Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Soul's Toolbox

Why we teach virtue in the first place OR rather, “What’s in it for me?”
There can be times in our lives when we scratch our heads and wonder aloud - Why are we even doing this?? The ‘this’ of the moment might be anything from doing laundry for the umpteenth time to homeschooling to even going to Sunday Mass.
Honestly, much of what we do is out of necessity. The laundry, housekeeping and cooking we do is necessary for our existence. We need good food, a clean house and clean clothes to be healthy. Happily, we have a good deal of latitude in how we do these tasks. For some families a good meal is around a table with fine china, cloth napkins and the finest of French cuisine. For other families it is with paper plates and napkins and the only French item on their table is the French dressing for the iceberg salad and French fries. But both meals begin with prayer, both meals include the parents listening, laughing and sharing in the stories and the family. Both are therefore healthy - if not from a dietary standpoint then surely from a spiritual and psychological one.
For other things we may have less latitude. While we may wonder why we go to Church or strive to be both holy ourselves and raise holy children, we know we do so to honor the God who made us. It is for Him alone we do all we do. We are responding to the call He has made since the beginning of time. We are restless until we rest in Him as St. Ignatius reminds us.
Virtue education is one aspect of loving God. In in our attempt to be holy as He is holy we can take His holiness apart as it were, piece by piece, and strive to be holy one piece, one virtue at a time. We learn about faith in order to be more faithful. We strive for obedience as we know being fully obedient is what Christ himself did - even unto death.
But there are times in our regular life of dinner and dishes, clothes and commutes we may wonder how virtues serve us. Why are we doing this in the first place? Sure, it makes us more polite and nicer to be around, but it is really necessary? And, if you are familiar with the movie, “Field of Dreams”, we can wonder as did the main character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner), “What’s in it for me?”
In replacing his corn field with a baseball field, Ray witnesses ‘everyone else’ benefiting from his hard work but he is left feeling unappreciated and forgotten. He has put his family on the line, worked endlessly for a ‘crazy dream’ (according to mocking neighbors and family members) and he is thinking it was all for nothing. Or at least all for everyone else but him. “What’s in it for me”, he wonders out loud.
We can feel that way as parents and teachers of the faith. Why are we working so hard to teach our children; model holiness and live a virtuous life? What’s in it for me? Why am I working so hard with no obvious benefit for myself. This past summer into the fall, that often rhetorical question was answered, very literally, for me.
Over the past few months, we have had a few brushes with scary health issues. As a result, we endured the spiritual challenges that always accompany health problems. In addition, we had a frightening accident involving our youngest child. However, throughout all of them, though I felt tested and strained to my limit, I did not fall. Of course, I wondered about God’s plan and wisdom. I spent more than a few nights even arguing with Him and complaining about how strong He thought I was. But, I did not leave His side. I remained. Why? Honestly, it was because of the foundation of virtues I had within me.
I found myself - almost literally - pulling fortitude and perseverance from my soul’s toolbox. During the struggles of the summer, I relied on the faith and hope I knew so well to get me through the dark of night. I had learned the words of these virtues. However, over the past few months I have found myself, very literally, being forced to live what I learned.
I knew courage and now I was living it. What joy that brought to my life. What peace I had knowing friendships I had fostered were there to support me. A foundation in virtue gave me what I needed most to get through some really rough months.
This is why we do what we do. What is in it for us? In teaching our children the virtues, we are not only teaching them - piece by piece, bit by bit - how to be more like Christ we are giving them tools they will rely on their entire life. We are helping them not only face life’s challenges but come out the other side stronger. Virtue education now is, of course, helpful as our children do become more charitable, better friends and siblings. But, these virtues may come to best serve them when they have left your home and are living in their own.
In teaching them, we are also teaching ourselves. This hard work helps us as we find ourselves using what we have shared to be better friends and parents ourselves. And, more likely than not, life provides ample opportunities to put what we teach into practice.
In the fictional story and film, Ray built his field to see ballplayers ‘return’ to play, eventually his own estranged father. At the end of the movie, he sees ‘what’s in it for him’. In our real lives, we build a life of virtue for our children and ourselves awaiting Christ’s return. And in the process, I guarantee, you will find what you get is what you, yourself, need to make it until He does. Virtues are not just for our children but also (sometimes more so) for us.
So, you can stop wondering if teaching virtues matters. It does and you’ll either see it in your kids or rely on it yourself every day - I know from real life experiences. Now, if someone would like to convince me about a few household tasks I’ve been told are necessary (such as ironing sheets!), I’m waiting!
God Bless,
Rachel Watkins

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