In a recent post, I mentioned that two of my best friends from college came to visit me for my birthday. One of them, my first roommate from freshman year, has been through some of the darkest moments of my life with me. She even moved out of the room we shared because of my emotional angst. Although most eighteen year olds can’t claim an overabundance of maturity, I was markedly insecure, emotionally unstable, and prone to “moods.” When I first came to college, I was avoiding church, for reasons explained here. I was also dating the first in a short line of bad boyfriends.
Arguably, any college freshman doesn’t know what they want or what their purpose in life is, and I was the epitome of such a neophyte. With relish, I displayed the infantile stereotypical female behavior as seen in P.S. I Love You. If this stereotype could talk, it would say:
“I don’t know what I want, but demand it from others, especially my significant other. Read my mind, though I don’t know my own. Cherish me to the extent that my every secret whimsical desire becomes your command. When you don’t comply, I will respond with withdrawn pouting fits or outright anger. I will try anything to satisfy this instinctual desire to be loved, including guilt and manipulation.”
The book Do You Think I’m Beautiful (highly recommended) brought much of these needs of mine to the forefront of my consciousness, but did nothing to change my behavior. Chris married me in this state. I peppered him with high expectations of romantic gifts and emotional sensitivity. Chris responded with a highly practical Northern Irish “Catch yourself on!” He’s not an overly romantic type, although he does show up spontaneously with flowers. Holidays aren’t much of an occasion for him and love letters are restricted to times of separation. His sacrifices for me are more on a practical level than an emotional one. For mother’s day, instead of a card, I got seven hours out of the house and dinner with my mom and a flower shopping trip.
When I told Chris I was pregnant only shortly after our engagement (unexpectedly, and yes, pre-marriage) he was on a plane and in the country in less than a week, facing the music. He was there rubbing my back to calm me during my vomitous morning sickness and seven months later marrying me, and eight months later in the horrifying birthing room (first time was rough!). He’s provided for me and my children, materially and spiritually. He’s fought me tooth and nail on issues like birth control and even getting a second car, because it’s not good for us no matter how much I want it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a man like any other and has his good and bad moments. But in everything important, Chris has always been there for me, acting in love. He seeks my good instead of my desires.
Although I recognized this solid way in which Chris loved me, and married him for it, I wanted more. I wanted what I wanted. For the first year of our marriage and maybe some time after, I kept on with my “moods”. I would lament my sacrificed career. I displayed angst over my confining situation, the menial work, and lack of appreciation for it. If Chris didn’t respond sympathetically, I threw a fit. Sometimes I would sulk all day long if he didn’t instantly make me feel better. I wanted a house and a car, but we had to live with my parents for seven months until he got a work permit. Although we moved into an apartment within weeks of getting his new job, which was almost immediately after getting his permit for all the job hunting he had done, I tormented him with house hunting continuously for the next year.
Basically, I was trying to manipulate Chris to cater to my every subconscious whim, like a mind-reading puppy. You must understand that any failure of Chris’s to satisfy these desires of mine was not a short-coming on his part. It’s ridiculous for either partner in a marriage to put unrealistic expectations on their spouse and look for certain needs to be met by the other person, such as expecting the other person to make you happy. I think typical expectations put on husbands is that they be a warped Cary Grant role, manly and romantic, with a relentless need to make us women happy because they adore us so much. Unrealistic expectations of women tend to involve delusions of hyper-sex kitten status with mysterious allure and lack of need for brushing your hair or teeth in the morning. I’m less familiar with what men want from women, but I know they have different expectations and needs. The male version of Do You Think I’m Beautiful is Wild at Heart. Experts could explain that side better than I! But meeting these needs are not what marriage is about, and that’s not the way to have a successful relationship. My dad always told me you can’t change other people, you can only change the way you respond to them. And nobody can make you unhappy, only you can make yourself happy. Really all you can do is change your own behavior, and stop expecting fulfillment from a mere human.
Slowly, I began to change. I stopped throwing fits if I didn’t get my way. My moods started disappearing, giving way to a more stable acceptance of my daily grind. I started setting budget limits on birthday and Christmas gifts, far below my usual splurges. I satisfied myself with telling Chris what gifts I wanted instead of expecting him to read my mind. I began to value things that others didn’t recognize, things like family priorities and hard work done in obscurity. Suddenly, doing good for the sake of pleasing my God became important, for my sanctification and that of those around me. I focused more on the eternal value of what I do instead of the temporal value, much easier to do once you believe there is eternal value in what we do! With this change of values came a sense of security and peace. I don’t as much require someone to tell me what I’m doing is worthwhile, or need their approval and praise. I know what I’m about and why.
I don’t know when it started, but I know why. As time passed, I began to understand the Catholic Faith more. My entire world shifted off of my self and my desires as my understanding Catholicism helped me better understand what the imitation of Christ actually means. I grew closer to God in that I more desire His will rather than my own. I see Christ in those around me and want to serve them as if He’s standing there, my own Lord and savior. I remember first hearing Mother Teresa speak of seeing Christ in those she served and it sounded like some kind of backward nonsense to me. I had always heard we should be the light of Christ for others, not that they are that for us. Doesn’t that seem so backward now? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) or “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Give up our selves. Give up our own perspective, our own desires, our own interpretation of the Bible, our own mission. Follow Christ, obey His Church, become His servant. I get it now, and it has changed me.
Oh, I’m still flawed. I have my days where I call Chris way too often at the office to whine about whiny babies. I have the hardest time seeing Christ in a three year old who far too often repeats “I want…” and “Why does it rain?” or “Why does Daddy have to go back to work?” without listening to the answers. It’s hard to take a servant’s attitude for a one year old who sits in his crib for an hour kicking his aquarium instead of sleeping. I snap and I yell. But now I hazard to call myself emotionally stable. My attitude has changed and my behavior is changing for the better. I’m nowhere near where I ought to be, but I can see a difference in myself and know what I’m working toward. I have peace.
My mom told me quite recently how she was proud to have a compassionate daughter like me, referring to how I treat those in need, the sick, and elderly. She said it seems to come naturally to me. It’s kind of funny, but it really doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I remember when I was young once, the hotels in the town we were visiting were full up, so we had to stay in the nursing home’s extra rooms. It caused me so much anxiety to be there that I got physically sick and was throwing up. Definitely not natural. But the way I see things is changing. I look at my 94 year old grandma, who’s frighteningly thin and has a hard time remembering us, and generally thinks all children are girls no matter how often she’s told otherwise, and she looks beautiful to me. I see her soul near the end of its journey on Earth and on the verge of passing on to meet our Lord, and I’m not afraid or repulsed anymore. She tells us how there’s nothing nicer than a family, and repeats how much she loves us, though she can’t remember exactly how I’m related to her, or how many children she has anymore. She remembers what matters. Looking at her, I realize I’m not as afraid of growing old anymore.
My friend from college noticed a change in me as well. During her visit, I told her how I’m so much happier and secure in what I’m doing now than I ever have been, and she can see it. She remembers my dark moments and sees them disappearing. She’s encouraging my Catholic conversion, though I don’t think she understands much of what I’m doing or why.
If someone wants proof of Catholicism, it’s here in the pudding. God gives us the grace to have faith, believe, and be changed, if we only let Him. I know not much we can say will change anyone’s mind, but I pray that God gives every unbeliever who reads this an open heart toward the Catholic faith, and gives believers encouragement in their faith.