishing that my car had been parked somewhere close. I hadn't thought to bring my cell phone or I'd have called for help.

Thankfully, it was good to walk home. I talked, to the grumbling daughter in particular, about the virtues of obedience, cheerfulness and poverty -- my mood softened. It was good for all of us to hear how selfish behavior, needing to be in control of every situation, is a hardship to the soul that desires to be free to follow God. It is also a hardship to the mind and the soul to become unpleasant when we don't get our way. It hurts not only ourselves, but all those around us.

I was coming to realize, to my shame, that this talk, of course, was meant for me. Right from the start of this adventure, I was not in the least bit cheerful, and certainly not humble. I needed to hear these words as much as, or more, than I needed to teach them to others.

What had really gone wrong?

I wanted to be in control of this situation. I didn't want to wait for the stragglers; the bike riders who couldn't stop their bikes; the little daughter who wanted to run, but got a side stitch almost immediately and needed to walk the whole way.

I had plans. I had limited time before needing to be home to make dinner and get everyone settled before I left to go to Adoration. This had to happen, and happen now, the way I envisioned it. And, I was willing to sacrifice my sense of peace, as well as the satisfaction of my daughters and their friends to get this done. It was just another thing to be accomplished.

What was missing?

CHARITY and PATIENCE! I wasn't doing this out of love. I was doing this out of a sense of obligation, and only obligation. Oh, sure, I aimed at doing it out of a desire to be the buddy runner for my daughter, but I left the grace of that noble desire in the driveway of my home. I let every little thing bring me to annoyance and allowed it to test my patience. There was no sense of joy, no sense of peace. It was a burden.

This became a lesson in self-discovery. What a moment of sanctification I missed; a moment of true grace that could have been ours if I had only taken that moment at the very beginning to start out with the correct disposition of heart -- and, get the correct bike down off the hook and fill the tires. (I neglected to mention earlier, that the thought had crossed my mind, but I deemed it too time consuming and was exasperated by the fact that I had just shut off the car and put the pump away -- 3 more minutes of patient endurance and I might have avoided the whole mess and had happy children in tow to boot.)

Patience really is a virtue -- taking that moment to say, "Yes, Lord, Thy will be done. I surrender to accept all that you allow to happen to me," could have changed the way I approached the whole situation. It reminded me of what Jesus told the inquiring rich young man who wished to know how to inherit eternal life:
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.'" He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. ( Mk 10: 17-22)
What does this passage have to do with my less than virtuous attitude? It's simple, just as the young man couldn't leave his possessions because he was attached to them, so I was attached to the idea of controlling the circumstances of my situation. Attachment to things, be they of mind or matter, leads to making choices based on one's own will, not God's will. Docility to the Spirit is necessary, in all situations, to proper discernment -- to the ability to do things with love and for love. We do not grow in holiness on our own, but by the grace of God.

What I could have done differently:
  1. Say a quick prayer -- "Lord, please allow this time to be fruitful, I am attempting something big here." Who knows, it might have ended up the same way, but my heart would have been centered on the Jesus, and who can proceed in any endeavor without love when Jesus is your focus.
  2. When the mishaps began, I could have smiled and accepted them with patience. Instead, I let my own will create a mood of irritation. It went quickly down hill from there. If you can notice those moments and correct them immediately, you are less likely to give into the temptation to succumb to them.
  3. Forgive -- myself & the kids. None of us wanted the situation to turn out the way it did. It spoiled the fun for everyone. When I fell, I corrected the child -- which was necessary -- but, maybe not in that exact moment. The insult of injury and humiliation was the impetus behind my poor reaction. I was trying not to look stupid -- HELLO PRIDE! But, I am human and made a choice in the moment without thinking about the circumstances. On the way home, I apologized, talked about virtue and made amends -- actually laughing about my propensity to injure that particular ankle!
It's not easy to get everything right all the time; as a matter of fact, it's downright prideful to think that we can! We are not perfect. But, the lesson here is not to give up and walk away as the rich young man did. He saw salvation as a mountain too hard to climb. He didn't realize what we know -- that at the top of that mountain, Jesus has secured our ascent rope to salvation. All we need to do is climb to the summit, each and every day discerning the necessary approach to plant ourselves on the right rocks. We may slip on occasion, or find ourselves stuck in a crevice that seems impossible to escape, but a simple tug on the rope, a prayer sent to heaven asking for guidance, wisdom, patience, etc., will show us a new path to follow up that mountain. That respite found in the sacraments -- Baptismal promises, Eucharist, Penance, etc. -- will give us strength to continue our climb and show us the sure path to traverse. But, this ascent becomes impossible if we try to carry all our worldly baggage with us. As Jesus tells the rich young man, we need to leave the temporal desires and attachments behind and surrender ourselves to the will of God.

Things are decidedly better now. The ankle is still uncomfortable, but obviously not injured as badly as was my pride. I suppose limping my way home and then off to Adoration, to rest my wounds before the Lord, has everything to do with my recovery of body and spirit. I came to Him as I was, recognizing my imperfection and knowing that He loves me regardless. That is how we need to be towards others -- loving with Christ's love. I also saw the good that He accomplished in this situation. It was a witness to how life looks when we think we can do it all by ourselves, even something as simple as going for a run with the kids. In prayerfully considering all these things, I've resolved to try to remain cheerful and patient as often as possible. This truly was an important lesson in self-discovery, one I am hopeful will help me climb the mountain to eternal life.

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